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When Did Chelsea Manning Become Chelsea Manning?

News outlets have been deciding how to refer to the transgender soldier now, but what about her past? Did Bradley leak information to Wikileaks, or did Chelsea? Did she serve in Iraq or did he? It's complicated.

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Mark Wilson / Getty Images

US Army Private First Class Bradley Manning, now known publicly as Chelsea Manning, is escorted by military police on Aug. 21, 2013, in Fort Meade, MD

When the court-martialed soldier heretofore known as Pvt. Bradley Manning announced on Aug. 22 that she was a woman and was taking the name Chelsea Manning, the very choice of names and pronouns in an already-politicized story became a kind of social-cultural side-taking: a she-bboleth, as it were. According to a roundup from MSNBC.com, the editorially conservative National Review and Washington Times were holding to “he”; Fox News’s Fox and Friends, with typical class, introduced a segment on Manning with Aerosmith’s “Dude Looks Like a Lady.” Meanwhile, after a period of fumbling and creative circumlocutions, news outlets including NPR, the Associated Press, and The New York Times switched to “she.” (Time.com has also used the female pronoun in covering Manning.)

But those decisions only settle part of the question: how to refer to Chelsea Manning now. Since she’s a longtime figure in the news, in a case involving her actions years previous, how do you refer to her history? Did Bradley leak information to Wikileaks, or did Chelsea? (Or Breanna?) Did she serve in Iraq or did he?

The answer goes to the question, still fuzzily defined, of what philosophy and definitions we’re using when referring to the growing number of transgender persons. Is cultural gender the same as biological sex? Does the person’s gender “change”–for media purposes–at the point of a public statement (bearing in mind that not everyone issues public statements)? Does it date to the point at which that person began to consider him or herself a different gender (bearing in mind that the realization might happen gradually over years)? Is it retroactive to birth–does Present You, in effect, override the consciousness of Past You? Think about it long enough, and it’s not just a question of what a man or woman is, but what identity and personhood is, period.

Forget politics; it’s a copy editor’s worst headache. For some, choosing to keep referring to Chelsea Manning as “he” is a political or cultural or even religious statement. But given all these definitional complications, it may also come from the desire to have one easy, Occam’s-Razor answer (and to have your audience know who and what you’re talking about). The arguments for keeping “he” are varied, but they generally boil down to the fact that Manning hasn’t had or begun the physical transition process.

But it’s not that simple. A chromosome, a set of genitalia–yes, those are concrete things. But attaching pronouns to them isn’t; there’s no objective requirement pronouns and linguistic gender need to exist at all. There’s no scientific reason you couldn’t, say, use “he” and “she” to distinguish right- and left-handers. It’s a collective decision, which is one way that sex as a biological term is different from gender as a social concept.

Social concepts are fluid, and modern medical science has shown that biological sex is malleable (and in some cases, not so clear-cut in the first place). If you believe people have the right to decide their own identity, it makes no more sense to tell someone she’s can’t say she’s a woman than to tell someone he’s can’t say he’s a libertarian, or a Christian, or a Red Sox fan.

But that still leaves the question of when to use “she” and “he,” when talking about the history of someone like Manning. And to be fair, while news outlets came in for criticism for how they described Manning after her announcement, they didn’t have much guidance, even from advocates for coverage of transgender people, about this specific question.

The New York Times, for instance, said its house style would follow the guidelines of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA)–but those guidelines, in a release about covering the Manning case, are pointedly present-tense: “As per AP style, one should use the name and pronouns that someone prefers.” Ditto GLAAD’s media reference guide: “A person who identifies as a certain gender, whether or not that person has taken hormones or had some form of surgery, should be referred to using the pronouns appropriate for that gender.”

Quartz news editor Gideon Lichfield wrote in the Huffington Post about the lack of guidance on how to talk about the pre-Aug.-22 Manning. Without any agreed-on guidelines, Lichfield asked around to transgender people on Twitter and came up with his own staff guidelines based on their responses:

the answer is simple—”Chelsea,” always—and so is the reasoning, once you know it. To come out as transgender is to acknowledge the gender you have always had, regardless of what your body seemed to be. The gender you used to go by is something you never really were. In that light, for someone else to then keep on using it just looks like stubbornness, or malice.

That’s an answer, at least, but it’s only one answer. Manning’s own statement, issued through her lawyer, added that “she also expects that the name Bradley Manning and the male pronoun will continue to be used in certain instances,” including references to the trial. (“Expects,” of course, is not “prefers.”)

And when I asked the NLGJA by e-mail to clarify its policy on reporting about Manning’s past, a spokesperson for the group said it would recommend “he” for historical reference too: “When writing about events prior to when the person began living publicly as the opposite gender, NLGJA recommends using the name and gender the individual used publicly at that time. For example: Chelsea Manning, formerly known as Bradley, came out as transgender last week. In a statement, Manning said she had felt this way since childhood. Manning grew up in Oklahoma. In middle school, he was very outspoken in class about government issues and religious beliefs, friends said.”

So: more answers, all well-intended but not all in agreement. Sometimes copy editing and language, like a lot of human activity, is an attempt to impose certitude and consistency on things–here, identity, psychology, self-perception–that are really shifting and complicated. (I’d guess that Manning’s “since childhood” remark argues for using “she” in the preceding example, for instance. But do I know that “since childhood” definitely means “before middle school”? No, I do not.)

I can’t say I know enough to decree a universal rule here yet, and maybe there isn’t one, beyond simple consideration. Which is to say, if I don’t know the ideal way to refer to someone like Chelsea Manning, a good starting point is to at least assume that she knows better than I do.

