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Why does the media still refer to “Bradley” Manning? The Curious Silence Around a Transgender Hero

Posted on Thursday, December 22nd, 2011 at 2:57 am

Author: Emily Manuel

One of the most persistent threads throughout the two years of imprisonment of accused Wikileaks leaker Private Bradley Manning has been the rumour that he is in fact, she–a transgender woman.  Manning faces thirty charges, one of which “aiding the enemy” potentially carries the death penalty (though life in prison is more likely) for leaking hundreds of thousands of documents via the website Wikileaks including the shocking “Collateral Murder” video.  Dismissed by many as a smear or simply irrelevant to the case, this transgender story has nevertheless refused to die.
In June 2010, Wired published excerpted chat logs between Manning and hacker Adrian Lamo that suggested that Manning considered herself female.  Manning states quite clearly:

“ I wouldn’t mind going to prison for the rest of my life, or being executed so much, if it wasn’t for the possibility of having pictures of me… plastered all over the world press… as boy…”

Wired then followed this up a year later in published the full chat logs in which Manning very clearly states that she is trans, frets about accessing transitioning treatment and talks about being discharged as “adjustment disorder” rather than GID under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.  Finally, she gives us a female name for herself: Breanna, stating that she’d set up a Twitter and Youtube account.

New York magazine added to the speculation by publishing a feature article focusing on Manning’s sexuality and gender identity in which an anonymous counselor claims that Manning had talked to him on the web about being transgender:

“Bradley felt he [sic] was female,” the counselor told me. “He [sic] was very solid on that.” Quickly, their conversation shifted to the practicalities: How does someone transition from male to female? “He [sic] really wanted to do surgery,” the counselor recalled. “He [sic] was mostly afraid of being alone, being ostracized or somehow weird.”

Despite this mounting evidence, Manning’s lawyers and supporters continued to make no mention of any preference for female identification, pronouns or the name Breanna, leaving Manning’s likely transgender status something of an open secret, and posing journalists with a conundrum: either the logs are true, and then we should be respectfully following APA protocol for transgender people and using female pronouns and possibly the name Breanna, or they are false and we should not.  Whether they believed in the logs’ veracity or not (and odds are, most who believe Manning to be a hero do), I have not found a single media source who appears to have considered the possibility of writing about Manning as a woman.

In the meantime, Manning’s name and image have become something of a rallying point for supporters–as in this image of Code Pink protesters carrying cut-out headshots of Manning “as a boy” and signs that say “I am Bradley Manning” shows.  The blogger JR Worsement pointed out that:

“ultimately I’m unable to stand with all the admirable and sympathetic solidarity activists who say they are Bradley Manning. I’m not Bradley Manning, and even B. Manning may not be Bradley Manning.”

I wrote in July for Tiger Beatdown that:

“What lawyer would advise someone accused of multiple crimes against their country to choose that time to come out as a trans woman? What is the likelihood that the Left would rally around a trans woman as a hero? Would there have been the kind of support that caused Manning to be moved from apparently torturous conditions in Quantico to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas? Would there be a wide movement caring about a trans woman being tortured? What if she wanted to be housed with female prisoners, would many people support that?

We can’t know any of that for sure, either, but we can guess. And my guess is: not bloody likely.”

Over the weekend, however, this has changed, with Manning’s trial beginning in the United States and Manning’s lawyers pursuing a gender identity disorder defense, while forensic investigators confirmed that they found copies of the Lamo chats on Manning’s own computer.  The timing of this revelation now is extremely telling, given that public support becomes rather less important in the notoriously closed trials.  At this point, Manning’s outing may be more useful to her lawyers as a kind of “mental instability” defense than harmful.

Nevertheless, the media and the vast majority of Manning’s supporters continue to refer to her as male  (for instance, this Glenn Greenwald segment on Democracy Now  still using male pronouns, and still conflating gay and transgender, or Michael Moore’s steady stream of supportive tweets and blog posts).  But at what point will progressive media, those who are at least pay lip service to the idea of being LGBT allies, decide to respect the most likely scenario of Manning’s preferred gender ID?  What does it mean that the burden of proof is this high to “prove” that a person is transgender?  Why do we assume that “hero” and “transgender” are mutually exclusive, and are unwilling or unable to imagine rallying around a transgender woman rather than a bright-faced young man?  If “Bradley” Manning deserves a medal, as Greenwald so eloquently argued last week, would Breanna?  And lastly: what does it mean that acknowledging Manning’s identity would have in all likelihood exposed her to even more violence?

