Manning Biographer: Media Should Respect The Trans Experience

Bradley Manning's distress in her transition to 'Breanna' and now 'Chelsea' is in part what led to her arrest

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HANDOUT / Reuters

U.S. Army Private First Class Bradley Manning dressed as a woman in 2010.

Chelsea Manning first announced to the world that she considered herself to be a woman with a tweet sent from the account of “Breanna Manning” in May of 2010, just days before her arrest. She was then living as a man with the name Bradley Manning. “I’ve entered a transitional phase of my life,” wrote Private Manning. “Though, for now I’m back on the grid.” Her struggle with gender identity had grown increasingly intense in the months leading up to that announcement, contributing to the deep emotional distress that, at least in part, led her to seek out a friend in Adrian Lamo, who ultimately turned her into the authorities for perpetrating the biggest leak of state secrets in American history. Her transition into life as a woman was, of course, interrupted days later when she was arrested, ferried to a brig in Kuwait and later Quantico Marine Base. With today’s announcement, Manning is announcing her intention to complete that transition, this time with the name Chelsea.

We’ve known for some time that Manning struggled with gender identity issues–a struggle that got top billing in his defense–and considered herself, at least for a time, to be a woman, so I’m not surprised by the announcement. I suspect it is coming only now, after his sentence has come down, because Manning wanted to avoid antagonizing the court by appearing to make more of a spectacle of the trial than it already is. Despite the  vocal activism on his behalf outside of the court room, Manning has, from the  beginning, been careful to be respectful and deferential to the legal process. In his statement at the close of the trial he was contrite and apologetic. I think he clearly hoped the judge would come to see him as a decent, sympathetic person who had perhaps acted rashly. I think he didn’t want to further anger anyone.

For media covering Manning’s case, the name and pronoun change is bound to create considerable confusion in the near term. After three years of reportage on the subject, a headline with the name “Chelsea Manning” doesn’t have the same cache as “Bradley Manning” in the eyes of readers, not to mention Google. The activists supporting her will face their own challenges: There does not yet appear to be a “Chelsea Manning Support Network” in existence, for example. And what will become of the hashtag #FreeBrad?

(MOREViewpoint: Overzealous Prosecution of Bradley Manning Backfired)

Despite Manning’s announcement in 2010 that he intended to live as a female under the name Breanna, I’ve persisted in referring to him as Brad simply because a tweet from an obscure Twitter account didn’t seem like a proper enough declaration to warrant changing someone’s name, especially when all friends and family, including his attorney, referred to him as Brad or Bradley. Today, that is no longer an open question. Inevitable rhetorical challenges aside, the important thing for us in the media is to report on Manning with respect for the trans experience. The person formerly named Bradley Manning is now living as a woman named Chelsea Manning and that much, at least, is no longer in debate.

MORE: Leaker Bradley Manning Sentenced to 35 Years

60 comments
abditum
abditum

@DenverNicks It's somewhere between difficult & impossible to get a fair trial as a trans person in the US. The timing of reveal is telling.

TomInShanghai
TomInShanghai

yep, he/she/they will be a big hit in the brig...

PhilipBuzter
PhilipBuzter

"He's my sister. He's my brother. He's my sister. He's my brother. OH GOD, HE'S MY SISTER AND MY BROTHER."

(Apologies to Faye Dunaway and Chinatown)

MC
MC

Everything seems normal. Mountains out of molehills. *shrug*

buffalo.barnes102
buffalo.barnes102

More than anything, this sounds like a last ditch effort to stay out of prison "because...Surprise!...I'm a woman". Kind of like the note you would forge to get out of detention: "Bradley cannot attend detention because of feminine issues". I'm sure his fellow inmates will be very supportive of his problem.

benzoeharz
benzoeharz

@buffalo.barnes102If you knew anything about trans issues, you would not be saying that because being trans has never made jail easier for any trans person. Women don't get to use being female to get out of jail, either. I first heard of Manning with the name Breanna. If you google Breanna Manning, there's a source that titled "Why does the media still refer to 'Bradley' Manning?" from December 2011. Only the name Chelsea was new to me.

benzoeharz
benzoeharz

@buffalo.barnes102 Also, no girl has ever forged a note like that to get out detention. How exactly would "feminine issues" be an excuse to get out of detention? You're thinking of Physical Education.

buffalo.barnes102
buffalo.barnes102

@benzoeharz @buffalo.barnes102 

Guilty as charged. Not only am I not aware of "trans issues" I don't care about trans issues. Your sexuality is your business and mine is mine. It's hard enough just being a heterosexual these days. It seems to me that Breanna, Chelsea or Gladys will have plenty of time to work her issues out while she does the time for the crimes for which he/ she was convicted. Also, try taking things with a grain of salt every now and then.

DanBruce
DanBruce

If you are against the government inserting probes into a vagina (as I am), then you should be opposed to the government inserting a vagina into a person (as I am).

kronikdaheghog
kronikdaheghog

this is a good thing if your going to jail for 25 years...better get used to being somebodys bitch

JojiMyers
JojiMyers

A new category on birth certificates in Germany now allow a third category, out of respect for anatomical gender issues.

cloudninegirl
cloudninegirl

What a disgusting individual, inside and out.

highplansdrifter
highplansdrifter

well I am sure the inmates can hardly wait to have another jail house hoe

coalminds.com
coalminds.com

He's doing this because it's easier to break out of women's prisons. It's Shawshank Redemption meets Juwanna Man.