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Rosen writes: "Bradley Manning shocked the world when he declared that he has always felt he was a woman, wishes to be called Chelsea Manning, and requests hormone therapy in the military prison to which he has been sentenced for leaking 700,000 government documents to Wikileaks."

Chelsea Manning is escorted into a courthouse in Fort Meade, Md., Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013, before a sentencing hearing in her court martial. (photo: Patrick Semansky/AP)
Chelsea Manning is escorted into a courthouse in Fort Meade, Md., Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013, before a sentencing hearing in her court martial. (photo: Patrick Semansky/AP)

Chelsea Manning's Past and Future

By Ruth Rosen, Reader Supported News

28 August 13


radley Manning certainly picked a difficult time to tell the world that he has always wanted to live as a woman. Convicted of leaking 700,000 documents to Wikileaks, Manning - who went by the name Bradley - was sentenced to serve 35 years at Fort Leavenworth Prison, a military prison in Kansas. A spokeswoman for the facility told the "Today Show" that "the Army does not provide hormone therapy or sex-reassignment surgery for gender identity disorder." She now faces at least seven years in federal prison before she is eligible for parole.

On the day after the judge pronounced her sentence, Bradley shocked the world when he said he had been living in the wrong body. "I am Chelsea Manning. I am female," the private wrote in a statement. "Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope that you will support me in this transition." In her statement to the "Today Show," Chelsea Manning thanked her supporters and said:

As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning…. I hope that you will support me in this transition. I also 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). I look forward to receiving letters from supporters and having the opportunity to write back.

Thank you.

Aside from shock, the first response has been predictable. First, the media questioned when or if they should use the pronoun "she" to describe Private Manning's sentence and request for hormone therapy. Double XX, a feminist section of Slate Magazine, immediately said that all media should use female pronouns. The New York Times managed to write an entire story without using a single pronoun.

Next, attorneys debated whether she has a constitutional right to such therapy and surgery as a prisoner. During her trial for leaking government documents - the greatest number in American history - Manning was described as suffering from gender identity disorder. One psychologist testified that she had a "difficult time adjusting to the hypermasculine environment of a combat zone." Manning's attorney believes - or says he believes - that President Obama will pardon Manning. He will also appeal Manning's request for hormone therapy, arguing that there are precedents for other prisoners receiving such medical care. The American Civil Liberties Union similarly states that it is her constitutional right to seek corrective medical care, but that is not the position of prison officials right now.

Finally, the media began to dig deeper and explore the danger and isolation that Chelsea Manning will face in prison. If placed in a men's prison, which is likely, her life will be in danger and solitary confinement will almost certainly be necessary to protect her from rape or worse. Slate's Double XX article noted that "As a trans woman living in a men's prison, Manning will not only be denied hormone therapy. She will also face an elevated risk of harassment and sexual assault behind bars from both fellow inmates and members of staff. One 2006 study of California prisons found that trans women housed in men's prisons are 13 times as likely to be sexually abused as other prisoners. That year, 59 percent of transgender women in the system were abused. And Just Detention International, an organization dedicated to ending sexual abuse behind bars, notes that once "targeted for abuse, the majority of transgender survivors are subjected to repeated sexual assaults."

Even if she were placed in a women's prison, she would also face taunts - and perhaps violence - that a transgender woman experiences in a prison filled with inmates who make sharpened instruments and frequently express hatred for a man who has decided to live as woman.

In a newly released Netflix-produced television series titled "Orange Is the New Black," which recounts the experiences of women prisoners, one of the inmates is a former husband who has had hormone therapy and reassignment surgery. The other women circle her warily, sometimes taunting her, often supporting her. When she can no longer buy hormones, she suffers hot flashes and grows a beard. To get the hormones she needs, she ingests a toy so that she can be declared a medical emergency.

