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'Bradley' or 'Chelsea' – What to call Pvt. Manning? (+video)

The US Army private convicted of espionage in the WikiLeaks case says the name is now 'Chelsea Manning.' That's set off a debate over how to refer to transgender people.

By Staff writer / August 25, 2013

U.S. Army Pvt. Bradley Manning poses for a photo wearing a wig and lipstick. Manning plans to live as a woman named Chelsea and wants to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible, the soldier says.

U.S. Army/AP

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So there’s this young US Army private named “Manning.”

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You remember: The intelligence analyst in Iraq who leaked a massive trove of classified military information to the controversial whistleblower outfit WikiLeaks? The one convicted of espionage who’s about to spend as many as 35 years in the Army’s maximum security prison at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas?

OK. Everybody knows that. But there’s a problem.

The first name on Manning's dog tags is “Bradley,” as it is on all official documents where the identification states “male.” But as the young soldier headed off to incarceration, Manning declared "I'm transgender" – personally identified as a female, intending to take the necessary steps to make the physical change – and that the proper first name now – immediately – is “Chelsea.”

You’ll note that I’ve cleverly avoided using gender-specific pronouns here so far – no “he” or “she,” no “him” or “her.” (I’ll also note that Manning did not have to do this to us. I have a female cousin perfectly happy to be named “Bradley,” which is an old family name.)

For now, at least, and until instructed otherwise by my editors, I’ll do what that source of all undergraduate wisdom – Wikipedia – has done: Refer to Manning as female.

Ms. Manning had barely finished his – oops, her – announcement last week when Wikipedia immediately redirected “Bradley Manning” searches to “Chelsea Manning” in an article peppered with feminine pronouns. One example:

“She was sentenced to 35 years in prison and dishonorably discharged. She will be eligible for parole after serving one third of her sentence, and together with credits for time served and good behavior could be released eight years after sentencing.”

It’s not been so quick or easy for others in the media, where what to call Manning is being hotly debated.

“The sooner journalists stop writing ‘Bradley’ and start writing ‘Chelsea,’ the quicker everyone following this story will adapt – and even change their Google search terms when looking for coverage,” writes Amanda Marcotte at Slate, a relatively progressive site. “Even if you disagree with Manning's actions and believe she deserves the harsh sentence she received, her gender identity had nothing to do with her crimes. Most people don't have to transition under as much scrutiny as Manning has suffered; all of us making the switch graciously can help make things slightly easier for her.”

But over at the conservative National Review, Wesley J. Smith takes a more legalistic view.

“We need structure here and a proper legal process,” he writes. “Until Bradley Manning is officially declared Chelsea by a court – with an amended birth certificate issued and a legal judgment of sex reassignment – he remains a legal male. That should be the standard, not a personal statement read on a television show or a change in appearance.”

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