A Hero by Any Other Name

Those closely following the trial of Pfc. Bradley Manning will have seen mention of his issues with gender identity as raised during his court-martial. While never put forward as a defence or as an excuse for leaking classified documents, the court heard about Manning’s gender dysphoria in the context of his relationship with supervisors and because his primary reason for joining the Army was to “get rid of it.”

Manning’s counsel David Coombs presented an email Manning sent to his supervisor containing a picture of him wearing a blonde wig and lipstick. The subject line read “My Problem.” Coombs contended that if Manning had felt better supported within the chain of command he might have considered internal avenues for whistleblowing before reaching out to WikiLeaks, however he underscored that due to Manning’s “strong moral compass” he would not have been satisfied unless public disclosures were made about the information he had in his possession, thereby making moot any decision to bypass those internal avenues.

While not widely reported at the time, Master Sgt Craig Blenis testified that during Manning’s detention in 2010 he sent two letters to his counsellor under the name Breanna.

Three years since those letters, and after the conclusion of his court-martial, Manning has announced he wants to live as a woman, stating “I am Chelsea”.

Here’s Chelsea Manning’s full statement as revealed to NBC Today:

Subject: The Next Stage of My Life

I want to thank everybody who has supported me over the last three years. Throughout this long ordeal, your letters of support and encouragement have helped keep me strong. I am forever indebted to those who wrote to me, made a donation to my defense fund, or came to watch a portion of the trial. I would especially like to thank Courage to Resist and the Bradley Manning Support Network for their tireless efforts in raising awareness for my case and providing for my legal representation.

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. 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,

Chelsea E. Manning

While still legally named Bradley Manning and with that status unlikely to change while incarcerated, she has asked for anyone writing letters to use the name Bradley on the envelope, but Chelsea in the letter itself.

While press understandably struggle with re-branding issues, Chelsea’s gender-identity was uniformly accepted and supported by Free Manning activists and supporters of the obligations and rights of whistleblowers. For me personally, this post marks the last time I’ll refer to Manning as ‘Bradley’ or using the male pronoun. Regardless of the legal circumstance, we should all understand transgender difficulties enough by now to afford her at least the basic respect due any human being.

My only concern is that Chelsea’s gender dysphoria will be used by Manning’s detractors as further ammunition to discredit hugely important acts of whistleblowing which were undertaken with clarity of purpose, and which have done an enormous service to us all.

Chelsea Manning continues to have my gratitude, and my voice in defence of the puerile mockery which began mere seconds after her announcement.

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