The fact is, all institutions are based on a binary system of gender identification. You are either a woman or a man. Bathrooms are for either women or men. So are prisons. Yet years of research and political activism have repeatedly revealed the broad continuum along which women and men find their identity. The idea of gender fluidity, however, is not institutionalized in prisons, and you don't have the choice where you serve your sentence.

In the case of Chelsea Manning, the situation is particularly complicated. She has been court-martialed, sentenced to a military prison, and officials are scoffing at the idea that Chelsea Manning will go to prison as a woman. The transgendered community is still relative new and invisible within the United States. No longer relegated to the streets as prostitutes, many are employed as the women or men they have chosen to be. Chelsea Manning, however, did not come out when she could have chosen hormone therapy and reassignment surgery. As a convicted and imprisoned felon, moreover, she is at the mercy of officials who view her as a "man" who gave secrets to the enemy.

The average American does not read feminist books about the "gender fluidity" that undergraduates study - and sometimes live - at their universities. They don't know any transgendered individuals, and when they see them, they view them as freaks, not as people born into the wrong body.

Many liberal supporters, therefore, worry that transgendered men and women will be tarnished by Manning's actions. During the McCarthy era, homosexuals were hunted down because of fears they were communists or could be blackmailed into giving secrets to the Soviet Union. Now, some people in the lesbian, gay, and transgendered community fear that social conservatives will argue that people like Chelsea Manning - unable or unwilling to come out - will instead turn into leakers of government documents or spies. Some social conservatives, in fact, have already expressed their disgust at her leaks to Wikileaks, and view her as a freak who is "a mentally ill deviant waging a war on reality."

It is too soon to know how Chelsea Manning will fare in prison and whether her request for hormone therapy and reassignment surgery will be approved. Manning has not received the same support shown Edward Snowden, because she remained in isolation in prison, unable to explain why she leaked government documents. And yet, her justifications for her actions are similar to his. In a statement just released after her sentencing, Chelsea Manning explained how much she loved her country, but that she could not tolerate the means used to fight the "war on terror." "It was not until I was in Iraq and reading secret military reports on a daily basis that I started to question the morality of what we were doing. It was at this time I realized in our efforts to meet this risk posed to us by the enemy, we have forgotten our humanity. We consciously elected to devalue human life both in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Whatever her future, one thing is clear: Chelsea Manning has made a great sacrifice by informing the world of this country's hypocrisy and hidden crimes. Now, she may gain the admiration and political support that some Americans have expressed for Edward Snowden. She has also made more people aware of the plight and feelings of transgendered persons than all the political activism did during the last four last decades. Her future, however, is endangered by what will be viewed as her unpatriotic act and her "freakish" life as a transgender woman.

Ruth Rosen, a former columnist for the Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle, is Professor Emerita of history at the University of California, a regular contribute to and many other online magazines. She is the author of The World Split Open: How the Modern Women's Movement Changed America. Follow Ruth Rosen at and at twitter @Ruth_Rosen

