Manning Announces Gender Transition

Human Rights

One day after being sentenced to 35 years for leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning announced she would henceforth live a a woman, no doubt a challenging path to pursue while serving a long prison sentence. 

Early this morning, Manning's lawyer appeared on the Today show to read an exclusive statement from Manning announcing that she is slated to begin hormone therapy in a push towards gender reassignment, and would like to be referred to as Chelsea Manning by the media at large, and with feminine pronouns. This comes, of course, a week after the Army released a black-and-white photo (or, as the young ones call it, a #selfie) of Manning in wig and make-up as part of Manning's defense case documents. The photo was leaked to the press, and has since added an entirely new dimension to Manning's case, namely the role that the army played in Manning's own narrative of self-discovery, with army private Paul Adkins expressing a belief that Manning viewed a career in the military as the chance to "get rid of [gender questioning] ." 

With her trial over, and sentence determined, speculation will inevitably turn to how gender reassignment will go for Manning in prison.  Manning's lawyer has said that his client plans to pursue hormone therapy on-site, even though Fort Leavenworth doesn't offically provide therapy or sex-reassignment surgery on site (Manning has said she is not pursuing sexual reassignment surgery, for now). The leaked photo may have possibly made a significant dent in showing the level of emotional and psychological stress Manning was under while she was in the military, [that the subject line of the email Manning sent containing the photo read "My Problem" says it all.) 

Engaging in typical masculine (or, in the case of the army, culturally "hyper-masculine") behavior and endeavors as a way of combatting the personal and psychological toll that comes with questioning one's gender, is, according to transgendered author Jennifer F. Boylan, typical. As she wrote in a piece written yesterday for Psychology Today, "Many of trans women—like Manning—immerse themselves in super-masculine activities in an attempt to shake off their inner sense of womanhood. As is the case with virtually all women born trans, 'immersion therapy; didn’t cure [Manning's] problem; it only made things worse."

Manning's statement is a provocative one for a culture that is still attempting to sort out its more complicated opinions regarding the Manning case, and it is also a powerful show of progress and personal growth. Yet there is something strange in the way Manning's announcement is being used as a justification for what are, largely, acts of protest that should be sparking more moral outrage than we've been seeing. Manning's struggle with gender identity definitely colors the case, but the debate regarding the leak isn't illuminated any further. And of course, the war crimes that Manning exposed, aren't even being discussed. What we need is an understanding that Manning may have broken the law, but with the intention to reveal what are far more egregious crimes. That is a discussion that is not happening. Her struggles with gender dysphoria are another matter, and an important one at that.  

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