The Slow-Motion Lynching of Chelsea Manning


First published on August 1st, 2013, following Manning's conviction. Rewritten throughout on August 22nd in light of Manning's sentencing and public coming out.

The news that the person called Bradley Manning in the bulk of media stories over the past few years is more correctly called "Chelsea" was, to say the least, surprising to those of us who followed the case closely. We had, for the most part, thought she preferred "Breanna." Other than this detail, however, the  "sudden" revelation that Manning was a trans woman was neither sudden nor a revelation. In fact, understanding anything about this case without that information is essentially impossible. The sole reason that Chelsea Manning is going to spend the next thirty-five years in prison is that she is transgender. For this reason, she was and is being systematically psychologically tortured by the US Army with the express consent of the civilian government. And the sole reason for any of this is that it’s easier to publicly lynch a trans woman than it is to address the criminal deficiencies of the US Military in the course of the now ostensibly concluded Iraq War.

Let us then review the facts. Well before she leaked classified information to the public, Manning openly identified in multiple conversations as experiencing Gender Identity Disorder. Manning actively maintained a female persona named Breanna. Manning dressed in female clothing. And Manning visibly experienced severe psychological distress stemming from these facts. All of this can be summarized succinctly: Manning actively took on a female identity, and did so long before the events she's ostensibly going to prison for.

A brief word on those events. For the purposes of this discussion, at least, let us going to set aside the question of whether Manning's leaks were correct or moral. (For the record, I think they were, but this is mostly beside the point.) Instead let us take as read that the military itself would have preferred that Manning not give a mass of classified documents to Wikileaks. Certainly it has seemed terribly upset about it since it has happened. But if, in fact, this was something they did not want to happen, their behavior prior to it actually happening is almost completely impossible to explain.

There can be few places in American society more rawly hostile to a trans woman than the military. There are no easy ways to reject the identity that one has held for two decades. Transitioning is an often brutal and lonely process, and that’s for the people lucky enough to be able to afford it. Even with trans-friendly health insurance the costs of a surgical transition can easily reach $20k. And trans-friendly health insurance is the invisible pink unicorn of the American healthcare system. Indeed, adequate support in general is essentially unheard of for trans people - I can count on zero hands the number of trans people I have met to have been given access to adequate mental health resources, hormone therapies, surgical options, and a support network of family and friends.

In 2009, Chelsea Manning had none of them. Cast adrift in a military where the comparatively more accepted phenomenon of homosexuality (which has been inexplicably treated as the primary issue with Manning) was still criminalized, there was nothing resembling a support network for her. The Army Hospitals near Baghdad were not offering hormone therapy or sex reassignment surgery. Indeed, Manning’s existing support network of an online community of fellow trans people - a slender branch on which far too many trans people have to stake all hope even of the basic human need for friendship - was largely taken away from her upon entering the military.  As for mental health resources…

Actually, let’s pause for a moment here. It is easy for those of us who are cisgender to fail to appreciate the sheer and unrelenting mental agony that is being transgender without having actually transitioned. A staggering 41% of transgender people attempt suicide, compared to 1.6% of the general population.

These numbers, however, merely provide a sense of the extremes. They do not get at the heart of the issue - the phenomenon known as dysphoria. The concept of dysphoria is simple. It is the set of emotions and feelings caused by the constant knowledge that your self-identity and your physical body are at odds. Metaphors do not do the concept justice. The closest parallel that might be familiar to the general public is the phenomenon of phantom limb pain, in which the brain of an amputee refuses to recognize that the lost limb is gone and continues to frantically and agonizingly insist upon its presence. Except instead of having one appendage that the brain and physical reality differ violently on the trans person is forced to react with perpetual horror to the fact that their entire body is wrong. One trans blogger, Kinsey Hope, describes it viscerally: “That deep down instinctual feeling of “what the fuck”-ness that you get when you see a shattered knee bending a leg the wrong way or even worse see that bent leg on yourself. It’s not rational. It doesn’t make logical sense. It’s utter instinctual response. That’s bodily dysphoria.”

This is what Chelsea Manning was suffering when she was stationed in Iraq. Indeed, it is likely what she was suffering from 24/7. She was open with her supervisors about this. And yet she received no meaningful assistance. When she was found on the floor curled in the fetal position, she received no assistance. When she flipped over a table and attempted to grab a gun from a gun rack, she received no assistance. The only counseling offered to her was designed merely as triage - to get her back to work. Despite widespread awareness of her mental health issues, at no point prior to her arrest for providing classified information to Wikileaks did anyone do anything that could even remotely be considered “treatment.”

By the military’s own admission, Manning should have been discharged in December of 2009, after the gun rack incident. She should also, under military procedure at least, surely have been discharged when she came out to her roommate, in violation of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. DADT was, after all, used to force soldiers such as Dan Choi, an Arabic translator of vital importance, out of the military because they were gay. This was one of the major reasons why it was, quite rightly, eventually abolished with full support from military hierarchy - it was being used to force good soldiers out of the military. And yet at the height of DADT a Private with gender identity disorder and severe mental health issues resulting from it, who had come out to another soldier, was not only left in the military but put in close proximity to classified information. How could this have even happened?