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner


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+18 # Deboldt 2013-08-28 09:33
my first thought upon hearing Chelsea’s desire to henceforth be addressed and treated as a female was, “She’s asking for a death sentence.” I am not familiar with the treatment of women in military detention. Based upon the military’s respect for female soldiers I can only conclude it can’t be good. The fate of a woman locked up in an all male detention facility is too dire to imagine let alone the fate of a pariah like a transgendered person. I’m pretty sure Chelsea will be dead in a month unless given special care and consideration by the prison authorities—car e they seem loath to provide. Also I remember the kind of “care” Bradley Manning was afforded by the military justice system when he was incarcerated as an innocent suspect freshly pronounced “guilty” by the Liar in Chief himself. Now that she is looking for a minimum of seven years as a convicted person as well as being an unspeakably disgusting transgendered sexual being I cannot imagine the horrors she will be subjected to. Even in a system of an otherwise uncorrupted, fair military justice system, I would not expect any kind of a positive outcome for Chelsea. Under a hopelessly insane military justice system she will be lucky to emerge with her sanity or her life.
0 # mudbike 2013-08-29 03:42
The only thing unspeakably disgusting unspeakably disgusting is your calling Chelsea "unspeakably disgusting transgendered sexual being." The choice of such terminology to describe a transgender individual is either hateful, or, at best extremely ignorant. You are no better than transgender (not transgendered) people. Transgender people are born that way. Nobody has 'transgendered them. They are good and bad just like any other population segment and there is no shame or stigma required.
+10 # lisaw 2013-08-29 13:41
From the tone and content of the rest of the comment, I'm pretty sure Deboldt was being ironic with "unspeakably... sexual being"
+9 # tomtom 2013-08-28 09:41
We can make Americca a better place. Change it and love it! But, we do have our job cut out for us. The Utah Data Center could be a University for prisoners or the homeless.
+17 # Eronat 2013-08-28 10:38
Thanks for this excellent article about Chelsea Manning and all the implications of her coming out as trans. However, I have to shake my head at the opening sentence: "Bradley Manning certainly picked a difficult time to tell the world that he has always wanted to live as a woman." Bradley Manning did not say he always wanted to live as a woman. He said that he was a woman. Why is this so hard for people to understand? Being transgendered doesn't mean that you sit around fantasizing about how nice it would be to switch genders. It means that you live with knowing that your body does not conform to your true gender, trying to figure out what this means and what to do about it. Why is this so hard for people, including sympathetic people like Ruth Rosen, to understand? Every time an article uses the language "wants to live as a woman (or man), it reinforces the misunderstandin g of transgender in the general public. This article would be so much stronger, and more educational, if it started out by saying, simply, "Bradley Manning certainly picked a difficult time to tell the world that he was a woman."
+19 # Moefwn 2013-08-28 13:45
Hear, hear. Chelsea is a woman. There is no fantasy or "wishes to live as" about it. It is simply a fact that she can no longer deny. Who would go through this unless it were an absolute necessity?
+2 # grandma lynn 2013-08-30 02:12
I just found a movie new to me, Beautiful Boxer, set in Thailand. True story of a champion kick-boxer who was doing that violent work to save money to get hormone treatments and surgery so he could become she. Frame is that a Brit interviewer is writing the story. Very good movie, and starts with the small child who sees male violence (kick-boxing) and traditional dance by women, and admires the dance and grace and gentleness more.
0 # mudbike 2013-08-28 10:54
The author displays ignorance by repeatedly calling Chelsea 'he". She should educate herself on the proper use of pronouns for transgender individuals.
+2 # mudbike 2013-08-28 10:57
I partially retract the previously posted commentt, as when I read further into the article the author did use the correct pronoun. However, "he" should not have been used at all.
+4 # lorenbliss 2013-08-28 11:27
My long-time support for transgender rights not withstanding, the sexual savagery that characterizes U.S. prisons whether military or civilian marks the timing of Chelsea Manning's declaration as implicitly suicidal. Indeed it seems to be the prison-yard equivalent of suicide by cop. I cannot but wonder if -- given she is facing least seven years of horrors unimaginable to most of us -- that is her intent.
+17 # Moefwn 2013-08-28 13:40
We need serious prison reform, starting with a refusal to continue contracting prison management to companies that have proved incompetent and brutal.
+5 # grandma lynn 2013-08-30 02:18
If the incompetence and brutality net them greater profit, that's all the go-ahead prison companies need. A good reason to achieve prison reform....
+3 # hbheinze 2013-09-01 18:21
Moefwn, I agree, but I would say "a refusal to continue contracting prison management to companies, period." Prisoners should not be at the mercy of profiteers.
+3 # grandma lynn 2013-08-30 02:16
I think it shows Manning's characteristic bravery. During his MLK Day speech, Obama said this thing that I think (Obama is blind to his own words' implications, however)describ es Manning: "The young are unconstrained by what is." Obama was praising the number of youth at the D.C. rally. Manning in her actions is like a smart, new ship setting out on the ocean. Everything is possible. Possible was telling us the truth that we need to know. Possible is becoming transgendered while in prison walls. Hooray for our hero, Chelsea Manning.
+8 # fliteshare 2013-08-28 12:25
What a convenient distraction from the warcrime cluster called Iraq. I don't care what Manning's gender identity is. The real point is that someone whom exposed warcrimes up to the highest levels got thrown into the slammer and psychologically tortured for more than a year.
Let's not join this red herring and put insult to injury.

