[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.
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.