The individual sentenced to 35 years in Federal prison for leaking diplomatic telegrams has officially come out as trans this week. Chelsea Manning, at the very, very least, has had a hell of a week. As if there weren’t enough invective around her role in Wikileaks, a military counselor’s office where she formerly sought therapy released a private photo of her in a wig and makeup. Or rather, they leaked it and said it didn’t come from them. Now with Manning’s statement that she intends to start hormone therapy and requests people to use feminine pronouns for her, she has taken what little agency she has and reframed such images of her. I fear the nuances of this reframing, however, will be lost on the general public, who in the margins of mass media’s online article comment fields have brought out every little bit of transphobia they can muster.
Seriously. Never read the comments. Never.
We’ve also seen a number of stumbles from mainstream news outlets, including from the Today Show (and CNN, and The Guardian, and The New York Times) which I linked to earlier in this post. It may very well be that journalists want to make sure their readership understands that Bradley Manning and Chelsea Manning are the same person, but the AP has come up with half-decent guidelines for reporting on transfolk, so why can’t they just refer to those? It is not actually the case that “Bradley” Manning made an announcement about “his” gender identity, especially if we read the announcement itself.
Her name is Chelsea. HER name. And whatever we think of Pvt. Manning’s role in the Wikileaks scandal-thingy, it would be nice if we could leave her gender identity alone. But now of course popular culture and mainstream America’s weaknesses to understand difference will have a hard time parsing apart Ms. Manning’s new prisoner status, health care needs, traitor label, and so on, not to mention what this means for the average tax payer (I call it the “I have to pay for what?” syndrome). Whenever anyone enters into a direct relationship to state support—be it welfare, disability, the prison system, etc.—culture presumes that everyone not in that support system has a right to judge that individual. So on top of people’s comments related to leaking diplomatic cables and other not-public documents, on top of all of the invective around Manning’s trial and sentencing, and on top of the sensationalized imagery of an American soldier in lipstick, we now have Chelsea Manning making an open statement about her feelings for the rest of her life. It may be too much for our media, who love maintaining the facade of a polarized environment, to be able to let her move on in peace. And I’ll note with some irony that in the midst of our collective shock that Russia hates gay people, we never stop to ask ourselves where our limits are in supporting LGB—and especially T—people.
In any case, for today at least, there is one more famous trans person than Chaz Bono. But I don’t think the country will be watching her on Dancing with the Stars anytime soon, and I don’t expect to hear any news show talking head cheering her on for her quote-unquote bravery. Except maybe Rachel Maddow. But she’s a lesbian, so she doesn’t count.
NOTE: Chelsea has asked for letters to be sent to her in prison. She received a 35-year sentence. Individuals can get her correspondence address and the addresses of other trans and queer prisoners here.
UPDATE: Pvt. Manning’s current address is—
Attn: PFC Bradley Manning
239 Sheridan Ave, Bldg 417
JBM-HH, VA 22211
You should use “Bradley” on the envelope and Chelsea in the letter itself, to ensure proper delivery and respect of her identity.