Private Manning has endured horrendous treatment in prison waiting for trial.  But listen again to what she had to say, in chats whose validity would seem to have been proved over the weekend:  “I wouldn’t mind going to prison for the rest of my life, or being executed so much, if it wasn’t for the possibility of having pictures of me… plastered all over the world press… as boy.”

This kind of “ungendering,” as trans theorist Julia Serano has argued in her landmark book Whipping Girl, is itself harmful, an act of violence by a world that has little inclination for respecting the self-identification of transgender people and exposes them to violence in every sphere of society.

Now that we have entered the trial stage and the facts are being confirmed, it is mindboggling that her supporters continue to engage in this, in the very act of “support”–and it says everything about how we on the Left see transgender women.

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  1. Unfortunately there are legal requirements for news media in most jurisdictions when reporting trials, whereby they are required to use the names of participants as described by the presiding judge. An example of good practice in this case is the trial currently taking place in London in which the judge has decreed that a trans murder victim be referred to by her chosen name and genderp the media are then obliged to follow suit (though, interestingly, one has chosen not to). In order to resolve the problem in the Manning case it will pobably be necessary to deal with the judiciary rather than first approaching news editors.

  2. Hi. I am a trans women. I have had a security clearance for over 30 years. I am scared of the possible results of Private Manning defense. What it seems to be saying is that Transgendered can not be trusted with access to classified information. That we can not distinguish between right and wrong. And I understand that some think what she allegedly did was not wrong. But I don’t think it matters. If the defense argument is accepted, then the government will see Transgendered as a security risk and take steps to correct that risk. That will cause more harm to the community than good. It will certainly harm me. SKK

  3. An immediate aside; I know for a fact that Code Pink is a very trans-friendly organization, and if this is meant to imply otherwise, that would be mistaken. But wow, this article completely misses a much much larger point in my opinion. The author needs to recant, as the criticism is to me obscene. This is a death penalty case. A person’s life is on the line.

    I think this is an instance of a community wanting a person to be something that either at this moment they do not want to be, or their legal situation forces them to not be. And the community I’m talking about here is not the “Free Bradley Manning” community at large, but some in the LGBT allied community, including the author of this article, Emily Manuel..

    Nobody is aware of the defense strategy in this case, and the defense of the person charged, by any name, is paramount above any political issue. Should this person publicly self-identify, then that is another situation. Thus far, only in alleged private chat logs to which the defense has to the best of my knowledge NOT stipulated authorship, has a person supposedly identified. I would point out further to the author that at that and other moments in the alleged logs, Manning was told by Lamo that their conversations were so private as to be protected by law, and doubly so, because Lamo represented as a priest and a journalist. Manning did not and has not publicly represented as transgendered. Emily Manuel should read that sentence again a few times and let it sink in.

    Manuel writes, “despite this mounting evidence,” referring to transgender claims. Who has appointed a committee to judge Manning’s genderin the public sphere, and how did Emily Manuel and this blogger JR Worsement come to lead the investigation?

    If and when Manning or appropriate spokespersons PUBLICLY express a gender identity other than what stands, I’m all for supporting that in every manner possible. But trying to force a person to carry the banner of any cause against their will is an act of violence.

    It is fine to discuss the what-ifs surrounding gender identity and politics in this and any instance. But to dare cast aspersions at Manning’s supporters, as if they have abandoned their movement’s figurehead, and accuse them of knowingly and willingly parading around photos and using a name and gender identity opposed to Manning’s wishes? Well that is just insane. Return to reality, Emily Manuel. Manning has not chosen to pick up the mantle of the transgender movement. Maybe Manning will. Maybe not. That is Manning’s choice, not yours or anybody else’s. Unless and until that changes, Free Bradley Manning!

  4. I am a trans woman too and currently transitioning. I almost finished my real life experience and I would say that I currently am a very stable person.

    However, I clearly remember my pre-transition period. If was tough, really tough. Making the decision to transition can be really stressful, it is scary, you don’t know if it’s the right decision and how it will turn out. I was constantly worrying about where my life would go in that period, and I almost collapsed at work because of that. Was I a stable person back then? No, far from it.

