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Maureen writes: "The morning after the WikiLeaker formally known as Pfc. Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years in military prison, the convict issued a public statement: 'As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am female.'"

Chelsea Manning while on leave in 2010. (photo: Chelsea Manning)
Chelsea Manning while on leave in 2010. (photo: Chelsea Manning)


Why Is It So Hard to Call Chelsea Manning 'She'?

By Maureen O'Connor, New York Magazine

24 August 13

 

he morning after the WikiLeaker formally known as Pfc. Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years in military prison, the convict issued a public statement: "As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am female." Chelsea is seeking hormone therapy and has one request: "that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun (except in official mail to the confinement facility)."

Most news outlets who wrote about that request denied it. "He intends to live out the remainder of his life as a woman," both Today and USA Today reported. "Bradley Manning says he wants to live as a woman," the Associated Press announced. CNN, ABC News, the Boston Globe, the New York Daily News, the New York Post, Politico, the Telegraph, the Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the New York Times* used masculine pronouns. The Washington Post only used proper nouns, a tactic the Times used last year in a profile of transgender performer Justin Vivian Bond, who prefers the pronoun v. Reuters, the Guardian, and the Daily Mail used female pronouns, as did Daily Intelligencer.

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.

So why not pronouns? Particularly when the change is one that won't even set off spell-checker? Even if you cling to the belief that a word is not real until a certain number of dictionaries endorse it, she isn't a linguistic problem. It's only a problem for those who read it and balk, because they aren't used to it in the context of this particular person.

Squeamishness, then, is the obvious answer. But Manning's public gender identity is admittedly complex; today's press release arrived on stationery labeled "Bradley E. Manning," presumably owing to the "official mail" name caveat. Since the military still refers to her as "Bradley," masculine nomenclature has an air of authority. Similarly, editors who prize consistency in style and prose seem unwilling to accept change, preferring to waste precious column inches typing out "Private Manning" in every sentence if it saves them from making a decision. ("Bradley Manning" and "he" are also more recognizable in this context.)

But Manning is also a divisive figure. People abandon convention more readily for figures they admire. (Sometimes they overdo it: E.E. Cummings didn't always write his name in lowercase, but fans of his poetry call him "e.e. cummings" anyway.) Skepticism about Manning's motives, character, and state of mind may taint onlookers' abilities to take her seriously. But even then, what's the worst that could happen? She changes her mind and we go back to he? Even the worst-case scenario is so minor it doesn't qualify as a problem.

So call Chelsea Manning "she," already. To refuse isn't a political statement - it's just stubborn.

Update: Though the Times initially used no pronouns, it added masculine ones when the story expanded. Public editor Margaret Sullivan quotes their house style guide, which says, "Unless a former name is newsworthy or pertinent, use the name and pronouns (he, his, she, her, hers) preferred by the transgender person." Nevertheless she concludes, "It may be best to quickly change to the feminine and to explain that - rather than the other way around."

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+29 # Billy Bob 2013-08-24 14:35
"Ahh! Now, THAT explains it! He was just a little bitch all along! We knew it! Anyone who questions the military, torture, American expansionism, etc. MUST be a little bitch too!"

I'm just writing what's on the minds of most conservative Americans who read this.

"Obviously, any questions about U.S. foreign policy, human rights abuses, and the stripping of the U.S. Constitution are the whiny wimpers of little bitches who don't know what it's like to be real men."

Personally, I don't care who tells me the truth. The truth is still the truth. But, it's pretty obvious what this will turn into.

How many grown heterosexual men who question these same things are keeping their mouths shut for fear of being branded the same?

If you don't think that's a problem, you've obviously never been in the Midwest or Deep South.
 
 
+3 # John S. Browne 2013-08-24 15:24
Well, let's see, because she isn't "she" yet?
 
 
+9 # JetpackAngel 2013-08-25 01:13
To you and to all the men out there who are pretty sure their mental gender matches their physical one: if you suddenly lost your "member" in a freak accident, you'd still consider yourself men, right? This is the definition of being "cis-gendered." Cis isn't something that should be called "normal," or "right," it is simply "cis." So now the shoe is on the other foot and genitals shouldn't even be part of this discussion: if Chelsea says she's a woman, she is not required to show you a [evil v-word] as proof, just as you shouldn't have to drop trou to be confirmed as male.
 
