Update: August, 22nd 2013
Earlier this week Pfc. Bradley Manning was sentenced to a 35-year sentence after a long and controversial trial regarding leaked classified information.
Manning has now come out in a personal statement, given to The Today Show, saying she wishes to be referred to as Chelsea Manning and with feminine pronouns.
“As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible,” she wrote.
According to The Guardian, Fort Leavenworth, where Manning will be serving her sentence, came out today saying they will not provide hormone treatment to her.
This morning on The Today Show, Manning’s defense attorney, David Coombs, appeared and addressed this issue.
“I’m hoping Fort Leavenworth will do the right thing and provide [hormone therapy]. If Fort Leavenworth does not, then I am going to do everything in my power to make sure they are forced to do so,” said Coombs.
Read Manning’s full statement here.
Please disregard the misleading title of this video.
Edit: this article originally ran with an inaccurate headline labeling transgender as a sexuality. We at GayRVA are very aware of these issues and apologize greatly for the mistake. GayRVA has covered trans issues extensively and hopes the reader realizes that the publication will make an editorial mistake from time to time. Thank you for your understanding. -Brand Kunter GayRVA Editor and Chief
Original Post: August, 15th 2013
Today the US Army released a photo that demonstrates what the blogosphere has known for quite some time–PFC Bradley Manning, currently being court-martialed for his role in the Wikileaks scandal, is actually a transgender woman. Recently found guilty of 20 different espionage-related charges, Manning’s trial is in the sentencing phase, and in an effort to garner a lighter prison sentence (Manning faces a maximum penalty of 128 years in prison), the defense has introduced discussions of Manning’s struggles with gender identity disorder. As part of this discussion, a self-portrait Manning took while wearing makeup and a blonde wig has been made public.
The self-portrait was originally attached to an email sent by Manning to Master Sgt. Paul Adkins, his supervisor at the time. Manning titled the email “My Problem,” and confessed within the email that he’d been aware of his transgender status for quite a while, that it had caused issues within his family, and that he’d hoped to “get rid of it” by joining the military. Manning’s issues with low self-esteem resulting from an inability to come to terms with gender identity disorder are obvious from the text of the email:
I’ve been trying very, very hard to get rid of it by placing myself in situations where it would be impossible. But, it’s not going away; it’s haunting me more and more as I get older. Now, the consequences of it are dire, at a time when it’s causing me great pain it itself…
I don’t know what to do anymore, and the only “help” that seems available is severe punishment and/or getting rid of me.
Struggles with his military duties led Master Sgt. Adkins to sent Manning to a therapist, but that therapist, Capt. Michael Worsley, found Manning unforthcoming about his gender dysphoria issues. “He was still guarded with me,” Worsley testified. “It was one of those things where you go: who can this guy share with? Who does he have?” Worsley also admitted that the military, even today and definitely in 2010, was not receptive to those who struggle with gender identity issues.
“Being in the military and having a gender identity issue does not go hand in hand… At this time, the military was not exactly friendly to the gay community, or anyone who held views as such,” Worsley said. “You put him in this environment — this kind of hyper-masculine environment, if you will, and with the little support and few coping skills, the pressure would have been difficult to say the least. It would have been incredible.”
Courthouse News reports that the current military code prohibits enlistment by transgender persons, classifying “transsexualism” as a “psychosexual condition” and considering it equivalent to “exhibitionism, transvestitism, voyeurism and other paraphilias.”
The question that all of this discussion focuses around, in regards to PFC Manning’s sentencing, is: how much of an effect did Manning’s ongoing struggles with gender identity disorder have on his decision to leak classified documents to WikiLeaks? Some interesting context for this question has been provided by trans activist Lauren McNamara, whose online chats with Manning in 2009 had become evidence in Manning’s trial, used to reflect Manning’s mindset at the time of his crimes.
McNamara discussed her experience giving testimony at the trial for a post at The New Civil Rights Movement. The questions she was asked while on the stand mainly related to their discussions of Manning’s military responsibilities, but she points out that the real reasons the two had connected related more to issues of sexuality and gender identity.
What I didn’t reveal at the trial was that Manning opened up to me in part because we were both gay men. That’s not who I am anymore, and by the time Manning contacted [Adrian] Lamo, there were clear signs that he too was considering transitioning – signs that any other trans person would see as indicative of someone who was so far into this, they weren’t likely to turn back.
McNamara continues by tracing a direct link between Manning’s mental state both currently and during the period in which he committed his crimes, and the pain of being forced to live in the wrong gender.
I’ve talked about Manning as male, because there’s been nothing but silence and denial on this front from his family and his attorneys, and I simply don’t know how else to refer to him. But I do know what happens when you take one of us and lock us away for most of our early twenties, unable to access treatments like those he was seeking. It horrifies me, and it should horrify anyone else who truly understands what it means to be held hostage by our own bodies.
In spite of the relative accessibility of information about Manning’s gender identity issues, and his understanding of himself as a woman, most mainstream discussion of Manning’s case has treated him as a cisgender man, without even a hint that he might have seen himself as otherwise.
Indeed, even in this article, we find ourselves defaulting to a male pronoun that must be considered problematic in light of the revelations at hand. Nonetheless, despite reports like a December 2011 story on ABC News referring to Manning identifying as “Breanna Manning,” editorials like Global Comment’s “Why Does The Media Still Refer To ‘Bradley’ Manning?”, also from December 2011, and a steady undercurrent of discussion on tumblr and reddit, the mainstream media has for the most part completely ignored the issue of Manning’s gender identity.
With the release of this photograph, it will be much harder for the discussion of Manning’s gender identity to be swept under the rug. Regardless of whether you agree with the actions he took that put him in his current position, it must be acknowledged that the high-pressure, universally disapproving environment he faced when trying to come to terms with his gender identity couldn’t have had a positive effect on his mental state. Indeed, we know from his supervisor’s testimony that it didn’t.
There are undoubtedly some out there who will point to Manning’s gender identity disorder as proof that he should never have been let into the military in the first place. LGBT people have been hearing this sort of talk for centuries now, and it’s high time for it to be dispensed with. Anyone ready, willing, and able to serve honorably in our military should be allowed to do so, regardless of concerns over sexuality or gender identity. It’s obvious from the facts emerging now that Manning’s real problem was not his gender identity, but the disapproval he faced from all quarters where it was concerned.
If the military, the media, and the general public had a more accepting attitude towards trans issues, perhaps some aspects of this situation could have been avoided. The fact that a huge issue of national security hinges on a question like this proves how important it is.