    Being transsexual does not make you a security risk. The problem isn’t that Manning may be transsexual, the real problem is that the transsexuality wasn’t treated yet. It is well known that untreated gender dysphoria makes it more difficult for a person to function in society, this is actually one of the reasons why we get help from the medical community. So I really don’t have a problem with the defense bringing up this issue.

    About the gendering of Manning, all we have is private chatlogs. For me it doesn’t feel right to start gendering Manning as female based on information that was never intended for the public. We don’t even know what Manning’s own opinion is about this right now. Personally, I just try to avoid the pronouns as much as possible as long as there is no official statement.

  5. Has Manning ever made any public statement of his gender identity? If not, I don’t think we should speculate, or make assumptions from the leaked chat logs. If Manning’s defence lawyers are using male pronouns, then until we have any reason to know better, I’ll do the same; I’m guessing they probably know him better than Emily Manuel does.

  6. It doesn’t seem fair to assume that Manning wants us to use a different name or gender pronoun based on a private conversation with a snitch or a legal strategy decided by lawyers. It is up to each of us to decide if, when and how to come out as trans. Has anyone written to them to ask what they would like? Whether we are supporters or journalists or both, this is the first thing we should do. People don’t lose their self-determination just because they are in prison. Here is Manning’s address:

    Bradley Manning 89289
    830 Sabalu Road
    Fort Leavenworth, KS 66027

    Manning is a hero and their actions have saved countless lives. We should all be writing to say thank you!!

  7. Questions:
    It’s a legal proceeding, isn’t it? Has Manning officially changed the legal name that was used to enlist in the Army?

  8. I’m a trans woman whose security clearances were revoked shortly after she transitioned. The accusation was that me transitioning proved I was “unstable” and “disloyal.” Which are outright lies. They hired an old retired psychologist, formerly of the Johns Hopkins gender identity clinic in the 1960s, and with views on trans people unevolved since then. They used this dinosaur to defame my good name. Their only basis for accusing me that way was that being trans is ipso facto a security risk. I know other trans people who have kept their clearances and kept working. Still, what happened to me is a clear case of discrimination; they had no basis in reality to accuse me of any such things, just their transphobic assumptions. The ACLU agreed it was clearly discrimination and represented me in my appeal. I presented solid evidence that their accusations were false, and refuted all the falsehoods they used against me. The appeals failed, however, because they simply ignored all the evidence in my defense. So I really have a problem with Manning’s defense playing a gender identity card! It’s not only bizarre, it is likely to set a precedent that all trans people will be judged security risks; all that intellect and talent refused for service to their country. Do not underestimate the damage caused by persons in high places with transphobic attitudes. The world is full of them.

  9. Remembering how long it took me to be comfortable being out after I was able to privately admit it, I’m not happy to make any assumptions about Private Manning’s wishes. But to blithely use “he” and “Bradley” is also an assumption, and it’s only cissexism that makes it seem like the appropriate choice. Absent a clear statement from Private Manning, I think we ought to be configuring our sentences without pronouns as the least oppressive choice.

  10. I agree with many of the comments above and have really enjoyed reading them as they are very insightful and interesting. Thank you everyone who has spoken of their own personal experiences.

    I am from the campaign group Queer Friends of Bradley Manning and I have thought about this issue quite a bit. The main reason we have kept referring to Bradley as Bradley is that we feel that it is up to Bradley what he wants to be called. He has at no point publicly asked to be called Breanna and as the chat-log conversations were private conversations and the discussions he had with his counsellor were also mean’t to be private – not quite sure how his counsellor feels it to be okay to talk publicly about private discussions he has had with Bradley, this, we feel, is quite appalling and highly unprofessional. It is also not yet the case that the chat-logs have been confirmed as being, beyond a shadow of a doubt, authentic.

    We realise that he had used the name Breanna to set up other online accounts but given the prevalence of people using pseudonyms on the internet we don’t feel that this is a strong enough justification for us to refer to him as Breanna.

    As soon as Bradley expresses a wish to be called Breanna we will totally respect and support that decision, but until such time as he does we feel it more appropriate to call him Bradley.

  11. 1) there is and will be much misinformation surrounding this trail. i am skeptical of all testimony and evidence in this case.

