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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later.Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

39 Comments

  1. gatchamandave
    August 1, 2013 @ 12:14 am

    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.

    Reply

  2. John Voorhees
    August 1, 2013 @ 4:14 am

    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.

    Reply

  3. elvwood
    August 1, 2013 @ 4:31 am

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

    Reply

  4. Man and House
    August 1, 2013 @ 4:43 am

    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.

    Reply

  5. Chris Andersen
    August 1, 2013 @ 6:04 am

    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.

    Reply

  6. Adam B
    August 1, 2013 @ 6:19 am

    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.

    Reply

  7. David Thiel
    August 1, 2013 @ 6:50 am

    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.

    Reply

  8. Theonlyspiral
    August 1, 2013 @ 7:27 am

    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.

    Reply

  9. Elizabeth Sandifer
    August 1, 2013 @ 7:37 am

    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.

    Reply

  10. Amber Daniels
    August 1, 2013 @ 10:01 am

    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 =)

    Reply

  11. Daibhid C
    August 1, 2013 @ 10:15 am

    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)…"

    Reply

  12. David Thiel
    August 1, 2013 @ 12:09 pm

    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.

    Reply

  13. Matthew Blanchette
    August 1, 2013 @ 4:48 pm

    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: http://freethoughtblogs.com/zinniajones/2013/07/the-humanity-of-private-manning-by-lauren-mcnamara/

    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.

    Reply

  14. storiteller
    August 1, 2013 @ 5:29 pm

    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.

    Reply

  15. Jesse
    August 1, 2013 @ 7:16 pm

    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?

    Reply

  16. Unlikely Lass
    August 2, 2013 @ 4:21 am

    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?

    No.

    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.

    Reply

  17. Unlikely Lass
    August 2, 2013 @ 4:33 am

    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. :/

    Reply

  18. Unlikely Lass
    August 2, 2013 @ 4:39 am

    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. :/

    Reply

  19. Daibhid C
    August 2, 2013 @ 6:37 am

    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.

    Reply

  20. Alan
    August 2, 2013 @ 8:02 am

    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?!?

    Reply

  21. BerserkRL
    August 3, 2013 @ 6:05 am

    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).

    Reply

  22. BerserkRL
    August 3, 2013 @ 6:14 am

    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.

    Reply

  23. Daru
    August 4, 2013 @ 3:08 am

    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.

    Sad.

    Reply

  24. BerserkRL
    August 7, 2013 @ 10:13 am

    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.

    Reply

  25. Sean Case
    August 22, 2013 @ 3:40 am

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

    Reply

  26. Seeing_I
    August 22, 2013 @ 5:46 am

    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.

    http://www.today.com/news/bradley-manning-i-want-live-woman-6C10974915

    Reply

  27. Iain Coleman
    August 22, 2013 @ 6:13 am

    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.

    Reply

  28. Seeing_I
    August 22, 2013 @ 9:06 am

    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.

    Reply

  29. Seeing_I
    August 22, 2013 @ 11:18 am

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

    Reply

  30. Elizabeth Sandifer
    August 22, 2013 @ 1:16 pm

    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.

    Reply

  31. LearningThroughGrowing
    August 22, 2013 @ 6:26 pm

    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.

    Reply

  32. Jill Micayla
    August 24, 2013 @ 8:43 am

    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.

    Reply

  33. womandrogyne
    August 24, 2013 @ 12:35 pm

    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.

    Reply

  34. Elizabeth Sandifer
    August 24, 2013 @ 12:35 pm

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

    Reply

  35. Elizabeth Sandifer
    August 24, 2013 @ 12:41 pm

    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.

    Reply

  36. Elizabeth Ramsey
    August 24, 2013 @ 9:55 pm

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

    Reply

  37. kitten takara
    August 25, 2013 @ 8:20 am

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

    Reply

  38. David Thiel
    August 28, 2013 @ 6:10 am

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

    http://entertainment.time.com/2013/08/28/when-did-chelsea-manning-become-chelsea-manning/

    "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."

    Reply

  39. mrobinc
    September 26, 2013 @ 4:25 am

    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.

    Reply

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