How to Not Be a Dick to Chelsea Manning


Today, America woke up to find that the person they had been focused on for years as the hero (or villain) who gave documents to Wikileaks of the United States killing journalists, is actually a woman. Chelsea Manning announced that, though the world knew her previously as Bradley Manning, she had felt for years that she really was a woman, and she is going to seek hormone therapy as she begins her sentence.

Traitor or hero, Manning’s whistleblowing deserves to be judged on its merits, not by her gender identity. Manning is still unequivocally a human being and should be treated with a baseline amount of respect. With that in mind, here are some really basic things you can do to not be a dick to her.

Use the right pronouns

Imagine you have a friend named Louise. She hates her name. She thinks it’s for old people, and she feels deeply uncomfortable calling herself that. She asks you to call her Chuck. But you call her Louise. She asks you, over and over, to call her Chuck, because that’s what she wants to be called. Her parents picked Louise, not her, and it doesn’t represent how she sees herself. Yet you keep calling her Louise.

Congratulations, you’re an asshole.

It’s just common courtesy to call someone what they want to be called. USA Today displayed a shocking lack of consideration in their article on Manning’s announcement, where they doggedly continued to call her “he” throughout the entire article. Mediate, on the other hand, handled the issue nicely by using Manning’s old pronouns in the beginning of the story to avoid confusion, then proceeded with her preferred pronouns through the rest of the story. See? Pronouns are easy.

Don’t assume she announced her gender change to “have it easier”

I’ve seen a few people say that Manning announced her gender change so that she would have it easier in prison. Seriously, guys? She would have surely known that the military would only provide her psychological support, and that she would be housed with people of the same sex she was assigned at birth. She probably knows that she was already going to have a terrible time in prison as a “traitor,” and that being trans was only going to make that time worse.

No one in their right mind would fake transitioning to “have it easier,” what with the terrible prejudice that transgendered people face in our society. Assuming that is insulting to her decision, and it’s just factually incorrect.

If you didn’t like her actions, don’t use her identity to insult her

I get it. Manning’s decision to leak military documents to the public was a highly controversial one. To this day, there are people who will hurl insults at her, tell her that she doesn’t deserve to live, or worse. I won’t tell you what to think about the leaked documents, but I will tell you that using her gender identity to insult her is a cheap shot. The two are different phenomena. If you don’t like the fact that she chose to leak government documents, then challenge her on that basis. Leave her gender out of it.

Don’t call her an “it”

Regardless of what you think of trans people, every person deserves to be treated with respect. People are not objects, and it has never, ever been appropriate to refer to a human being as an “it.” And that’s all I have to say about that.

These are just some very basic exercises to keep yourself from being a dick to Chelsea and other trans people. I hope that Chelsea continues to get support from the same people who supported her for her courageous efforts to expose military wrongdoings. Those who praised her efforts to make our military more transparent should continue to do so, because the merit of her actions does not change with her sex or gender.

EDIT: An earlier published version of this piece listed Manning as genderqueer. That has been corrected.