WASHINGTON, August 23 (RIA Novosti) – Bradley Manning, the US Army private now in prison for leaking classified military secrets, has launched a pivotal nationwide debate for journalists with what would seem to be a relatively straightforward request: “He” now wants to be known as “she.”
“I am Chelsea Manning. I am female,” Manning said in a sworn statement read Thursday by his attorney, David Coombs, on NBC’s “Today” show.
“I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun,” Manning wrote, adding, “I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible.”
The statement had a handwritten signature that read “Chelsea E. Manning.”
But for a prison inmate facing a lengthy term behind bars, it’s just not that simple.
The request itself may well challenge societal discomfort and push US military policies far beyond the controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” standard that, until September 2011, barred declared homosexuals from serving in the military.
The US Army said in a statement it does not provide hormone replacement therapy or sex reassignment surgery for inmates, according to media reports.
A spokesman for the Fort Leavenworth, Kansas military prison where Manning is serving his time said the soldier would not be allowed to wear a wig or bra, would have to follow military standards for hair and that any name change would have to be approved in court and then submitted to the Army for further approval, according to Newsday.
Even Manning’s own attorney struggled to comply fully with his client’s request, as did news anchor Savannah Guthrie, during Thursday’s live interview.
“Is the ultimate goal here for her – him – to be in a female population? A female prison?” Guthrie asked.
“No, I think the ultimate goal here is for her to be comfortable in her skin,” said Coombs, later telling Guthrie, “My hope is, that the president will in fact pardon him."
Coombs did not respond to several requests for comment from RIA Novosti.
Beyond the physical aspects of changing genders, the more basic, immediate question over what, exactly, to call Manning – Bradley or Chelsea, he or she – exploded in debate in newsrooms across the United States, much like the ongoing discussions over whether Manning is really a traitor or a hero.
“Bradley Manning Is Now Chelsea Manning. The Press Should Start Using Female Pronouns Immediately,” said the headline for an opinion piece in the daily news magazine Slate.
“The goal here should be to move as quickly as possible from referring to Manning by a male name and male pronouns to her female name and pronouns. The sooner journalists stop writing Bradley’ and start writing "Chelsea," the quicker everyone following this story will adapt,” wrote author Amanda Marcotte.
In addition to Slate, some prominent news outlets including The Huffington Post, New York magazine and MSNBC have started using the female terms when talking about Manning.
Other outlets including USA TODAY, The Boston Globe, CNN, National Public Radio (NPR) and The New York Times (NYT) have not.
“Until Bradley Manning’s desire to have his gender changed actually physically happens, we will be using male-related pronouns to identify him,” said NPR spokeswoman Anna Bross in NYT.
“Generally speaking we call people by their new name when they ask us to, and when they actually begin their new lives,” said Dean Baquet, NYT managing editor, in an article.
“In this case we made the judgment readers would be totally confused if we turned on a dime overnight and changed the name and gender of a person in the middle of a major running news story. That’s not a political decision. It is one aimed at our primary constituency — our readers,” Baquet added.
A number of newsrooms scrambled to get their Associated Press (AP) Stylebooks, seeking clarification from a widely-followed guide for journalists.
Even that wasn’t really clear in the Manning case.
The carefully-worded guide calls for using “the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth,” and adds: “Use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly.”
Despite his stated desire, neither instance currently refers to Manning.
The AP said Friday it was seeking additional details from Manning’s attorney, “and until then would use only gender-neutral terms in reference to Manning.”
RIA Novosti is currently using the male pronoun and the name “Bradley Manning,” because the change to “Chelsea” has not been made legal, and, as a prison inmate, Manning is serving time in an all-male prison where he is not allowed to present himself as female or begin treatment to change his gender.
Manning, 25, was found guilty last month of multiple counts of espionage as well as theft and computer fraud connected to leaking volumes of classified US military documents to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, including war logs about US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan while he worked as an intelligence analyst in Iraq.