CNN and NPR can't be bothered to address Manning as female (UPDATED)

[UPDATE BELOW]. A reader who works at CNN shares "the guidance the news folks are following" on how to refer to Chelsea Manning, formerly Bradley Manning--the transgender soldier who announced to the world she wished to be publicly seen as female one day after receiving a 35 year prison sentence for leaking secret US government documents to Wikileaks.

"Manning hasn't taken any steps yet toward gender transition so use masculine pronouns ('he' and 'him')," the internal guidance reads.

"First reference, refer to him as 'Bradley Manning' and on subsequent references use 'Manning.' Also mention he has asked to change his first name to Chelsea. The guidance will be re-evaluated if Manning officially changes his/her name."

Watch CNN broadcasts, or read articles like this on CNN.com, and you'll see that this is consistent with their output.

But come on. How hard is it to type "her" or "she," and explain why?

From one recent CNN.com article: "While his supporters may back Manning, the Army said Thursday it won't."

No, they won't. Nor will CNN, evidently.

The NYT is hemming and hawing on the matter, too, as are other large/mainstream news organizations.

National Public Radio told the NYT they'll be referring to Private Manning as “he,” according to spokeswoman Anna Bross.

“Until Bradley Manning’s desire to have his gender changed actually physically happens, we will be using male-related pronouns to identify him,” she said.

NPR, you're doing it wrong. That's not how being transgender works.

Two questions: how exactly was Pfc. Manning (who has since been demoted to Pvt.) supposed to have obtained a legal name change while the U.S. government and military were waging the fiercest imaginable legal battle against the soldier?

Second, what kind of genderqueer-positive happyplace do they imagine Fort Leavenworth to be? As blogged here a number of times, the Army does not intend to provide support for Manning's transition in the physical sense, in prison: no hormone treatment, no reassignment surgery, and so on.

But you don't need hormone therapy or reassignment surgery to transition. It's not about the chemicals or an operation.

Pvt. Manning has been clear on the issue for years: we wrote about chat logs that revealed an intent to transition back in 2010. "The CPU is not made for this motherboard," then-Pfc. Manning wrote to Adrian Lamo, in those logs.

"I wouldn't mind going to prison for the rest of my life, or being executed so much, if it wasn't for the possibility of having pictures of me... plastered all over the world press... as [a] boy..."

" im just kind of drifting now... waiting to redeploy to the US, be discharged... and figure out how on earth im going to transition," the soldier wrote. "its such an awkward place to be in, emotionally and psychologically."

Now, Manning is clear. She is clear. But it's the rest of us who still have a problem.

And this isn't just some charade upheld by Manning's supporters. You don't have to agree with what Manning did or respect or like Manning to respect the gender identity transition.

Do it for all of the other trans people in the world.

Speaking at a press conference after the sentencing on Wednesday, Aug. 21, Manning's attorney David Coombs described Manning's reaction as the sentence was announced. Coombs spoke about how he and his colleagues on the defense team were crying. Manning turned to them and said, “It’s okay. It’s alright. I know you did your best. I’m going to be okay. I’m going to get through this.”

One imagines she feels the same way about a most deeply personal transition the world would rather mock than acknowledge.


UPDATE: NPR spokesperson Anna Christopher Bross says:

Since you’ve written and tweeted about this today, I wanted to share that our thinking on Army Private Manning has evolved. On first reference, NPR will use “Chelsea Manning,” while in the near term noting that she came to prominence as Bradley Manning. The network also will use female pronouns. You can read more about this here.
That's a great start. I hope NPR's change of heart will encourage other media organizations to thoughtfully consider how they treat transgender figures in the news who are in the process of transitioning.

Notable Replies

  1. Rindan says:

    I live in a very blue state in a very blue city (Boston), and dealing with transgender issues are tough even here. I won't say that we have the gay thing "solved" in urban blue state areas, but it is vastly improved. If a same sex couple shows up to an event in Boston and say that they are married, it is pretty rare for anyone to bat an eyelash or the conversation to skip a beat. It is getting normal and socially acceptable. My Republican gun totting boss happily hired a married lesbian and would take serious issue with anyone who has a problem with it. That isn't to suggest that discrimination is gone, just that being gay is, for the most part, socially acceptable in Boston and cities like it.

    Trans folks don't have it so easy. I think it boils down to three large problems.

    1. Transgender issues are "messy". Gay is pretty easy to wrap your mind around. It is about sex and love, and it means that someone likes people of the same sex. Once you accept it, it isn't all that different from straight. Gender identity issues are more complex because gender identity and sexual identity are things that we tend to wrap up into one package that don't necessarily belong to each other. Even the term LGBT is confusing in that it wraps up three classifications for sexuality with one that isn't necessarily about sexuality. Most people not intimately involved in these issues don't have the right framing of the issue, much less the words to express themselves. You hear "trans" and you think "sex", not "gender".

    2. Trans folks are, for the most part, not out. Adult gay folks are, for the most part, out (>70% last I heard). A lot of the victories in gay rights came from people being out. Nothing murders discrimination as handily as finding out that a close friend or family member that you respect is gay. Trans folks, for entirely rational reasons, are vastly more likely to be in the closet. A lack of visibility leads to discrimination and a lack of allies to help push the fight.