Part of it, surely, was that the entire security system surrounding this supposedly vital information was, for lack of a better description, a sick joke. Passwords were routinely left in Post-It note on supposedly secure terminals, and no checks were made to ensure that sensitive information wasn’t taken out of the facility. Reports indicate that it was common for soldiers to entertain themselves with pirated DVDs bought from the Iraqi population, a security hole that is mind-wrenching in its vastness. Given the obvious lack of serious concern for security it cannot be called a surprise that nobody thought anything of giving Manning access to it. The security hole left by giving an obviously mentally ill woman access to classified information was one of dozens of comparably sized holes. The fact of the matter is that nobody cared about the security of this material until the leaking of it became an embarrassment for the State Department. Classification has long since become a reflexive process with no relationship to actual risk assessment - better to classify something for no reason than risk leaving something unclassified. As a result, classified information is widely recognized as valueless among those who deal with it.

But the larger part of it is even more unseemly. Manning was kept in place for the same reasons that justified the grotesque abuses of the Stop-Loss procedures that kept soldiers on a merry-go-round of endless deployments. Simply put, in order to feed the grotesque beast that was the Iraq War, the military couldn’t afford to be picky about who it let in. The fact that Manning was manifestly unfit for duty - her supervisors have admitted that the gun rack incident alone was grounds for discharge - wasn’t allowed to matter. Given the choice between the size of military presence in Iraq and the safety of it, the United States Government made the conscious choice to prioritize size.

This is the real shocking truth of Chelsea Manning - that there were hundreds more soldiers who were equally obvious disasters waiting to happen. All of them were allowed - indeed, required to serve out their deployment. I would suggest that the military should consider itself lucky that Manning was the only such disaster to actually happen, but this would require pretending that incidents like Abu Ghraib, the Collateral Murder video itself, and the entire litany of horrors and human rights abuses that took place in the name of the War on Terror did not happen. Stories about how military recruiters routinely advised applicants to lie on their applications, or about how “medical waivers” were issued to allow physically unfit applicants to be recruited. In the end, the military wanted warm bodies in Iraq. Little else was allowed to matter.

This alone is criminally negligent. By paying inadequate attention to mental health issues among its personnel the Army ended up leaving someone with crippling mental illness in the proximity of classified data. That something bad happened as a result cannot be called a surprise. This is, after all, the entire reason that security screening exists. Chelsea Manning was not, by the Army’s own standards, an appropriate person to leave unattended with classified intelligence. And yet she was put in exactly that position. To blame her for the consequences of that decision would seem particularly sadistic, or, at least, it would if it didn’t have to be put in context with everything else done to Chelsea Manning.

Faced with the choice between admitting to systemic failures of good sense that had resulted in considerable embarrassment (but little else) or between lashing out at a mentally ill woman who should have been given help long before the situation turned out as it did, the United States unambiguously went all in on the latter option. What happened next is nothing short of a slow-motion lynching.

Obviously the phrase “lynching” is incendiary. However I do not choose it lightly. Central to the concept of lynching is that it is an act of appalling violence that is done both extrajudicially and on a societal level, and done for no reasons other than hatred of the victim's very identity. That what happened to Manning has (thus far) proved non-lethal is ultimately beside the point. In terms of horror, it is more than made up for by the agonizingly languid pace of her suffering. And more generally, for all that the term "lynching" is inflammatory, there is simply not a word that comes closer to capturing the obscenity of what we did to Chelsea Manning.

The initial torture of Manning was, in point of fact, extrajudicial. After her arrest and trial, however, none of this was treated as particularly relevant. The judiciary was all too willing to rubber stamp the military's decision-making, as it historically always has been when confronted with a lynch mob. In the process we all became Chelsea Manning's torturers. And our most profound and galling act of torture was to pretend that this was about something other than the fact that she was trans.

This torture extended well beyond her jailers. Statements of support for Manning were limited to the computer hacker subculture and to defenses of the moral legitimacy of leaking the diplomatic cables. None are offered from the transgender community or on the basis of her obviously poor mental health. A Google News search on “Bradley Manning Transgender” found just one or two results prior to her post-sentencing exit from the closet. On the whole, it was, bizarrely, Gawker that covered this seemingly crucial aspect of the story best. An entire international media system focused at times obsessively on this case, and imposed what amounted to an informational blackout lest some of its most disturbing facets come out. This does not extend merely to the fact that Manning is trans, but the entire culture that surrounded her leak. The fact that she should not have been in that position in the first place is largely and consciously ignored.

But what is more chilling is the way in which this suppression seems calculated. To exhaustively list the obscene lapses of judgment on the part of mainstream news sources would be impossible. I will instead limit myself to the highlights. There was, as already mentioned, a troubling tendency to equate Manning’s transgender status with homosexuality. There was the CNN coverage that, in discussing the table overturning incident, omits all mention of the most serious part of it - the attempt to grab a weapon from the gun rack. The same CNN story inexplicably referred to Breanna as Manning’s “alleged” female alter ego, a hedge that has no basis except to make it seem as though the facts are less clear than they are. This is typical of coverage. The fact of Manning’s gender dysphoria was regularly acknowledged, but any consideration of this fact’s massive implications was consciously, deliberately, avoided. Even today the announcement is being ignored, with CNN reporting that "he wants to live as a woman," a spectacular missing of the point that would be funny if humor were actually still possible in this sorry mess.

