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.