 
+1 # Nominae 2013-08-25 15:44
Quoting John S. Browne:
Well, let's see, because she isn't "she" yet?


Precisely. This article is basically a polemic from the P.C. Thought Police, and not all of us are willing to genuflect on command.

The author concludes: "Squeamishness, then, is the obvious answer." Hardly. Accuracy, fact and reality are the obvious answers. Calling something by another name does nothing to change the essence of that "something".

For instance, calling our Sun a '57 Chevy does not *make* that Star a '57 Chevy; it simply means that we have, lemming-like, agreed to participate in an unsubstantiated and obviously illusory mass fantasy.

As it stands, Manning is a biological male, no matter what the preference is in his mind. If and when he completes sex change surgery, more people will be inclined to participate in his transition requests.

Even then, with surgery, hormone therapy, etc., the transgendered male to female still retains the male XY Chromosomes in every cell of his/her body.

It is not yet possible to change his DNA to the female XX configuration, any more than it is possible to change female DNA to the male XY Chromosome configuration. That's just basic Biology, adolescent P.C. pap notwithstanding .
 
 
+1 # ZoeBrain 2013-08-26 00:02
Quote:
Even then, with surgery, hormone therapy, etc., the transgendered male to female still retains the male XY Chromosomes in every cell of his/her body.
Unless she has a bone marrow transplant from an XX donor.

Though that's assuming she has XY chromosomes - 1 in 300 men don't.

Quote:
It is not yet possible to change his DNA to the female XX configuration, any more than it is possible to change female DNA to the male XY Chromosome configuration. That's just basic Biology, adolescent P.C. pap notwithstanding.
It is Basic Biology, true. But when it comes to Transsexuality and Intersex, you need Advanced Biology, or at least, Intermediate.

Bone marrow-derived cells from male donors can compose endometrial glands in female transplant recipients by Ikoma et al in Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2009 Dec;201(6):608.e1-8

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2008 Jan;93(1):182-9
A 46,XY mother who developed as a normal woman underwent spontaneous puberty, reached menarche, menstruated regularly, experienced two unassisted pregnancies, and gave birth to a 46,XY daughter with complete gonadal dysgenesis.

A sex difference in the human brain and its relation to transsexuality. by Zhou et al Nature (1995) 378:68–70.
Our study is the first to show a female brain structure in genetically male transsexuals and supports the hypothesis that gender identity develops as a result of an interaction between the developing brain and sex hormones
 
 
+10 # Innocent Victim 2013-08-24 19:19
The change is of concern to me, though I have supported her with small donations and comments on blogs. My concern is about the political statement that Manning makes, not for her personal future, though I wish her the best. She began her effort with a political goal: to tell fellow citizens what their government permits its armed forces to do. My focus remains on that goal. What advances it is good; what detracts is bad. Manning's defense did not place the goal first. It placed her personal future first. Like Danial Berrigan she is not. Mr Coombs was limited in court by the judge, who would not hear political arguments. But Coombs could have tried the case in the media as did William Kunstler, decades ago. He and Manning chose a personal defense. The final statement of Manning, and her announcement of female identification were personal and harmful to the political goal she set out to achieve. That is, to say the least, regrettable.
 
 
+6 # Byronator 2013-08-24 23:48
You object to Manning putting the personal before the political. But that is where global change begins. If we are not true to ourselves, we can be true to nothing. I think Chelsea Manning will be remembered as a major heroic person for this century, and if the first 13 years are any indication, true heroes are a scarcity among us.
 
 
-8 # Billy Bob 2013-08-25 00:03
Well said. It's as if she deliberately set out to discredit the movement partially instigated by her actions.

Here's an idea to try on for size: Manning is no hero. Manning is nothing but a self-serving prick...

Think about this. Would the truth of what she revealed be, in any way, altered by personal revelations that she couldn't care less about anyone but herself? What if that truth were revealed in SPITE of her, rather than "because" of anything of personal integrity in her character? Would it not still be the truth, regardless how the media chooses to belittle it, and the entire movement, because of its messenger.