And yet for all that the information was ignored, it is equally difficult to argue that it wasn't central to why Manning has been made to suffer the way she has. She was charged, ultimately, not because of the severity of her crimes, but because she was a convenient scapegoat. Given the choice between addressing the diseased military culture that thought giving a mentally ill trans woman security clearance was a good idea and locking the trans woman up, we can hardly be surprised that the military opted for the altogether tidier solution of locking Chelsea Manning up and throwing away the key. No doubt to many of her jailers she was a freak who self-evidently belonged behind bars anyway.

What is perhaps more surprising is the evident passion that the military and civilian government had for making sure that Manning was thoroughly punished for the untenable situation they put her in. Manning’s attorneys were blocked from calling all but two of the forty-eight witnesses they attempted to call, and the prosecutor moonlighted as an employee of the same Justice Department that is attempting to arrest and charge the person to whom Manning is alleged to have leaked the documents. Military prosecutors refused all attempts at a plea-bargain, offering only the concession of promising not to actually seek the death penalty for the staggeringly severe charge of aiding the enemy. And now she's set for a prison sentence that will finally allow her freedom at the age of sixty.

This too brings up disturbing memories of lynching and the tacit complicity of the state in such crimes. What characterized lynching - indeed, what caused it - was the knowledge on the part of the lynch mob that they were safe. The justice system was designed to let them go. It is the horrific state of affairs where every single check and balance has failed, and where the state’s institutional disdain for a certain segment of its citizenship becomes a de facto open season on them. This is what makes Manning’s fate so utterly abhorrent - the fact that there was both a systemic failure that allowed her crimes to happen and a systemic decision to prioritize punishing her as severely as possible over addressing that failure.

The determination to convict Manning, however, does not hold a candle to the treatment Manning was subjected to in the year and a half during which the government dragged its feet on her trial. For a solid year Chelsea Manning was put in solitary confinement. In a belated farce of an acknowledgment of her mental health issues she was put on suicide watch and left naked in her cell. Remember that her mental health issues stem primarily from her own gender dysphoria and consider the psychological impact of being abandoned, naked, to contemplate the body you are trapped in. Seemingly nobody considered the possibility that her suicidal tendencies might be caused by the combination of gender dysphoria and the fact that her contact with the outside world consisted of twenty minutes a day of being shackled in the sun. Past that, she was left to crane her neck to see a reflection of a window barely visible from her cell.

But the word “lynching” further suggests that this sort of brutality is normal. Tragically, however, the death of transgender people is all too normal. It is impossible to look at the act of charging Manning with a capital crime outside of the context of the horrific violence to which transgender people are subjected on a regular basis. 61% of transgender people report being the victims of physical assault, and 64% report being the victims of sexual assault. The homelessness rate among the transgender population is 20%. Of those, fully 29% report being turned away from homeless shelters because of their gender identity.

Like Manning’s story, these stories are routinely underreported. When they are reported there is a shocking lack of respect for the gender identity of the victims. Their transgender status is often treated as an odd character trait. The names that they actively rejected are routinely described as their “real names” while the identities they actually lived under are treated as aliases and alter egos. In this regard there is nothing even remotely unusual about the way in which Manning’s identity is serially ignored by the media. Like the scores of trans sex workers murdered by their clients or those who overdosed self-medicating their pain, she’s ultimately disposable, except inasmuch as her death fulfills some other agenda.

Unsurprisingly, even gay rights groups remained silent during the Manning trial. Manning, after all, was apparently not a gay man but a heterosexual woman. For all that the standard acronym ends with a T for transgender, the trans population has long been incidental to large swaths of the gay rights lobby. The HRC consciously offered concessions on legal protections for trans people in exchange for progress on gay marriage. That they should decline to fish Chelsea Manning out from under the bus they threw her under is as unsurprising as every other fact in this desperately sorry affair.

Finally, of course, there are the moments of individual culpability. Adrian Lamo has become something of a pariah in circles that previously feted him for his conduct in all of this. Still, it's worth highlighting. It is not so much the decision that what Manning told him needed to be reported. No matter what one's personal position on the ethics of Manning's leaks, the position that they were dangerous and needed to be reported to authorities is at least an understandable one. What is less easy to simply accept is Lamo's decision to reassure Manning that what she said would be kept private.

To reiterate, Manning came to Lamo in part because of Lamo's openness about his own struggles with depression. Lamo looked at someone who came to him for help, reassured her that "I’m a journalist and a minister. You can pick either, and treat this as a confession or an interview (never to be published) & enjoy a modicum of legal protection." He then proceeded to play the sympathetic confidant, gathering Manning's confessions, and even having the gall to try to get Manning to hook him up with Julian Assange before calmly turning around and selling Manning out to her military superiors.

