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.…