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16 Oct, 2018 00:32

It takes a neocon: DC hawk reinvents self as trans woman

It takes a neocon: DC hawk reinvents self as trans woman

A neoconservative policy hawk has brought the transgender revolution to the world of Washington, DC think tanks, suggesting that having the “right” politics goes a long way towards acceptance - unlike, say, Chelsea Manning.

Giselle Donnelly has a long and storied career as a foreign policy hawk at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute. However, Washington policy-watchers might know her best under her old name, Thomas.

Donnelly is not the first transgender woman with a policy perch in Washington. President Barack Obama’s appointment of Raytheon missile engineer Amanda Simpson, first to the Commerce Department and then to a Pentagon position in 2009, was the subject of much controversy at the time.

Back then, Simpson was mocked by late-night TV host David Letterman in a skit. Less than a decade later, Donnelly is receiving mostly praise from the media and policy types for coming out as trans, including a fawning profile in the Washington Post and virtual applause on Twitter.

Throughout a decades-long career, Donnelly served as a policy group director and professional staff member at the House Armed Services Committee, and then as a member of the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission. As Thomas, Donnelly penned a library of articles and books calling for tough measures on Russia, Iran and China, urging the US to expand its military, and defending George W. Bush’s trillion-dollar escapades in Iraq and Afghanistan.

After divorcing his first wife five years ago, Donnelly’s path diverged from the path of the typical DC policy wonk. Donnelly met and began dating a former naval officer and makeup artist to local transgenders, and then began transitioning himself, deciding to live full-time as his previously hidden, fetish-scene alter-ego.

According to the Washington Post, Donnelly and Elizabeth Taylor “shared a love of national security, wine, gender fluidity and BDSM,” and married last year. Donnelly’s transition from he to she is chronicled in a documentary due to premiere at next month’s Alexandria Film Festival.

For a conservative institution, the AEI seems to have taken Donnelly’s gender u-turn in stride, perhaps a sign of the shifting cultural tides in the US. AEI President Arthur Brooks told the Washington Post that assuming Donnelly’s principles and viewpoints stay the same, “we are proud that she is part of the AEI family.” In other words, no turning from hawk to dove.

“That line of gender and sexuality is deeply personal for everybody,” Donnelly said. “I’m appreciative of what I’m asking of people. But as long as I can keep doing useful work, I’d rather be judged principally by that.”

Donnelly’s transition and the Washington Post’s fluffy, feelgood article on the process have met with some negative reactions.

The treatment of Donnelly stands in stark contrast with Chelsea Manning, former US Army private and whistleblower who provided WikILeaks with the Iraq and Afghan war diaries - and got sent to Leavenworth as a result. Manning was given much grief for insisting she was no longer a man named Bradley, and was hounded out of a Harvard fellowship last year. After announcing she intended to challenge the incumbent Democrat senator in Maryland, Manning was bullied by media to the brink of suicide.

Even before the back-and-forth over President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military, the issue of transgender rights has moved from bathroom protests in college social sciences departments to the political and cultural mainstream, despite the fact that less than 0.6 percent of American adults identify as trans. Curiously, the District of Columbia has a transgender population several times larger than the national average, at 2.8 percent.

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