A friend of mine is talking about trans veterans at a national anthropology conference.
He asked me to write a statement in response to the result of the 2016 election. This is it:
An open letter:
De Oppresso Liber. To free the oppressed. Nous Defions. We defy. Liberty and justice for all. My country has long claimed to be THE symbol of freedom and democracy across the globe. We have always espoused these lofty ideals.
Here we are.
I was never a patriotic “true believer” but gods I thought we were better than this. In spite of losing the popular vote our electoral system is poised to emplace a man who campaigned on the promise to restrict the human rights, civil liberties, and bodily autonomy of black people, Muslims, immigrants, and queer people of all stripes. We have elected a man who is staffing his cabinet with openly white nationalist figures like Stephen Bannon.
David Duke, the KKK, and the actual American Nazi Party are holding victory parades and celebrations for our new president elect.
I want to say I don’t recognize my country. But I do. The thing is, when I was a child I did believe that we were the good guys. We were the greatest country in the world—freedom was what made us different from every nation across the globe. Then again, in those days I was a male-assigned child who went to church 5 times a week and only ever got into trouble for bringing my bible to school and preaching to my classmates. To say I was naïve is an understatement. The scales fell from my eyes very quickly.
When one of the faithful raped me for 5 of my first 10 years of life, it was somehow MY shame to bear rather than his. My father convinced me not to press charges because once people knew I had been raped, he said, I could never take that back.
I learned that words and actions rarely aligned. The church sign always said “All are welcome” but the church bylaws, which were updated in the 1990’s by the way, still forbid members of the church from even being party to interracial weddings. My dad “didn’t approve of black people” as if they somehow chose their race and threatened to disown me if I ever brought home a black girl. My family fears that gays will “convert” good little Christian children.
My country kills unarmed black children but takes white mass murderers into custody and buys them cheeseburgers. In my country a man with a gun can harass, stalk, and kill a child and claim he feared for his life, but a black trans woman who accidentally kills her meth-addled neo-nazi attacker with a pair of scissors from her fashion design class will go to prison.
No, I absolutely recognize my country. All straight cisgender white Christian men are created equal. The rest of us are to be dominated, subjugated, incarcerated, or deported. Or otherwise “protected” from choice and bodily autonomy. The toxicity of whiteness and Christianity and masculinity is a swift current that swept me into the teeth of a war I never believed in. I did terrible things for a nation that refuses to acknowledge my basic humanity, and I will never be able to wash that blood off my hands. In special forces our motto was De Oppresso Liber—most often paraphrased as “to free the oppressed”. Our direct action teams appropriated the motto Nous Defions—We Defy—from the French resistance in World War II. To me they are more than just buzzwords. I took them to heart. I recognize that America is an oppressor to people of color, women, queers, and the disabled. My transgender status and my womanhood do not negate my status as a warrior, and I recognize president-elect Trump and those who back him as the same dark forces my grandfather battled in the 1940’s. I recognize my country for what it is—an empire built by slaves on the bones of natives—but I still believe in what it could be. I know what side of history I will be on. My America is diverse, without the divisions encouraged by those who would put so-called state’s rights before human rights or federal protections for them. My America has skin that is red and black and brown, not just white. My America is queer and fat and femme. My America is Atheist and Jewish and Muslim. My people are disabled and incarcerated and undergoing “reparative therapy”. I still believe in one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. For ALL. And I say to Trump and Pence and Bannon: We defy you. WE DEFY. Nous Defions.
Alana McLaughlin, former staff sergeant, United States Army
De Oppresso Liber.