The horror here is not that Lamo turned Manning in, but that he chose to play the supportive confidant for so long before doing so. It is the double-edged nature of Lamo's behavior that is so shocking; the fact that someone who Manning turned to for the help she so obviously and so desperately needed pretended to give that help while stabbing her in the back. That Lamo kept fishing for more information, kept going back, pretending to be Manning's friend seems, like so much else in this case, an almost gratuitous excess. That Manning should be turned in by the one person who actually, for a brief moment, appeared to be giving her what she should have been given from the start - someone to help her with her obvious and understandable psychological difficulties - is a cruel irony, not least of all because there was another way.

And that is, in the end, the truth of it. There were so many other ways this cold have gone. Every single step along the road to Chelsea Manning's lynching was preventable by any number of people. The only person who couldn't stop it - who was trapped in a nightmare she couldn't do anything about, one that was tearing her apart and breaking her down to where she was no longer competent to make decisions regarding the classified information she was being made to handle - was Chelsea Manning herself. Everyone else in this sorry story could have done something. Someone could have decided not to ignore an obvious security risk. Someone could have decided that the military's need for analysts was not more important than looking at an obviously mental ill woman and saying "look, you don't belong here." Someone could have gone after some other link in the chain of idiotic decisions that led to the leak instead of scapegoating the most vulnerable person involved. Someone could have decided against torturing her for a year. Someone could have decided not to try to put her in jail for the rest of her life. Any of these decisions would have averted what happened. And nobody made a single one of them.

There’s one image, in all of this, that gets me. I can read about virtually any detail of the sickening affair that the media at large has called the Bradley Manning Trial with nothing more than the exhaustedly simmering rage that accompanies most news stories. Except for the little detail that Manning kept a fairy wand on her desk while on deployment.

Trans people often fixate on images like this - the butterfly is another one. Because for the butterfly the transition from the wrong body to the beautiful one they want isn’t years of pain and ostracizing. It’s just a nap. In this case it’s the image that someone kind could finally, at some crucial moment, intervene. That all it would take to make all of the pain go away is the right person waving a magic wand or sprinkling a bit of fairy dust. That someone could just come by and say “yes, I understand what you’re going through, here, let me help you.” There’s a beautiful innocence to it.

Chelsea Manning’s fairy never came. Instead, over and over again, individual people looked at the situation and made the decision that the systematic torture of Chelsea Manning was an acceptable price to pay. And yet if you ask what was bought in exchange for this price it remains difficult to give any sort of answer. The underlying failures of security that allowed Manning’s leaks to take place remain. No security has been gained. The only crime that has been addressed is by far the smallest of the lot. All that can be said to have been gained by the torture of Chelsea Manning is, in the end, the basic fact that she gas suffered unfathomably, and will keep doing so for the next thirty-five years.

Apparently that's benefit enough.


gatchamandave 3 years, 7 months ago

Best. Post.Ever.

Tremendously thought provoking, sensitivite and eye opening to me, on the other side of the Atlantic where none of this has been mentioned. Kudos.

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John Voorhees 3 years, 7 months ago

Thank you for this post. I was completely unaware of this aspect of the case, and I now feel obliged to share this information as far as I can.

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elvwood 3 years, 7 months ago

Yes, thank you, Philip. I too was ignorant of this.

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Man and House 3 years, 7 months ago

I as well had no idea. Mind you, I don't have television and haven't been following the case very closely. And I had already drawn my opinion on the subject. My previous opinion was that Manning had done the right thing but should not have been surprised to have the hammer fall on him. The rest, it seemed to me at the time, was going to be a silly, easily-ignored media circus.

Now I have to rethink the whole thing! Thank you very much for this.

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Chris Andersen 3 years, 7 months ago

The larger story that I think gets consistently missed in the story of Manning and Snowden is just how large the national security system is in the United States and just how reliant it is on a huge number of barely vetted individuals. I believe the last estimate I heard is that there are over half a million people in the United States with top secret security clearance. How can you possibly expect a system to keep secrets with that many people with their hands potentially in the cookie jar?

I happen to believe the concerns about surveillance are severely overblown by the critics, but there are severe problems with the present system that I would like addressed. Most notably the excessive secrecy that prevents even U.S. Senators from publicly acknowledging that a program exists when everyone already knows it exists. That's just absurd.

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Adam B 3 years, 7 months ago

Thank you so much. As someone striving to be a trans* ally, as a disability/mental illness advocate, and as someone also deeply concerned about our government's vigorous suppression of whisteblowers like Breanna and Ed Snowden, I am a little abashed that I didn't know of Breanna's status as a trans woman.

Honestly, I am a bit uncomfortable w your use of 'lynching', but you explain your rationale well here, and what's been done to Breanna is certainly horrifying. It's just that 'lynching' still is closely tied to racial violence for me. I don't have a better word, either, and I'm certain you weighed all this when writing.

This does need to be spread far and wide, my slight misgivings aside.

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David Thiel 3 years, 7 months ago

I admit that I too was unaware that Manning was transgendered. However, while I agree that in general a transgendered person should be addressed by their chosen name, I believe that a news story operates under different assumptions. If Bradley Manning is her legal name, then it's appropriate to identify her as such. (They can certainly note her preferred name as well.)

