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Manning’s Difficult Choices Have Paved the Way For a Harrowing Future

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.

Photo Credit: Kobby Dagan


Bradley 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.

One day after the judge pronounced her sentence, Bradley shocked the world by disclosing that she 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 hormone therapy and reassignment therapy 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 than 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.