Who Is Chelsea Manning?
In August 2013, Chelsea Manning came out as trans* publicly. For the three years prior to her coming out, trans* supporters had referenced private chat logs which were released shortly after she revealed the 2007 and 2009 war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan to make their case that she should be called “Breanna,” as the chat logs stated, not “Bradley,” and referred to with female pronouns. The problem with that comes with the fact that these logs were private and the support network, which had widely been criticized as transphobic, was honoring her requests by referring to her as “Brad,” or “Bradley,” with male pronouns up to this point. Her coming out means one thing, she’s human. She doesn’t “want to live as a woman,” as news sources like MSNBC and The Huffington Post erroneously stated in headlines, she is a woman. She is Chelsea and always has been. You can stop your internal dialogue.
Even if you think she’s the most terrible traitor that the US has ever seen, you need to at least respect her identity. Not her decision, her identity. She says, “Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible.” Gender is not a decision and when parents assign a child as male or female based on what’s between their legs at birth, they rarely if ever consider what that child might grow up to feel. Biological sex should never dictate how a person identifies. What’s more, the U.S. government has no right to deny her access to the medical treatment that she needs for her transition. She’s already served twenty-five years in the prison of a male body, why lock her in for another thirty-five? If nothing else, the U.S. government should pay for her treatment as an apology for unconstitutionally imprisoning her for three years without trial. Never mind the reasoned and impassioned appeals to the President to pardon her. That’s a subject for another day.
It’s important to understand that such a pivotal and polarizing figure’s gender identity has little to do with her actions. She’s not someone who just so happened to be upset enough about the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy to spill the beans on an international secret and sabotage the military. She’s a complex person who was outraged by the footage she saw. She may have also been upset about not being able to serve openly, but that was not her chief motive. Those who insinuate that being trans* automatically means that she’s mentally ill are horribly misguided in their thinking. Gender dysphoria is hell. The pain of not feeling male and having to put up a front and play a male role every day is not something anyone should have to experience. Being trans* is not an illness, cissexism** is. If you call her a faggot or a freak, use male pronouns to refer to her, or say one stupid thing about her getting her penis chopped off, you are a disgrace to the human family. Chelsea Manning is the sister you’ve been calling “brother,” the daughter you’ve been calling “son,” and the best friend you’ve been calling “man.” Accept her for who she is.
* This first asterisk is not a footnote, it’s part of the word.
**Cissexism is the institutional and interpersonal oppression of those who don’t fit in to the system of binary gender assigned by biological sex. (e.g. If you are born with a penis, you are male no matter what. If you are born with a vagina, you are female no matter what.)
Tyler Vile is a physically disabled queer transwoman who writes poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, essays, and much more. Her works are posted on her blog tylervile.wordpress.com and her work appears on appeared in Gadfly, The Bicycle Review, and Criminal Class Review.