    2) i think the better defense is to escalate this into a G. W. Bush is guilty of war crimes and an attempted over throw of democracy verse a hero who lived up to his oath of defending the Constitution. but, i understand the desire to stop fighting. i wish for the best for our hero.

    3) this poor person has been through hell. he/she will never live anything like a “normal” live. solitary destroys your mind. it is unlikely that he/she will ever have a lasting relationship with anyone man or woman.

    taking my the paranoid hypothesis that this story about transgender is a tactic, on the part of the enemies of humanity, and in light of his/her torture demonstrates how psychopathic THEY are.

  12. Unfortunately, this article only uses the chat logs as the basis for its arguments, ignoring all the newer supporting evidence of a gender identity struggle that’s come out in this week’s hearing. Almost all of it was released by Manning’s own lawyers, including photos, documents, emails, purchases and witness testimony. Curiously, Manning’s attorney still used male pronouns in court, despite the pile of evidence he released indicating a preference to the contrary. At the very least, it collectively makes a case for avoiding pronouns altogether, for now. Has anyone bothered to ask Manning’s attorney point blank what Manning’s gender and name preference is?

  13. I did try to ask Manning, through his attorney, whether discussion of the issue was appropriate; this was after WIRED and Gawker and Newsweek did, but as a journalist, an LGBT woman, and as someone who has been close to people in various stages of transition, I did NOT want to be the person to “out” Manning. I’ve received no reply, but have no choice but to note what’s been revealed and discussed at the hearing.

    How do you think I should handle it in my book,which is a history of dissenting soldiers?

  14. I wrote about this here. I agree that Manning was likely transgender, but just because someone makes an online profile and says that they want to transition does not mean that person wants to change how they present themselves in public yet. Manning has not been able to discuss this with his family, and he was likely completely unprepared to be publicly outed as trans. It’s not our decision to decide that he is now female just because he expressed these feelings online.

  15. Trans hate? A well know symptom of all ‘leftists.’ How can there be any doubt about Bradley’s intentions? An “anonymous counselor” has revealed the truth. Any “anonymous counselor” that betrays their clients confidentiality must be trusted. Give me a break. I’m going to wait till Bradley makes his wishes known explicitly.

  16. Bradley Manning expressed a desire to transition in private chat logs, even to the point of picking a new name, but he hadn’t identified publicly yet transgender.
    He hasn’t yet made that final decision.
    Your attempt to make that decision for him is premature, and a perfect example of someone wanting to use someone else’s identity for political purposes.

  17. Are you serious? The media should shift from Bradley to Breanna on the basis of, “Oh, I saw it on the Internet so it must be right!” How about considering the possibility, as Jennie Kermode points out, that the media are under legal requirements, not to mention an ethical code of conduct, that requires them to CONFIRM things before just shoving them in front of their viewers/readers? Yes, I know the media falls down on that periodically but that’s hardly a reason to abandon it altogether. Myself, this is the first I’ve heard of it. Were I still a reporter, I’d want something IN WRITING from Manning’s lawyer making it clear that this is Manning’s wish — and no, that doesn’t mean a personal invitation. A press conference/press release would be fine. But I’d like to ensure that this is, in fact, what Manning wants, assuming that’s all right with you …

  18. Bradley Manning signed up for the military under that name. At some time in the future when Bradley is free and wants to get a name change, I’ll use whatever name he or she chooses. I’ll wait to hear it from Bradley (thank you very much)and will choose to say “I am Bradley Manning” and not let the question Bradley’s sexuality detract from issue at hand. Bradley is being made an example of what happens to whistle-blowers who would dare to expose war crimes. Manning’s sexuality if it is anything to the powers that be, is just a political tool.

  19. Kimi seems to think that going to school with a person is enough to know their gender identity that they’re terrified to express.

  20. I had been wondering about what pronouns to use about PFC Manning, after reading similar information, until I came across this via Twitter: http://queerfriendsofbradley.org/2013/05/08/bradley-or-breanna-an-update/

    As that post points out, Manning has had ample opportunity to request people use a different name or female pronouns, and has done exactly the opposite. If I want to call myself an ally, if I want to support Manning, then I should respect his expressed wishes, not second-guess. If and when he asks for female pronouns and a different name, I’ll respect that. For now, he’s explicitly asked people call him Brad or Bradley, and so that’s exactly what I’ll do.

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