Opinion: How to Talk About Chelsea Manning Without Being Dumb

PHOTO: How (not) to report on Chelsea ManningImage by Truthout.org/Flickr, art by Alex Alvarez/Fusion
How (not) to report on Chelsea Manning

Pvt. Manning, the former U.S. soldier who was convicted of violating the Espionage Act, among other offenses, after releasing restricted information to the public via WikiLeaks, announced Thursday that she plans on undergoing hormone treatment and has changed her name from Bradley to Chelsea Manning.

Here's her complete statement:

Subject: The Next Stage of My Life

I want to thank everybody who has supported me over the last three years. Throughout this long ordeal, your letters of support and encouragement have helped keep me strong. I am forever indebted to those who wrote to me, made a donation to my defense fund, or came to watch a portion of the trial. I would especially like to thank Courage to Resist and the Bradley Manning Support Network for their tireless efforts in raising awareness for my case and providing for my legal representation.

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). I look forward to receiving letters from supporters and having the opportunity to write back.

Thank you, Chelsea E. Manning

The ACLU has responded to Manning's revelation by highlighting, in part, by the military's handling (or non-handling, as the case may be) of gender dysmorphia and the constitutionality of the military's lack of action.

Given Manning's statement, it's unfortunate -- but not terribly surprising -- that media outlets have continued to describe Chelsea as both "Bradley" and "he / him." Here are some pointers on how to report on Chelsea Manning's statement.

- Chelsea has announced that her name is Chelsea. Thus, her name is Chelsea. If you want to optimize your story, it's worth pointing out that Chelsea is the person "formerly known" as Bradley Manning.

- Chelsea self-identifies as a woman, and she plans on undergoing treatment so that her sex may line up with her gender identity. She might be biologically male, but she is not a he. That The New York Times, of all places, (which is usually so on top of what people are doing and how this wide and wondrous world of ours is changing in so many new and exciting ways) continually refers to Manning as both "Bradley" and "he" is disrespectful, misguided, outdated, and incorrect.

- Gender and sex are two different terms that mean two distinct things, which can be but are not always related. This is important to note when discussing transgender individuals.

- Gender identity =/= sexual orientation. Just as cisgender people can be gay, straight, or fall in some gray area apart from or combining those two, so can transgender people.

- Transgender people =/= crossdressers or drag performers, and vice-versa. People who crossdress can be cis- or transgender, gay, straight, male, female, or a myriad of combinations that are too complex for pithy online trend pieces.

- People on Twitter, generally speaking, are not that original. They are also not always a good indication of how the public at large, or even select groups, view issues like race, gender, sex, etc. Pointing out that people are racist, transphobic, homophobic, or xenophobic online might make for some awesome linkbait, but it does nothing to directly address or combat pervasive hatred, ignorance, or fear of others. Reporters can do better and go deeper than making lists of "Top 187 Transphobic Comments on Twitter."

- If you're unclear about something, ask someone who would know more about it than you do.