She's no Snowden. Edward Snowden is self-deprecatin g but actually pretty eloquent and has made a well-thought-ou t argument for himself. Snowden is doing what's necessary to survive, but also seems to comprehend that the movement is a whole hell of a lot bigger than he himself.

What if it J. Edgar Hoover had been successful in fully discrediting Martin Luther King, as a human being, because of personal attacks, like adultery, etc.? What would that have done to the movement he represented? Would it have taken an additional decade or so, for blacks to achieve the Voting Rights Act?

If this becomes a media-fed frenzy, make no mistake. Destroying the entire anti-war/pro-re storing-the-con stitution movement will be, exactly, the agenda of the people behind it.
 
 
+3 # Billy Bob 2013-08-25 12:31
I hope I was misunderstood. I certainly didn't mean to offend so many people.
 
 
+4 # Eronat 2013-08-25 00:03
Regrettable that Chelsea considered coming out as her true gender so important that she made her statement to the press? What's regrettable is that you think it's more important to use her for your own political purposes rather than honor her courage and her simple request to be understood. Everyone talks about how courageous she has been, how much she deserves support, yet now turn their back on her in this time of personal courage and need. Regrettable is too kind a word for this behavior. Reactionary is more like it.
 
 
+8 # Beakie 2013-08-25 06:49
To innocent Victim: As far as I could tell, Manning did not have a political agenda. It has always been been personal & humanitarian born of compassion. Chelsea is rising like the mythological Phoenix from the ashes of Brad who can now emerge from the fires of suffering.
 
 
+5 # Moefwn 2013-08-25 08:30
Innocent Victim, I understand the point you make, but we are talking about a person, not a political symbol. This court case will go on, one way or another, for many, many years of Manning's life. She cannot be asked to maintain a false front indefinitely. This decision on her part seems to me just another example of her willingness to confront difficult issues courageously and vulnerably in the public eye. Her gender does not in any way alter what she has done, nor how she is being treated by our the government. Yes, some portions of the press will use it as a red herring to distract from the real issues, but they were already doing so - this question has been part of the trial since its inception. People of conscience have not been distracted by it, nor will we be.
 
 
+6 # jwb110 2013-08-25 10:25
Quoting Innocent Victim:
The change is of concern to me, though I have supported her with small donations and comments on blogs. My concern is about the political statement that Manning makes, not for her personal future, though I wish her the best. She began her effort with a political goal: to tell fellow citizens what their government permits its armed forces to do. My focus remains on that goal. What advances it is good; what detracts is bad. Manning's defense did not place the goal first. It placed her personal future first. Like Danial Berrigan she is not. Mr Coombs was limited in court by the judge, who would not hear political arguments. But Coombs could have tried the case in the media as did William Kunstler, decades ago. He and Manning chose a personal defense. The final statement of Manning, and her announcement of female identification were personal and harmful to the political goal she set out to achieve. That is, to say the least, regrettable.


Manning's political goal and his personal goals in no way have to match up to the "hetero-normati ve" bias in the US today. A hero is a hero even if they maybe a heroine. This country should stop being so naive and go back to the kind of separation of Church and State that allows for truth to come in all kinds of packages.
 
 
+3 # rradiof 2013-08-24 22:58
Viva Chelsea! The King is dead! Long live the Queen! Over and out.
 
 
+2 # tigerlille 2013-08-24 22:59
"Why is it so hard to call Chelsea Manning 'she'?

It isn't hard, but it presents a golden opportunity to express your contempt for this beings' personal choices, if you are so inclined, and that is just what these journalists are doing. Not only does Chelsea Manning have a good long chunk of the forseeable future to spend incarcerated,
but dozens of hack journalists will even deny her the right to be identified by the gender of her preference. Bully for them, because that is what they are, petty bullies.
 
 
+7 # tigerlille 2013-08-24 23:07
Innocent victim: So you require complete personal martyrdom from your whistle blowers? Give me a break. If you wish to find some manner in which to personally martyr yourself, go for it; I won't judge you. But Chelsea Manning is free to live the life she chooses. She doesn't owe you, or any of her other alleged supporters anything.
 