I realize that you're making a much larger point here, and I don't pretend to be informed enough to weigh in on it.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 7 months ago

I read this when you posted it on Tumbler earlier in the week. I have been thinking about it, and there is only one point that I disagree with: your assertion that this is happening BECAUSE Manning is a Trans-Woman.

The reason the Military Court is coming down hard on Manning is not that Manning is Trans, it is due to vulnerability. The fact that Manning has body dysphoria is the form of this vulnerability takes, but any person in this situation would be vulnerable and targeted in this way. A Gay soldier, a female soldier, one with below average intellectual ability...any of these would serve this purpose. Really it's not even necessary. Before the might of the Military Justice and Media machines, anyone can be marginalized and made vulnerable and unable to properly defend themselves. It serves the narrative that those in power want to tell for this to be someone just outside of normal, but not far enough that it looks like they are marginalizing a minority. If this story became a rallying point for the Mentally Ill or for Trans-rights, making an example of Manning to quell other leakers would be much more difficult. By making Manning only Homosexual in the narrative, by making his mental illness dissociated from his gender identity, it prevents potential allies and groups from rallying to his banner.

But this would have happened with anyone. Had it been a cisgendered white male with a history of sports and nascar, (which I assume are American pastimes in the mainstream) they still would have found an angle. There is no way that the person who leaked that video and those cables was getting out of this without the threat of a massive prison sentence. To suggest that once the proceedings had started that any military prosecutor would do otherwise is naive. They would very likely be taken off the case and face disciplinary action.

The American Justice system (and really most Western Justice Systems) as well as Military courts do not function fairly or well and a vast preponderance of cases. This is a fact. Like I said previously, the only point I quibble on the that this trial all caused by Manning's transgenderism.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 7 months ago

I agree inasmuch as this could have happened to any number of other people. But it happened to Manning specifically because she's trans. Yes, the same system abuses and spits out innumerable other vulnerabilities. But for Manning, at least, it was because she was trans.

My point is also that Manning's status as a trans woman in a desperately hostile situation surely contributed to the leaks. She should have been discharged. Instead she was put in contact with classified material. It's not merely the decision to scapegoat her that appalls me - it's the decision to put her in the position in the first place.

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Amber Daniels 3 years, 7 months ago

I've been a follower of your blog for just over four months now and although my admiration toward you and your content was already at an almost obsessive high, after reading this post, my respect for you has just reached an even grander peak.

Being transgender myself has resulted in numerous friends and members of society asking me to explain just what experiencing gender dysphoria is like. Gender dysphoria can be quite puzzling to some cisgender individuals and some have not been content with the explanations which I've provided them with. Despite having read up on the subject for many years now - in the hope of obtaining the best analogy in order to deliver a coherent explanation - I've never been able to explain it as clearly as you have done in this post. Your words are absolutely bang on.

Not only am I grateful for your understanding and empathy toward those who experience gender dysphoria, but I'm furthermore thankful toward the fact that you have seen and explained the injustice which is being inflicted upon Breanna Manning by the US Military. You are also correct in pointing out how unfair the American Military have often been toward transgender men and women in the past. This is far from the first time in which the army have been known to have been mistreating (and neglecting) such individuals. Heck, even the partners of transgender people have suffered at the hands of neglect and abuse; as was the case back in 1999 when an infantry soldier named Barry Winchell was murdered as a result of the horrendous don't ask don't tell policy.

I think the fact a blog such as this one - which from my understanding has something of a healthy audience base - does help to expose and turn the spotlight onto such truths. Furthermore, it also reminds people, such as myself, that cisgender people really are on our side. Sometimes, such a fact can get lost on trans individuals when we face discrimination and oppression of basic rights at the hands of less understanding people. The voice of the transgender community is relatively small in comparison with the rest of society, so the contribution from individuals such as yourself really does benefit our acceptance in the wider world in more ways than one.

So, from a relatively new (yet loyal) reader of both your blog and your TARDIS Eruditorum books, I just wanted to pop by and say thanks =)

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Daibhid C 3 years, 7 months ago

If this were how news organisations operated in situations other than trans* issues, then there would be stories beginning "David Macdonald (known as David Tennant in the acting community)..."

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David Thiel 3 years, 7 months ago

Cute, but not equivalent. A stage name isn't simply a matter of self-identification; it's also registered with a guild, giving it a semi-official status. Tennant's been known publicly by that name for what, a couple of decades?

Again, don't know enough about this particular situation to properly weigh in. What I do know is that when I read the headline of this essay, I thought "Who in the heck is Breanna Manning?" Which is probably not the reaction one wants to a hard news story.

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Matthew Blanchette 3 years, 7 months ago

I think you're looking at this from the wrong perspective, Phil. The military-industrial complex isn't doing this because Manning is trans*; they're doing it to make an example out of this person. Gender identity has absolutely nothing to do with it.

