Who Should Pay for Chelsea Manning’s Hormones?

Are private “transition funds” a good idea for people like Chelsea Manning? 

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Though a flurry of questions arose following Pvt. Chelsea Manning’s announcement last week that she is transgender, most were answered relatively quickly:

Which are the correct pronouns?

Easy: She/her (except, according to Manning herself, when referring to the official proceedings in which she must continue to be referred to as Bradley).

What will the extent of her physical transition be?

Again, pretty straightforward: hormones without surgery, at least for now.

Should you accompany your news segment on her with Aerosmith’s “Dude Looks Like a Lady?

Oh, honey. No.

But one dilemma deserves a little more discussion: How will Manning’s hormone treatments be paid for while she’s in prison? According to Manning’s lawyer, she is prepared to foot the bill herself, though it remains to be seen if the military will administer the hormones. In a forceful editorial on Tuesday, the New York Times called on the Army to do just that, relying on the logic that gender dysphoria is a medical condition that must be treated, regardless of the inmate’s ability to pay. Let’s hope that the military will do the right thing and at least permit Manning to provide for her own care—but what about those transgender inmates who can’t? Should taxpayers be expected to cover that bill?

If you agree with the medical argument, then there’s not much more to debate—prisoners deserve quality medical care, full stop. But many sympathetic people, including some transgender activists themselves, are uncomfortable with any psychiatric labeling—even of a purportedly nonjudgmental sort—of what they see as a perfectly normal variation of humanity. (Though such labeling can help trans people obtain insurance coverage for their transition procedures.) Besides, the case of a trans person in prison is further complicated by the nature of her crime; whether you view Manning as a traitor or a heroine likely influences how keen you are to help pay for her care.

Given those complications, perhaps a mechanism akin to private abortion funds—call them “gender transition funds”—should be the go-to model for prisoners. That way, those who support the prisoner for whatever reason can, like Kate Bornstein, offer their financial support, while those who do not can be left out of it. This isn’t ideal, of course—we have a long way to go before the world is “ideal” in any sense of the word for trans people. But private funding seems like a good strategy for now.

Let us know what you think in the comments.