    3. People can be fucking bigots. This probably doesn't need much explanation.

    The best thing a trans person can do for the cause is to come out as gay folks did. It is a wildly effective strategy because it buys natural allies and shakes the ground bigots stand on when loved ones come out. However, that is a pretty easy thing to say and a much harder thing to do. Coming out is something that you are doing for future trans folks, but for you personally, the consequences might be devastating. I live in a very liberal city and work at a company that employs piles of openly gay folks, and I would still be leery of coming out. It is impossible to suggest someone living in Alabama (or anywhere for that matter) has an obligation to come out and literally put their life on the line and almost certainly suffer employment trouble.

    So, it is good that Manning is out. We need more of this. We need to be able to talk about these issues and get over the awkwardness and the stumbling over terminology. It is unfortunate that one of the most public figures to come out is being tossed in jail for 35 years. I have a feeling in a month this conversation is going to be dead in most places.

  2. Two thoughts here:

    1) Xeni is talking about journalism style guides, not random comments on the Internet. Journalism style guides very much care. About everything. That is why some widely-used guides (like AP) are published in actual, annually updated books. With ring binding, so you can reference them easily and constantly. There's a lot of thought put into what goes into a journalism style guide. To say otherwise means you're woefully misinformed.

    2) Whether it's calculated or not, I'd argue that it's still a pretty big insult to hear somebody say "This is who I am and how I would like to be addressed" and to continue to ignore that request because you just don't give a crap.

  3. I'm just curious, if a line has to be drawn somewhere, what is it dividing? What's socially acceptable and what isn't? Who we can show contempt for and who we must mask our contempt for?

    It's almost impossible to know what is going on with people except on an individual level. Once you get to that level, you either want to be around the person or you don't.

    I've known people who have changed their name because they don't want to share names with the person who molested them throughout childhood. It may seem trivial to those who don't know the reasons, but no one should really be forced to explain themselves like that. Whose business is it anyway?

    Besides, in what world is changing whatever you can or think you should not "playing with the hands you were dealt?" You certainly can't help where you were born, but there's no reason to call some parents "family." The way I see it you maximize the options you can find.

    I suppose I don't see the honor in doing something in order to be seen as honorable. What's the point? Honor sounds like something they carve on a tombstone, it's something others say about you. Happiness seems better suited for living.

    I'm not trying to chew you out, I just find it interesting. I used to be a sort of grim believer in learned helplessness. I lost literally all of my youth to it because I thought I had to take what was given and ask for no more. I got myself through by imagining some how there was some great honor in bearing this suffering to the grave. I became completely complicit in my own abuse. In this state I developed a lot of contempt for people who seemed to be defying the rules. Why do they get to be free and not me? I'm doing what I'm supposed to do, I'm being what people are supposed to be so why am I so miserable? But the contempt in my case was misplaced. I didn't want to face my own shame in having sacrificed myself to a noble sounding word for fear. The door had been off of the cage a long time, it was me who wouldn't take responsibility for improving what was left of my life. No one owed me anything but me.

    Realizing this changed the way I felt about other people, their decisions, the way we condition each other socially. I've now come to the conclusion that the rest of the world will probably do everything possible to make your life as bad as it needs to be. What's left is up to you.

  4. I just want to pop in to say that it feels like a lot of people who have no understanding at all of what being trans is like are saying wrong, inaccurate, offensive things about me, a real live actual trans person, as if trans people aren't around or only exist in labs to be studied and puzzled over. Trans people are in comment sections. Trans people read the things you say. Trans people are real people with lives and loves and emotions - and an inherently better understanding of what it means to be trans than most of you. When you say things like "this is so new, we really have to figure this out" - hey, I had to figure it out just to continue being alive! There are people who are experts in this experience, and you'd probably do a lot better to listen to what they have to say than to crowd around making confused noises like this is something nobody could ever comprehend.

    This is BoingBoing, so maybe some of you are gay. Surely you can remember a time when you were trying to tell a straight person how it feels to be gay - how natural and matter-of-fact it is, how it's not something you chose, etc. - and the straight person just did not believe you. They substituted their lived experience, which is only relative to their context as a straight person, for your own lived experience. And yet, you still know at the very core of your being that how you described yourself is accurate - you know, because you're gay. You know for sure that you're correct, and you know for sure that not only are they wrong, but they don't even have the standing to challenge you - but they do. So you know something for certain that other people deny because they don't want to listen, and they assume things are different than the way they are.

    That's exactly what's going on here. Telling a trans person they aren't who they say they are, that they must jump through your own arbitrary hoops (and of course everyone is holding their own set of arbitrary hoops) for you to recognize their identity - that's the same thing as a straight person not believing a gay person about what being gay is like, and instead handwringing all over the internet about how this is totally a thing that needs to be looked into, who knows!

    I kind of rambled some. I'm sorry. I just wanted to say that a lot of you are making me feel really gross with the awful stuff you're saying. It would be great if you could try to consider your words knowing that trans people are here, in this conversation and most conversations like it happening across the internet, and that they are real actual people with real valid identities, and they aren't some mystery population practicing some arcane gender magic waiting for cis people to tell them who they are.

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