 
+9 # Anarchist 23 2013-08-24 23:10
Since Manning identifies with being female, that really ought to scare those types railing against feminism...Mann ing not only exposed horrible war crimes but went deeply undercover to do so. Good for her! Cherchez la femme. You go, Girl!
 
 
-21 # robcarter.vn 2013-08-24 23:13
Why are American officials so dense you best ask.
If the authorities just agree ok you are a girl now, agree. Tell him/her we must first cut off your appendage & doovers, then you must go to the girls prison of course.

The moment he realises that there will be nothing better than a strap-a-dick-on -me for his penetrable pleasures I think he'll change his mind, keep the bits and save Obi-wan-cares a fortune.

They say fight fire with fire, a cold with cols, a fever with heat and so I think fight cockle with cockle facility.
 
 
+2 # Billy Bob 2013-08-25 12:35
Wow! That was a strange comment!
 
 
+8 # VivaldiCO 2013-08-25 00:04
Going to a male prison as a female sounds pretty dangerous to me. Or am I missing something here?
 
 
+8 # X Dane 2013-08-25 01:31
I feel for Chelsey Manning, It must be horrendous to live in the wrong body. It used to be a cause for ridicule and scorn ...... I am afraid it still is for some people, who do not want to understand.

But I have read enough to understand that it is not some imagined condition. I remember about 50 years ago, it was a common belief that men became gay, because they had dominating bossy mothers and weak fathers.

Again women were unfairly attacked because of ignorance. It took many years before medical science finally understood that it was a matter of chromosomes. Of course, there are still people who think being gay, is voluntary and "curable".

I worry for her in prison. This may make it harder for her.
 
 
-3 # laser 2013-08-25 02:35
This is not a subjective question at all. A simple chromosome test will reveal this person's gender and make any speculation superfluous. What are they waiting for?
 
 
+7 # xflowers 2013-08-25 02:37
What surprised me more than Manning's request was the timing. This trial was a hugely important political event, enormously significant in what it told me about where we are as a country, where we've just been and where we may be headed. And yet after just being convicted to thirty-five years in prison, his/her gender and how she is addressed appears uppermost in Manning's mind. My reaction to Manning's priorities has forced me to admit that I don't really understand the problem of transgender identity crisis, that the issue of pronoun use is nothing like my confusion on whether to us Ms, Mrs, or Miss. I think we need some reporting here so that readers like myself can better understand it.
 
 
+3 # Arden 2013-08-25 04:49
Because "she" IS a man, and we need men with the balls to do what "she" did. Sorry, Chelsea, you are much more a man than most men. You should NOT be in prison, bottom line.
 
 
+9 # Moefwn 2013-08-25 09:04
Arden, why do you seem to think only men (with balls) can do these things? From my point of view, there's nothing wrong with saying that this putative "man" proved she had the ovaries to take on the US government. I think maybe you should take a long look at your gender assumptions and how you choose to express yourself. Women are also intelligent, strong, courageous, and effective, and if you don't recognize that it will probably turn around and bite you at some point.
 
 
0 # Arden 2013-08-26 21:55
I think my comment to Beakie (below) probably answers your question, Moefwn.

I wish Chelsea well. And ALL women, myself included. I gave you the green thumb by accident, but I appreciate your thoughtful reply regardless.
 
 
+9 # ericlipps 2013-08-25 05:47
"Why is it so hard o call Chelsea Manning 'she'?"

Well, there's that pesky Y chromosome, for one thing. Then there are all the organic manifestations which go with it (need I elaborate?). Finally there's the fact that "Chelsea Manning" is a phantom; legally, his name is Bradley Manning.

I'm really sorry that the issue of transgenderism even came up in this case. It allows people to say (and they will) that Manning released all those documents because he's mentally ill and a "faggot" and that anyone else who spills the beans about government misconduct in foreign affairs must be "abnormal" too.
 
 
+5 # Beakie 2013-08-25 08:01
Chelsea is the Phoenix rising out of Brad's ashes. What was revealed in these leaks was not politically motivated. The force behind this act was born of compassion & regard for truth.
 
