If I hear one more “Bradley Wo-Manning” joke, I’m going to dig my hands into my chest, claw through ribs and intercoastals, rip out my heart, stuff it deep into my throat and pray that I asphyxiate.
For those who have been living under a rock, Chelsea Manning, born Bradley Manning, is the United States soldier who was convicted in July for violating the Espionage Act after releasing restricted documents to Wikileaks. She was dishonorably discharged and sentenced to 35 years. Her gender identity came up during her trial, and the day after her sentencing, Manning released a statement identifying herself as female, saying she had felt female since childhood.
The media jumped on the story, with many outlets refusing to acknowledge her identity. Jake Tapper on CNN’s The Lead, said, “We should note that CNN will continue to refer to him as Bradley Manning since he has not yet legally changed his name.” This refusal on the part of networks to use Manning’s chosen name and pronouns that reflect her female gender identity is known as “misgendering,” the assignation of incorrect gender.
The fact that Manning has not yet changed her name legally is a poor justification, as anyone with access to the Associated Press Stylebook would know. The bible of news coverage reads under the entry for transgender: “Use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth. If that preference is not expressed, use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly.” Today, the Associated Press released the following statement clarifying its position to AP member editors and subscribers:
The Associated Press will henceforth use Pvt. Chelsea E. Manning and female pronouns for the soldier formerly known as Bradley Manning, in accordance with her wishes to live as a woman.
Manning announced her wishes last Thursday after being sentenced to 35 years in Fort Leavenworth military prison and a dishonorable discharge from the U.S. Army for revealing U.S. secrets to WikiLeaks, the anti-establishment website. ManningÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s statement was reiterated, with additional detail, in a blog posting (http://www.armycourtmartialdefense.info/) and an interview with The Associated Press on Monday by defense attorney David E. Coombs.
The use of the first name Chelsea and feminine pronouns in ManningÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s case is in conformity with the transgender guidance in the AP Stylebook. The guidance calls for using the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth.
CNN continues to refuse to use the correct pronouns when covering Manning. In a piece about the importance of respecting a transgender person’s gender identity, Emanuella Grinberg wrote:
CNN’s policy is to reference Manning with masculine pronouns since he has not yet taken any steps toward gender transition through surgery or hormone replacement therapy.
The National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) issued guidelines for reporting on Manning’s transition, advising journalists to “use the name and pronouns that someone prefers,” citing AP style and suggesting “that she be referenced as ‘U.S. Army Private Chelsea Manning, who formerly went by the name Bradley.’ It is not about surgeries and hormones. If a person wants to talk about these very personal topics, fine, but one’s gender identity and right to be respected aren’t dependent on taking such actions, nor are these necessarily public topics,” the NLGJA said in a statement.
The media is setting a terrible example for the general public. This post is a collection of resources for those who understand that educating ourselves about transgender issues is a vital step in making ours a just and equal society. So let’s start from the top: “Transgender” is an umbrella term that is commonly used to refer to people whose gender identity differs from their assigned sex at birth. Why does this happen? According to the National Center for Transgender Equality:
When you look across cultures, you will find that people have had a wide range of beliefs about gender. Some cultures look at people and see six genders, while others see two. Some cultures have created specific ways for people to live in roles that are different from that assigned to them at birth. In addition, different cultures also vary in their definitions of masculine and feminine. Whether we view someone as transgender depends on the cultural lenses we are looking through as well as how people identify themselves.
Biologists tell us that sex is a complicated matter, much more complex than what we may have been taught in school. A person has XX chromosomes is generally considered female, while a person with XY chromosomes is generally considered male. However, there are also people who have XXY, XYY, and other variations of chromosomes; these genetic differences may or may not be visibly apparent or known to the person. Some people are born with XY chromosomes, but are unable to respond to testosterone and therefore develop bodies with a vagina and breasts, rather than a penis and testes. A variation in gender may just be part of the natural order and there are more varieties than we generally realize. People with biological differences in gender may be considered intersex [having ambiguous biological sex characteristics]; they may or may not identify as transgender.
There are medical theories about why people are transgender. Some speculate that fluctuations or imbalances in hormones or the use of certain medications during pregnancy may cause intersex or transgender conditions. Other research indicates that there are links between transgender identity and brain structure. Some people believe that psychological factors are the reason for the existence of transgender people. It is clear that there are people who are aware that they are transgender from their earliest memories. Many trans people feel that their gender identity is an innate part of them, an integral part of who they were born to be.
Being transgender is not a mental illness.
Being transgender is about gender identity, not sexuality. Sexual orientation is what an individual finds attractive physically, emotionally, etc. Gender identity, on the other hand, is how someone sees their own gender. A person who is transgender may be any orientation.
When you are talking about a transgender person, always use the name and pronouns that the person prefers. In the case of Manning, for instance, use “Chelsea” and feminine pronouns such as “she,” “her,” and “hers.” Words like “shim” and “he-she” are never okay. Being confused about someone’s gender does not make it acceptable to call a person “it.” If you don’t know how to refer to a transgender person, ask how he or she would like you to refer to them. Asking is always better than making an assumption, so try to do that whenever you can.
When you meet a transgender person, understand that it is not their responsibility to educate you on transgender issues. Your curiosity can wait for Google. Treat him or her as you would anyone else you’ve just met. Just as you would not think to ask a stranger about their medical history or genitals, it is not acceptable to ask a transgender person about his or her “surgery” or “parts.” Your curiosity does not entitle you to any information from another human being. Your ignorance does not excuse tactlessness.
If you know someone is transgender and that someone isn’t out yet, do not make what you know public. He or she will come out when he or she is ready. It is not your decision to make.
GLAAD has a great glossary of terms that are relevant to conversations about transgender issues. It includes definitions, proper usage of terms and words to avoid. The National Center for Transgender Equality has a more detailed list of key words in this conversation. Matt Kailey has a dynamite blog about transgender issues, including the guides Trans Etiquette for Non-Trans People and Ten Things Not To Say To A Trans Person.
Please stop with the jokes. They’re ignorant. They take up space we should be devoting to discussing the problems transgender individuals face in prison.