For a better understanding, I suggest you read this article, from a trans lesbian blogger called Zinnia Jones -- a woman who had apparently spoken to Manning the most while the Pvt. was on duty in Iraq, and who subsequently testified during his trial:

It's worth, at the very least, a further response from you. I'll notify Ms. Jones of your own blog post; hopefully, she can respond.

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storiteller 3 years, 7 months ago

Thank you for this moving and disturbing post. I hadn't been following the case closely, but I thought I knew about most significant parts, and had heard nothing of either the fact that Manning was trans* or had substantial mental health issues. The mental health support the military offers is abysmal, especially for people in combat, and the fact that the media has ignored that aspect of this case is shameful.

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Jesse 3 years, 7 months ago

I thought Manning had expressed a preference for "Bradley"? At least that's what the Bradley Manning Support Network was saying last year. Has that been supplanted by new information?

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Unlikely Lass 3 years, 7 months ago

Trans folks are often known by their chosen name for decades, too, before changing them -- something which generally isn't free, either.

There are lots of stage names or nick names that aren't registered with anybody that don't get replaced by their 'legal names' when included in news stories -- is Sting's name legally Sting? Snoop Dog/Lion? How often do we hear about George Ruth vs. Babe Ruth?


Ignoring a trans person's chosen name and gender in favor of their 'legal' name or gender is nothing more or less than an excercise in oppression and gender policing. At best it is an expression of privilege -- "if these folks want me to recognize them in some way, they need to jump through these (expensive, complex, possibly unavailable at any price, possibly ever-changing from person to person) hoops first."

Screw that.

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Unlikely Lass 3 years, 7 months ago

It may well be that her grandness wasn't why Manning got lynched, but it's systematic 'burying' by pretty much everybody is pretty much par for the course for most trans folks caught in the gears of the media spotlight or government bureaucracy.

I'm trans. I'd not followed her case closely, but I HAD heard Breanna was transgender. The fact that nobody paid attention to this fact, that nobody reported it, and that nobody *respected* it, was absolutely no surprise to me.

There's good reasons so many of us attempt to commit suicide. :/

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Unlikely Lass 3 years, 7 months ago

Grrrr. Autocorrect decided 'transness' needed to become 'grandness'. Because of course it did. Words transfolks use to talk about themselves are rarely present in computer dictionaries. :/

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Daibhid C 3 years, 7 months ago

What I do know is that when I read the headline of this essay, I thought "Who in the heck is Breanna Manning?" Which is probably not the reaction one wants to a hard news story.

Yes, but you thought that because the news has been consistantly calling her Bradley, and eliding the fact that this probably isn't the name she calls herself.

I'm reminded of a case a while ago that was about race, rather than sex. In 2007, there was a custody battle between a Scottish woman and a Pakistani man over their daughter, which made it into the papers.

And the press consistantly called the girl Molly Campbell. There was virtually no sense in which her name was Molly Campbell. It wasn't what she was currently calling herself, it wasn't on her birth certificate. It was just the name her mother called her and the surname of the mother's new husband.

But the name Misbah Rana didn't fit the story the papers wanted to tell, which was about the abduction of a Scottish girl by her Muslim father.

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Alan 3 years, 7 months ago

This post rendered me speechless. I actually read the first three paragraphs in mounting confusion, as I thought this was some kind of meta-commentary about the Manning conviction that asked readers to imagine what it would be like if Manning had been female instead of male. Then, I pulled up Manning's wiki page, and sure enough, about halfway down was a discussion of Manning's sexuality and gender related issues.

Three years. That's how long I have been aware of Bradley/Breanna Manning, whose story I have largely followed through left-leaning sites largely supportive of Manning's activities. And I literally had no idea about this aspect of his/her identity.

What's the fucking point of having a "free press" if it's as inept and useless as this?!?

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BerserkRL 3 years, 6 months ago

At C4SS we've been covering the Manning case for some time, and we had an internal discussion as to whether to use "Breanna" or "Bradley," and whether to use male or female pronouns. We ended up opting for "Bradley" and "he" after reading this report that Manning currently prefers to be identified as male (though how far this preference is shaped by the needs of strategy is hard to say -- and some of our writers have hedged their bets by going with "Pfc. Manning" and avoiding singular pronouns as far as possible).

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BerserkRL 3 years, 6 months ago

Also, I agree that the state would still be doing this to Manning regardless of gender orientation. Look at how the President was willing to violate international law for a chance to do the same thing to Snowden.

Plus I strenuously object to calling the leak "something bad [that] happened." As far as I'm concerned, the leak was a heroic act, and we insult Manning's achievement if we imply that it was some sort of awful development arising from mental illness.

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Daru 3 years, 6 months ago

Phil - I am really shocked at hearing this story. Thanks for sharing it and presenting it so well. Sadly I heard one of my favourite BBC Radio 4 programmes, the News Quiz cover Breanna / Bradley and they did it terribly - in the sense that despite working to, in a Private Eye style, undermine those public figures and acts of hypocrisy that need mocking, they made no mention of her trans status and treated the whole topic in a flippant way.


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BerserkRL 3 years, 6 months ago

they made no mention of her trans status

Well, as I noted above, Manning's closest friends and advocates claim he now prefers to be identified as male.

