What’s in a name, or a pronoun for that matter? It depends on who is using it.
This week, news organizations across the nation stumbled all over themselves trying to react to this announcement of Army Pvt. Bradley Manning:
“As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope that you will support me in this transition. I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun (except in official mail to the confinement facility).”
The announcement was made the day after Manning was sentenced to 35 years of confinement in a military prison for giving government secrets to Wikileaks.
Some organizations immediately dropped “Bradley” altogether and began referring to Manning by his newly adopted name and with the feminine pronoun.
Others, comically and nonsensically, slipped back and forth between the two, while a few acknowledged Manning’s request, but continued to refer to him as a man.
First of all, let me say that Manning can decide who he wants to become, even if it is a woman. Transgender people are and have been doing this all over the world for some time now.
I can’t say I understand it, but my ability to understand someone else’s desires has nothing to do with their right to be who they want to be. That’s fine.
But there is also a thing called our shared reality that we have to consider. Manning has expressed his desire to be a woman. He isn’t and might never be. I think it is safe to say he also ardently desires to be pardoned and set free. That’s not happeneing either.
The reality of the situation is that he is a man. Magical thinking and pronouns won’t change that. Even his lawyer has said that when referring to his court martial or appeal, he expects Manning will be referred to as a male.
Instead of twisting our language into knots, why don’t we just stick to what is accurate? He is a man who wants to be a woman. He is also a felon.
He will be going to Fort Leavenworth, an all-male military prison. If you want to send him a letter, you better address it to Bradley, because as far as the Army is concerned, Chelsea won’t be there.