A (private) first class media blunder

Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning (previously known as Bradley Manning) has the media in a frenzy again — this time because of her gender identity.

“As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me,” Manning wrote in an open letter read by her attorney on NBC’s “Today” show. “I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female.”

For those who don’t know, Manning has been in the media since April 2010. She is a former Army intelligence analyst who, after witnessing horrendous war crimes, released documents and other such sources of military intelligence that exposed these crimes. She gave this information to WikiLeaks and is known widely as the “WikiLeaks whistle-blower.”

The most notable pieces of  military intelligence include the Iraq War Logs, the Afghan War Logs and the “Collateral Murder” video — all of which are available for the public to feast their eyes upon and, for the most part, to shake their heads in disgust at.

If you haven’t seen the video and can stomach how atrocious the crimes are, I highly recommend watching the “Collateral Murder” video. Despite being three years old, it may be the single most profound piece footage I’ve ever watched.

Jump forward to present, and Manning has been sentenced to 35 years in military prison and was also demoted from the rank of Pfc. to Pvt. On Aug. 22, a day after that sentence, Manning released the aforementioned statement about her gender identity.

This launched a ridiculous tirade of media outlets essentially gawking at Manning and misgendering her like it was their job (Actually, it’s their job to gender her correctly). But that didn’t stop the slew of ‘he’ and even ‘it’ pronoun usage. It also didn’t help the name “Chelsea” appear more often in articles.

Many people attribute this misgendering to widespread confusion about which pronouns one should use when referring to her — those recognized by readers or those of her personal preference.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about establishing continuity of identity; “Bradley Manning” is a household name.

But it’s ridiculously simple to establish that continuity in a respectful way by saying Bradley on first reference.

After that, simply continue on your merry way, using feminine pronouns like I did above.

With that simple linguistic solution in mind, I don’t buy the argument that the public won’t recognize the name shift. So why can’t the media just call her Chelsea Manning?

It’s not like the Associated Press has no regulations on what to do in such a situation. The “AP Stylebook” — the usage guide that governs the news industry — is explicit in its rule to “comply with the gender identity preference of an individual.”

So if it’s not because it would be too confusing to call her Chelsea, and it’s not because there aren’t any crystal clear regulations, what’s the issue with referring to her in the feminine?

In my mind, it boils down to transphobic tendencies. Predictably, those tendencies are far more rampant in conservative media — evidenced by Fox News’ egregious decision to play the Aerosmith song “Dude (Looks Like A Lady)” as they aired a photo of Manning. It underscores how much still needs to be done.

In spite of all the opposition she faces in the media and otherwise, Manning’s candidness continues to inspire transgender individuals and allies. Her recent attention also serves as a reminder of how politically important her whistle-blowing still is.

Morally, it’s not even a question of whether Manning was right to release the information. It was her moral obligation. Legally though, it was wrong for Manning to have released it, and she will serve 35 years in prison as a result.

There is something wrong with the law surrounding whistle-blowing if there is a discrepancy between what’s moral and what’s legal. The exact space between the two is the amount of law reform we ought to have.