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Sean Case 3 years, 6 months ago

Breaking-ish: Manning has adopted the name Chelsea, according to Twitter.

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Seeing_I 3 years, 6 months ago

I really think you overstate the case in regards to this happening BECAUSE of Manning's trans status or issues. They'd come down super hard on this no matter what his/her personal issues are. And since (at the time of posting) Manning had made no public, general declarations of intent to change gender or name, I just really think you made too big a deal of it. However, it's an important issue and I'm glad you raised it on this forum.

As of today, however, with this public declaration, your point becomes more valid and just out of sheer politeness/respect I agree, Chelsea it is.

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Iain Coleman 3 years, 6 months ago

As far as the public (lack of) discussion of Manning's gender identity is concerned, today's tweets from British legal correspondent David Allen Green (A.K.A. Jack of Kent) shed some light:

On the trans issue, #Manning's legal team asked for those following the case not to emphasise it so Manning could focus on the case.

In the main, this was respected as it was plain that #Manning had enough to worry about.

Those following the case were completely aware of the trans issue from the beginning. Not adding to the stress was humane and sensible.

But part of horror at how #Manning was humiliatingly treated at Quantico (eg lack of medication, nakedness) was because of #trans issue.

But if you look back at many of the tweets/blogs of those following the #Manning trial, you will see a lack of gender-specific pronouns.

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Seeing_I 3 years, 6 months ago

Phil, I love and respect you for your passion on this issue, but I'm disappointed that you don't make any attempt to integrate new pieces of information from the interview, like "he was transgender and joined the Army to “'get rid of it'" or "It was never an excuse because that's not what drove his actions" or "Chelsea didn't want to have [the transgender issue] be something that overshadowed the case, wanted to wait until the case was done to move forward to the next stage of her life" or "she never really wanted this to be public to begin with."

While the treatment Manning received in prison was appalling and inexcusable and certainly motivated by homo/transphobia, you can't paint "the media" (that many-headed hydra) as mendacious for not blithely identifying Manning as trans, or naming her Breanna, when the information on that point was so incomplete, and she herself didn't want to make an issue of it.

Likewise, the armed forces are notoriously bad about tending to the psychological health of its soldiers, regardless of their identity or orientation. You only have to look at the high rate of suicides to see that.

Likewise you make statements like "The sole reason that Chelsea Manning is going to spend the next thirty-five years in prison is that she is transgender" and ignore entirely that she DID commit an actual crime. Was the Army irresponsible for putting her in that sensitive position? Absolutely. But the problem of informational security is endemic, and not specific to this one case or person. Plus, the US (wrongly, I feel, especially given what we've learned from it) takes a very hard line against leakers and whistleblowers, and you can bet Snowden would face quite the same if he ever is back in US custody. They both broke the law, purposefully - out of high principle, surely, but the thing that defines a martyr is they do what they do knowing full well what they might face for it.

Lastly I find your insistence on using "lynching" to be entirely irresponsible. Lynching is a very specific crime. Using it to refer to public defamation or legal mistreatment is problematic at best, but your retrenchment on your use of the term borders on the actively offensive. Not pearl-clutching, polite-society "offensive," but actively denigrating to those who actually underwent this gruesome fate.

Sorry for having to disagree with you so strenuously on this but I feel you've allowed your rhetoric to run away with you here.

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Seeing_I 3 years, 6 months ago

IDK, "her grandness" has a kind of a ring to it, don't you think? :)

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 6 months ago

I disagree with you, obviously. But a couple of specific points.

The information that Chelsea Manning was trans was, in fact, reported on. It just wasn't widely reported on. The fact that she had actively identified as having gender identity disorder and maintained a female identity was tremendously compelling evidence. I think it's particularly telling and galling how many of her supporters were willing to embrace her defense team's statement that male pronouns were appropriate while quickly dismissing her apology as strategic. And I think the mainstream media blew through a lot of goodwill this morning by widely misgendering her, with a few decent exceptions.

The question of whether Manning is going to prison just because she's trans is trickier. Certainly I think there's not a lot that can be explained without it. It is, I feel, a common denominator of everything that's gone on. Yes, Manning broke the law out of principle, but so much of the situation is still bound up in the fact that she was put in an untenable situation.

As for "lynching," I spent an hour today trying to see if there was another term, as it garnered so much heat in the first version. Ultimately, I couldn't find one that captured the horror adequately. This isn't just defamation or legal mistreatment. This is physical and psychological torture set to run for thirty-eight years. Assuming she doesn't kill herself before then, which is frankly likely. That it's non-lethal might actually be the worst part.

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LearningThroughGrowing 3 years, 6 months ago

I do not agree with the lack of treatment for obvious mental health issues which were demonstrated and basically ignored within the structure of her employer (the military). I do agree with the fact that mental health status and lack of treatment can cause horrible outcomes to the individual and those around him or her. I also agree with the fact that negligence within the hierarchy put her into a position that, ultimately, set her up for failure. This, because of her lack of qualifying mental stability.