19 comments
KevinFerian
KevinFerian

Am I the only one who believes that this is the product of the torture they put him through?

AnnetteSleeping-Bear
AnnetteSleeping-Bear

If this is Bradley's choice, then I say Hello Chelsea, If however this choice is not Bradley's, then WTF is going on? When was this decided? Has Bradley/Chelsea ever mentioned this to his/her parents before? I'm a bit skeptical, but like I said if its Manning's own choice, then fair enough.

menyazovutAJ
menyazovutAJ

You're taking the word of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association to call her "he"?  Notice they have no "T" or the word "transgender" in their name.  So that's even more people who AREN'T trans speaking for trans people.  Sheesh.

Hypatian
Hypatian

@ZJemptv AGGH. WHY DID I READ THE COMMENTS? Good article, though.

fluffybunnypuff
fluffybunnypuff

Executive order 13526 Sec.1.7.Classification Prohibitions and Limitations.

(a)In no case shall information be classified, continue to be
maintained as classified, or fail to be declassified in order to:

(1)conceal violations of law, inefficiency, or administrative error;

(2)prevent embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency;

..or prevent or delay the release of information that does not require protection in the interest of the national security."

REDUCING OVER-CLASSIFICATION ACT Public Law 111–258: SEC. 5. ..‘‘(G) in accordance with Executive Order No. 13526.." house and senate passed it, president signed into law October 7, 2010.

fluffybunnypuff
fluffybunnypuff

its gov's job to report and try to stop crime/gov-misconduct, and protect everyone=under the law=not letting some get away w the same type of misconduct you dont let others get away with, =no spying on everyone while baning every1 to spy on u

us army subject schedule no. 27-1 is "the obligation to report all violations of the law of war"

UCMJ: 894. Art. 94. Mutiny or sedition "..REFUSES..to..do his duty or creates..violence or disturbance is guilty of mutiny..failure to supress or report mutiny..shall be punished..as..court martial.."

it is a felony to attempt to use the classification system to hide a crime or protect the powerful from embarrassment. Such material remains unclassified after being stamped.

Title18US Code contains the law.

fluffybunnypuff
fluffybunnypuff

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GPbFzb7eYgU bradley manning innocent part 1

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06EiFutO4og bradley manning innocent part 2

read more manninginnocent.blog.com/2013/08/19/manning-innocent/

NSA is guilty of criminal ESPIONAGE, NOT MANNING, according to espionage act: "whoever, for the purpose of obtaining information respecting the national defence with intent or reason to believe that the information to be obtained is to be used to the injury of the United States..

gov admitted manning leaks didnt put anyone at risk. gov cant proove or point to anything manning leaked that could be used to injure anyone.

manning leaks put no one at risk(exsept might put the crooks he exposed at risk of being fired/arrested/disliked).

only criminals say exposeing/leaking evidence of crimes puts security at risk, because it put's criminals at risk of being fired or arrested.

allowing criminals who spy on entire non-gov w/o their permit, overclassify gov docs, cover up gov misconduct, or murders who kill innocents, to go unpunished puts everyone at risk.

DanBruce
DanBruce

How would the law respond? For example, if Manning were not in jail but at a junior high school, and decided to go into a restroom, would Manning be lawful if going into a girl's restroom in Manning's present condition with a penis and testacles? Until a person has legally defined changed gender status, he or she should be referred to publicly with his or her birth gender identity. In private situations, who cares?

IsoldeJaneHolland
IsoldeJaneHolland

I've noticed from the start - long before any of the gender stuff surfaced - that people in general were much less hostile to Private Manning than they were to Julian Assange or Snowden. Not only because Manning is the youngest, or because Assange looks like a Bond villain, but I think there was some kind of subconscious peripheral awareness of an undefined vulnerability there that the others lacked. maybe it's wishful thinking.

bojimbo26
bojimbo26

S/he's going to grow breasts but keep his penis . Shemale .

mary.waterton
mary.waterton

The news media doesn't get to decide for the rest of us how to refer to these mutants.

Jeff78
Jeff78

I think it should come down to the legal name--some one's legal name is what it is until they have taken the steps to legaly change it. If (s)he has obtained the appropriate legal/judicial order stating that (s)he is now "Chelsea" then (s)he is a she; until that process is completed, then (s)he is Bradley.

Someone's legal name is thier legal identity, and it takes more than a public statment to change ones legal identity.

I have not seen it reported, but has (s)he begun (or finished) the process to legally change their name? I have no idea what it would be based on the her/his state of domicile....

chokingkojak
chokingkojak

Sorry, I have to bang the GONG on this one.  "Manning" -- male or female -- doesn't exist.  "Manning" is a "photoshop private."  Nice intel scare fiction though.  Too bad the "art work" is GS quality, boys.   



WienersPeener
WienersPeener

Easy. He is not dressing as a female, taking hormones, or having surgeries yet. So you call him Bradley for now. When he starts living as a woman, then you call her Chelsea. Personally, I think he gave up the right to undergo that transformation at the taxpayers' expense. Let him serve his sentence and THEN when he's free he can live as he wishes. If he were already on hormones and living as a woman then I would agree that the taxpayers would have to foot the bill, but I don't believe he has started the process yet.

PeterJamesHerz
PeterJamesHerz

Bunch of b.s.  this is Bradley's way of making a conservative country uneasy with wish that no longer matter while he's incarcerated.. rights lost, point irrelevant.. but nice try beating the old gender politics drum.

glichfield
glichfield

@poniewozik Thank you. Great piece. Interesting response from NLGJA. And I love "she-bboleth."

eagle11772
eagle11772

@mary.waterton We usually use kind names for mutants in our society, instead of what they really are.  They are usually called "Democrats".