by Brendan James
This morning Bradley Manning released a statement declaring a new gender identity, taking the name Chelsea and resuming a transition interrupted by her military trial. Manning’s biographer Denver Nicks places the announcement in context:
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. … Inevitable rhetorical challenges aside, the important thing for us in the media is to report on Manning with respect for the trans experience.
The Guardian, to its credit, changed its topic page to “Chelsea Manning.” This should not be the exception, but the rule. Even the Associated Press stylebook says so: that reporters should “use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth. If that preference is not expressed, use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly.”
Maureen O’Connor notes that the media respects other types of name changes:
Why is it so hard for people to type an extra s when they write about Manning? We updated our nomenclature for “Snoop Lion” and “the Artist Formerly Known as Prince.” “Ali Lohan” and “Lil’ Bow Wow” became “Aliana” and “Bow Wow” to reflect personal growth. We accept typographical requests from branded products like iPhone, PowerPoint, and eHarmony — and from branded humans like Ke$ha, A$AP Rocky, and ‘N Sync. (The last being unusual even without the asterisk.) The idiosyncrasies of capitalism, apparently, are more compelling than a human’s self-professed gender.
Amanda Marcotte urges the press to start using the new pronoun:
The goal here should be to move as quickly as possible from referring to Manning by a male name and male pronouns to her female name and pronouns. The sooner journalists stop writing “Bradley” and start writing “Chelsea,” the quicker everyone following this story will adapt—and even change their Google search terms when looking for coverage. A gender-free headline to indicate that this is an in-between stage in coverage makes sense, but with this announcement, Manning herself gave everyone a nice, clean break—a point to just stop saying “he” and start saying “she.”
Even if you disagree with Manning’s actions and believe she deserves the harsh sentence she received, her gender identity had nothing to do with her crimes.
Katie McDonough views the episode as a rallying point for coverage of transgender subjects:
[T]hese failures in reporting have not gone unchecked. There is a growing chorus of transgender rights advocates rallying for accountability from major news outlets. Formal complaints have been submitted to the BBC and the New York Times, and this conversation, probably the most mainstream discussion the press has had to-date about transgender identity and the importance of respectful (and truthful) use of pronouns and chosen names, could very well set an important precedent for future coverage of transgender issues.
Of course, Rod Dreher isn’t having it:
I presume Bradley Manning still has a penis and male chromosomes. He is not a female simply because he says he is. Though I very much doubt that the military will give him the female hormones he has requested for his prison stay, Manning may have the operation one day, but for now, he is still a he. I don’t see why feeling pity for Manning’s psychological suffering requires us to play along with his hallucination. If you want to do so, be my guest, but shouldn’t journalists hold themselves to different standards?
Meanwhile, Sarah Kliff looks into whether Manning is likely to receive the hormone therapy she’s requested, since Fort Leavenworth denies they supply it:
“Where inmates have been denied care, courts have said that’s unconstitutional,” says Jennifer Levi, director of the Transgender Rights Project at Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders. “I don’t know of any cases that have been brought yet against military prisons. But they would have the same obligation to provide adequate medical care.” Levi worked with a North Carolina inmate to reform federal policy on hormone replacement therapy in prison. Vanessa Adams entered a North Carolina facility at age 29. She was biologically male but “self-identified as female throughout her adult life,” according to court documents.
“Because of this, she wanted to initiate the gender transition process prior to her incarceration, but found herself unable to do so in the face of the restrictions imposed on her by a conservative family and workplace,” the lawsuit continues. Adams had been diagnosed with gender identity disorder; Manning has also received the same diagnosis.