However, using her transgender status as the reason that she was charged for crimes she committed (putting aside all comments regarding morality)? I'm going to have to disagree. The fact of the matter is she committed many crimes. She did so while under the duress of suffering from her mental health status. Agreed. Again, she was put into this position of power of classified information by the same people who she demonstrated and repeatedly confessed to not having a stable mental health status. But the crime was a crime. Committed by a human being who signed up to uphold the laws of this country. Period. End of (that) conversation.

She should have been discharged from her position in the military. Agreed. She should not have been given that job. True. She should be offered help and assistance with her gender dysphoria struggles. Affirmatron! Just like treatment for anything else that is out of a person's control (diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, etc...), a suitable treatment for "healing" this pain should be administered to the, now, prisoner of the gov't (hormone therapy, assistance with support groups, etc.). It is a legitimate concern for the well-being of a prisoner. At least, it would be in the utopia prison in my head.

Back to my point though - I am a white, straight female living a life with debilitating anxiety and depression. I have been diagnosed with BPD and severe depression/anxiety. People say all the time, "Just deal with it." "Put a smile on your face, it will help." Etc. The "just deal with it" attitude is one of the MAJOR disconnects within any mental health disorder circles (inside the circle vs. out of it). Had I not had the right mind to say to my superiors, "I need to step down," this could have happened to me. A gay, bipolar male who recently self-medicated himself off of his meds and started showing signs of breakdown could have been put into this position, and the outcome could have been the same. A straight male, suffering from the same as above. Same. Same. Same. But, the fact remains that crimes were committed. What drove Ms. Manning to commit these crimes are irrelevant. And, most certainly, her sexuality, gender association, eye color, hair color, left handed vs. right handed...all of the items that make Ms. Manning the person that she is...did NOT cause her to commit those crimes. Separating the part of her (her transgender awareness and her journey within that spectrum) and, basically, criminalizing it. Self-fulfilling prophecy. You are doing exactly what you claim the others are doing - Making her transition into something that should be gawked at or made even more taboo than our closed-minded society already makes it.

Am I, too, appalled at the lack of awareness for her struggles that put her into the position she was in - with no action to correct or help her? Yes. But, equating her brave decision to face her inner struggles and become what she REALLY is in an effort to improve her mental health and quality of life and overall, holistic well-being to the "pulling the trigger"? I will have to disagree.

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Jill Micayla 3 years, 6 months ago

I don't agree with the Manning outlook, especially since I spent a 20 year career in stealth not letting my superiors nor my subordinates know I was not happy being a male in an all male environment. I did my job and I did it well. I am a Vietnam era combat veteran, I survived the pressure and I went on to bigger and better things and even more pressure. When I could I present female. I did not engage in homosexual activities and I certainly felt out of sorts with a woman. Mr. Sandifer You may interview me if you would like. I have nothing to hide. In September I will be undergoing Gender Reassignment Surgery. I believe Manning went about everything all wrong and he is now paying a great price for not think through the motions he set in place. Had they discharged him for the rifle incident he most likely would have gotten an other than honorable discharge, and would not have been eligible for VA benefits. There is a big picture to consider when one has a illness that others don't understand. Transgender individual are not all gay. DADT was not in effect when I was in the military. There are many people like myself and Manning currently serving. We make good Sailor, Marines and Soldiers, we are more efficient and a bit more intelligent. Just because we would rather be in clothes that suit us doesn't mean we cannot not perform our duties we took an oath to do. I'm ready to face the world. I would love to get involved in Politics and run for President, I have no skeletons in my closet.

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womandrogyne 3 years, 6 months ago

Hi, just to note that as you've updated this article since she declared herself to be Chelsea, you also need to edit the url for the blog-post, as it comes up in places like facebook as still saying Breanna, using that url.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 6 months ago

I'm not sure that's possible. If it is, I don't know how to do it.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 6 months ago

I certainly would love to see a culture in which transgender people can serve openly in the US military.

That said, I am hesitant to accept the reasoning that because of anecdotal cases of trans people being able to function well in the military, the military is a place where trans people can serve easily in a general case. Manning's difficulties seem terribly understandable; gender dysphoria is a real thing, as is the pain that it causes.

Best of luck with your transition.

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Elizabeth Ramsey 3 years, 6 months ago

The AP Style Guide states that transgender persons should be addressed by their chosen name and using pronouns consistent with their chosen gender.

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kitten takara 3 years, 6 months ago

To me this this is torture, with holding someone medical treatment is torture pure and simple

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David Thiel 3 years, 6 months ago

There's a good essay on the media's treatment of her transgender status on by James Poniewozik, their resident TV critic.

"News outlets have been deciding how to refer to the transgender soldier now, but what about her past? Did Bradley leak information to Wikileaks, or did Chelsea? Did she serve in Iraq or did he? It's complicated."

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mrobinc 3 years, 5 months ago

Thank you. I am trans, and I did and do want to help, but we can't even have this discussion amongst ourselves in our own community without it degenerating into hateful name-calling, and all the while people seem blissfully unaware that their is a real person at the heart of all this. Her name is Chelsea, and I don't think sending her homemade cookies is going to help.

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