 
+6 # Arden 2013-08-25 10:12
"The force behind this act was born of compassion & regard for truth."

And it has nothing to do with gender or chromosomes . Men and women are equally capable of compassion and desire for truth.
 
 
+4 # Moefwn 2013-08-25 08:21
Bradley Manning was originally introduced to the public as a male. Bradley has explained that she is in fact female and has changed her name to Chelsea in order to reflect this. Therefore, to my mind, Chelsea is female. Physical characteristics have little to do with gender identity, which is all about the person's understanding of him- or herself. I have no problem calling Chelsea Manning "she". Unfortunately, in court documents Chelsea is referred to as Bradley, or "he". That is unlikely to change. Thus within the legal system Bradley Manning, a male, is being charged, sentenced, and reported on, while outside the court, Chelsea Manning, a female, is now beginning to be publicly recognized. It can't be easy for Chelsea to be undergoing two such demanding transitions at the same time, especially with the addition of all this public speculation. The least we can do is make a conscious effort to address her appropriately.
 
 
+1 # Tom Atlee 2013-08-25 12:03
I'm still waiting for RSN to correct the closing paragraph of every one of their emails, which states: "Special Coverage: The Defense of Bradley Manning
Reader Supported News
Starting on Monday, July 8th Reader Supported News will live blog from the court-martial of Bradley Manning. Despite significant opposition from the Army's court administrators, RSN remains on the base gathering facts and pursuing its Media Access action against the Army. Stick with RSN for the latest developments from The Trial of Bradley Manning."

C'mon, RSN. Time to let the trial end and Chelsea Manning come into official existence in your emails.
 
 
+2 # Billy Bob 2013-08-25 12:34
I hope the rest of the country handles this as grown up as the commenters on this thread. I'm a bit cynical, but who knows?
 
 
+5 # brenda 2013-08-25 14:27
Many on this comment string fail to recognize that Chelsea Manning cannot change her name because the law forbids it to people who are in jail. However, based on her recent disclosures, she has the right to request, even sue for hormone therapy, and be allowed to dress according to her name. As a matter of fact, it might be better for her health and life if she was segregated from the rest of the male convicts, who would quickly jump at the chance to beat her up and most likely rape her. I think the prison system should take every appropriate step in protecting her while in prison. And for all you males and females out there, when taking feminine hormones, her little willy won't work except to pee. Female hormones turn men into eunuchs. Her next possible operation would be to remove her testicles. But in her case she proved to have more balls than anyone else in her unit to release government official incriminating info to the public as a "whistle blower". It's been long known that our government likes to sweep bad things under the carpet so that they can get off scot-free from t5he charge of being incompetent. Atrocities should always be brought to light, especially when they're detrimental to Americas good will name. In closing, it is an accepted medical and psychological fact that transgender births do happen, a lot more than you think.
 
 
0 # Billy Bob 2013-08-25 16:39
I think the only reason she's suddenly "newsworthy" as "Chelsea Manning" is that it's a good way to deflect attention away from the substance of her case and reason she released all that information in the first place.

The gender thing may be very important to Manning. But why is it worth making a big deal out of in the news, except as a way to equate her with "Clinger" from "MASH"?

I don't see any reason why Manning should be allowed to define who she is. I think that's a fundamental human right.

But, regarding the timing of "outing" her and making a big deal out of this in the news media: I have WAY TOO MANY relatives who are right-wing nutbags, and I know how this plays right into their hands. I just wonder why this is being discussed so much, if not for that reason.

JFK was a great man regardless of the fact that he wasn't perfect. Martin Luther King was just as good privately as his public persona, but that didn't stop the FBI from trying to fish up something to smear him with. This is done, for the expressed purpose of discrediting people and everything they stand for.

The only thing Manning is "guilty" of is pissing off and embarrassing powerful vindictive psychopaths. Now, the fact that she's suddenly outed herself as a woman, gives them exactly the red meat they want to discredit all who would get in their way.

If I were Manning and already committed up to my neck in her cause, I would have sacrificed myself and not "come out", just yet.
 

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