Zack Rosen is a journalist who has written for Jezebel and QUEERTY and founder of queer culture blog The New Gay. You can read more of his work here.
We are all Chelsea Manning.
Trans rights are human rights. After going on trial for leaking classified military information, Chelsea Manning — formerly Bradley Manning, if you're not up on yesterday's news — fought the law and lost, but you won. Your rights as a citizen and a human stand stronger today because a 25-year-old woman told you the truth about who she is. And now, her stay in jail is going to be harder and more dangerous because she made that brave proclamation.
Chelsea Manning is a fighter — living proof that a woman can retain her essential humanity when her actions and choices are in question, even when so many other freedoms have been torn away. Today, she continues to fight for her rights and ours. Though Manning seems to have lost the first battle, there is a larger and more abstract war contained in three seemingly simple words: “I am female.”
If you respect your own human rights, it is imperative to consider those words. It is important for both journalists and the general populace at large to respect the name "Chelsea Manning" and let her old moniker live in the past, in a country where you thought you weren't being watched. Whether you agree with Manning's decision to blow a whistle or not, it is crucial to support her decision to call herself what she is.
Readers here should understand that the way you package yourself to the world can change you, and ultimately change the world. Calling Chelsea Manning by any other name, or by male pronouns, places her in a second kind of jail. And guess what? Should you ever want to dictate your own gender identity beyond the strict boundaries set out by tradition, you’ll be right there with her.
Conventional gender identities are like a raft floating on a piranha-infested river. There is an illusion of safety and acceptance, but dip one toe outside the confines, and you'll be eaten alive. Would there be such a bloody war for marriage equality if we didn’t hold our rigid definitions of gender so dear? Men and women are supposed to marry each other. And when they don’t, society often punishes them for breaking the mold of what a man or woman should be.
So much pain is suffered every day by those who betray their gender. Men in short shorts, women in baggy jeans, little boys who wear pink, girls with buzz cuts. The tomboy, the sissy, the butch, the fag, the dyke, the tranny, the “it.” They are ridiculed in public, they are killed in the street, they are dragged behind cars and beaten. They are the gender outlaws, and there’s a good chance you're one, too. In Manning's case, she's not just a gender outlaw, but a national pariah, too.
So do you feel safe?
People like to say what America is not — Iraq, Russia, or a dictatorship. It’s what makes GitMo such a scar on our constitution. Even prisoners are supposed to have basic rights in this country. We protest when they are denied, and rightly so. Chelsea Manning acted outside this country’s law, but she is still a citizen. All she has asked is to be called by the correct name, the correct pronoun. To take that away is a violation of American values of individualism.
Whoever you are, I’m guessing at some point in your life you've fought, hard, to get over your past and become the person you are today. You have risen above abusive childhoods, bullying, health issues, both mental and physical, racism, homophobia, the way you dressed in middle school, the time you peed your pants in assembly. Your embarrassing childhood nickname that no one may utter again. That's what this is about. The right to be in charge of your own future is the most essential of all. Chelsea Manning has told us her name today. Her true name. A sensationalist press had no problem circulating photos of her true face — they should be equally as respectful to the name that comes with it. I know that showing my own true face, that stunted inner-self that is my true name, is the hardest thing in the world. People fight every day to hide who they really are — and most aren’t currently private enemy number one of the United States government.
Do you wish you lived in a world where you could be your true self? Where identities and roles weren't passed down on high from a thousand years of skewed tradition? Where no one could tell you who and what you are besides yourself? Congratulations, then. You’re Chelsea Manning, too, regardless of your interest in national security. Please respect that name as you would your own.