-11 # arquebus 2013-08-28 12:55
If Manning wants to ingest hormones or transgender surgery, so be it. But that is an elective procedure/surge ry like getting a face list. Taxpayers should not foot the bill for such things.
+10 # Eronat 2013-08-28 15:56
No, this is like getting a prosthetic limb for someone born with one leg cut off at the knee. It is not elective. It is what's necessary for a transgendered person to lead a normal life. Cities and states are acknowledging this more and more by including hormone treatments and trans-related surgeries in insurance coverage. It is what's required for the mental health of the person involved, and is therefore mandated for all incarcerated people, which is what Chelsea's lawyer will argue. If Chelsea were in a civilian prison there would be no question about her entitlement.
+5 # grandma lynn 2013-08-30 02:19
Watch the movie Beautiful Boxer (Netflix streaming) and hear the surgeon at the movie's end explain that the "soul and body need to match" for best health of the individual. A kick-boxer champ needs to become an actress/model and does.
+5 # reiverpacific 2013-09-01 10:33
Quoting arquebus:
If Manning wants to ingest hormones or transgender surgery, so be it. But that is an elective procedure/surgery like getting a face list. Taxpayers should not foot the bill for such things.

But it's OK to foot the bill for illegal wars, a swollen military, earth destroying military death machine, bank and brokerage-house bailouts and corporate welfare!
Is THAT what you mean?
+5 # hbheinze 2013-09-01 18:25
Exactly. You couldn't have said it better! Always billions for the corporations & for war, but we can't foot the bill for humans.
+14 # Moefwn 2013-08-28 13:38
I am a rather old person, so I would expect to have a more conservative response, but I really don't understand what "shocked" people about Chelsea's decision. This issue had been brought up multiple times throughout the trial, usually in an effort to discredit Chelsea's rationality. If anything, this decision was expected. It demonstrates that the frequently mentioned "gender confusion" was not just some sort of legal ploy, and it takes at least some control of the issue back out of the hands of her detractors. She will now have to fight difficult battles on two separate fronts - either of them would be more than enough for anyone - but sometimes life is like that, and her courage to go forward as she feels necessary is laudable. Enough with the "we're so surprised and shocked" stories. People have the right to be who they are.
+6 # Kathymoi 2013-08-28 16:37
+17 # uma 2013-08-28 17:54
I know this is going to sound sexist, but when I heard about Manning's intent I thought, that makes perfect sense. She's a woman. No wonder she's willing to go through all this s... to protect others. Man or woman, Chelsea is one of the bravest and decentest people I've ever heard of. Could we do a crowd share and raise the money to support her intent? She certainly did alot for us. Not only did she reveal to us the brutality of our approach to the rest of the world, she is liberating other transgender people by her very presence. You can't squeeze much more out of a short life than that. And yet, I think she will!
+3 # nancyhallatr 2013-08-28 18:48
I've worked in a men's prison that housed male to female transgender individuals who had not yet had surgery. People who had already had surgery were housed with women and given hormones. Those who were pre-op were housed with men and were not given hormones. Their transgender status was not inherently dangerous. I believe the individuals I knew had yfriends who kept them safe. It was my observation that prison violence had more to do with behavior than it did with who somebody was, with the possible exception of pedophiles. Most of the incidents of which I was aware were either gang related or related to gambling debts. The culture at the Disciplinary Barracks at Leavenworth will probably be much more peaceful than the state prison where I worked.
+9 # oakes721 2013-08-28 21:09
Private Manning's timing might well have been aimed at self-protection by calling attention to the situation being entered ~ as well as using this opportunity to begin to also shed light upon 'correctional' facilities. From a life of forced secrecy, persecution and gender identity, it would follow that this person has learned to act and speak eloquently to illustrate to the world what just one voice can accomplish.
+5 # grandma lynn 2013-08-30 02:23
You know what Christian lore tells us - someday Christ will return and be among us. You never know who it will be. Why not a transgendering soldier who faces inhumanity and wrong-of-war with courage? I'm not proposing Manning-worship , just putting out there that such courage on more than one front at a time is outstanding courage. I think we may be in the presence of a great soul. Maybe she is the returned spirit of a great American NA chieftan from the past?
We can wonder.
+3 # reiverpacific 2013-09-02 09:38
Quoting grandma lynn:
You know what Christian lore tells us - someday Christ will return and be among us. You never know who it will be. Why not a transgendering soldier who faces inhumanity and wrong-of-war with courage? I'm not proposing Manning-worship, just putting out there that such courage on more than one front at a time is outstanding courage. I think we may be in the presence of a great soul. Maybe she is the returned spirit of a great American NA chieftan from the past?
We can wonder.

