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Column: Now she has identified her true gender, will the world accept Chelsea Manning?

The soldier formerly known as Bradley Manning has identified herself as female. How the world reacts now to Chelsea Manning, particularly online, will be interesting, writes Louise Hannon.

Louise Hannon

IS CHELSEA MANNING a hero ?

Chelsea Manning, recently known as Bradley Manning, is the US soldier who has been convicted of passing  top secret military information to Wikileaks. She has been sentenced to 35 years in a military prison in Fort Leavenworth Kansas, an all-male prison at that.

After she was sentenced she came out as transgender (trans), and wishes to live out the rest of her life as female.

A strange mix

For the average reader this must seem like a strange mix and, indeed ,for many in the trans community it will feel the same.

As Bradley, Chelsea joined the military so it would seem to give some stability after a very turbulent life where her parents were alcoholics and she had moved around staying with various family members and friends when her parents’ marriage ended.

From a background like that she had numerous problems and I suppose when she joined the military out of a sense of duty, she hoped things would stabilise. Because of her background in IT and the fact that she is very bright, they immediately targeted her for  security training and she was drafted in to deal with secret communications around the Iraq war and Afghanistan.

Struggling with her gender identity

All this happened while she was struggling with her gender identity, and that is not an easy place to be. A recent survey in America has suggested that trans people tend to join the masculine military establishment as a way of suppressing their true gender identity; it was found that in the military the numbers of trans people was double that in the general poulation.

As a trans woman I can very much relate to that. While we all, at some point, attempt to fit in with our birth gender and attempt to conform to societies accepted norms, it never works out.

So with Chelsea Manning the inevitable has happened: she is now accepting who she is, as we all eventually do if we are to live with any semblance of happiness.

How will the military deal with this?

The bigger issues remain of course. How will the millitary deal with a soldier who wishes to live as female in an all-male prison? The US army has no mechanism, as I understand, to deal with this particular situation where hormone treatment will be required – so I suspect we have not heard the last of Chelsea Manning. It will be interesting to see how the military deal with this on going situation.

As a trans woman, Chelsea would have been struggling with her gender identity all through this momentous time. Having at some point resolved to deal with it, she probably felt that while being honest in the moral sense regarding the  slaughter of civilians, she would eventually have to be honest with herself and her presentation to the world. Eventually, when the focus on her trial ended, she very quickly announced her true gender.

How the world reacts now seeing Chelsea Manning rather than Bradley Manning, particularly online, will be interesting. Her gender change will feed the transphobes and those who believe that your born gender should not and cannot ever be altered. I expect some readers of this article to take the same line.

The focus of attention should not be her gender

However for those who support what Chelsea Manning did – and I am one – the fact that her gender change has been the topic which has garnered huge media coverage in the last few days should not be the primary focus of attention.

She happens to be a soldier in a rather unique personal situation, admittedly, who is transitioning to the opposite gender. There are thousands of trans people world wide doing exactly the same thing… so where is the big deal with that?

Chelsea happens to be in the spotlight for taking a moral stand on the Iraq war that  many people, regardless of her gender status, think was completely right.

Louise Hannon is a board member of TENI.

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