Y'know, me theory is that if Christ were to return, the same people and forces who had him killed the last time, would probable be the same to bump him off at his second coming (if you believe in that sort of prophecy), they who ignore -even despise- his message of peace, equality and inclusivity for all. It would scupper all they practice and perpetrate in their effort to dominate and dictate everything, especially the televangelists, mega-churches, holy-rollers in government and the majority of SCOTUS.
They really showed their dirty hands during Ms. Manning's arrest, isolation, torture and trial, didn't they!
+10 # ChickenBoo 2013-08-28 22:53
I had a brother who was trans-gender. I say "HAD" because he eventually commited suicide due to lack of support and treatment. It is a horrible death-sentence in itself. People would always ask him...why don't you just be GAY? He would always respond that he WASN'T "gay". Small minded, fearful people can't understand this condition, so they hate and fear the affected one. This Manning person is a living legend, and she's probably one of the bravest people we will ever know. This is far from over. If Chelsea can stay alive, and somehow get out of prison before she's maimed or killed, she will be a huge inspiration to all who want truth and light. She will be in constant view of the public and her letters will be publicized. If the incumbent prisoners can protect her instead of harming her, it will help their own situation as well.
+6 # grandma lynn 2013-08-30 02:26
I've read that some newborns' genders are not specific, and that (at least in the past) delivering doctors tried to guess and made modifications to the genitals. But it's later when hormones surge that a true gender i.d. can be done. Did you read the novel Middlesex? I am sorry that your brother did not get the support that would have helped him want to live.
+4 # corals33 2013-08-29 01:12
you wonder why (s)he didn't get all the gender fluidity issues sorted out before military service and why the army, if they were informed at time of enlisting, accepted the enrollment of this individual.Havi ng said that, Private Manning,whateve r gender you are, you are a decent human being and no one can take that away from you. Good luck with your life.
+6 # reiverpacific 2013-09-01 10:41
Again "She" as "He" -but really she all along, has shown more courage, survival instinct, spiritual and moral fortitude AND forgiveness for her many months in the brig under conditions of isolation, humiliation, torture, inhuman and dehumanizing treatment than the rest if her accusers, captors, jailers, judges and detractors combined.
How many of us could come through all that seemingly intact and even strong the way she did.
The meek aren't always the weak and it really would be good if they indeed 'inherited the earth', as a certain former tortured and condemned prophet once said, as well as "Which of you shall cast the first stone"?
+3 # hbheinze 2013-09-01 18:32
Reiverpacific, thank you. Eloquent as always. I always enjoy (for lack of a better word) your insightful comments!

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