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In or out? More thoughts on B. Manning.

So I wrote this piece for Alternet last week about Bradley1 Manning potentially being trans (most likely a trans woman, though not necessarily), and right on cue, Wired has made public the full chat logs between Manning and Adrian Lamo, the hacker who turned Manning in.

The conversations are fascinating, occasionally incoherent, strewn with technobabble, bragging, complaining. Lamo quite sleazily says, “I’m a journalist and a minister. You can pick either, and treat this as a confession or an interview (never to be published) & enjoy a modicum of legal protection” and then proceeded to make the conversations very, very public.

In the chats, Manning very clearly states that she2 is trans, frets about accessing transitioning treatment and having photos of herself “as a boy” being plastered over the news, talks about being discharged as “adjustment disorder” rather than GID under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. And she gives us a name: Breanna, stating that she’d set up a Twitter and Youtube account. In the conversation, Manning sounds like what she likely is: a trans woman on the cusp of transitioning, flailing about quite a bit, not quite sure of who she is and will be. And there’s some talk of some violence, Manning brags about “punching a dyke” in the face.3 Ugh.

Anyway, all of this probably has nothing to do with the crimes Manning’s accused of—to state the obvious, gender identity has little to do with someone’s response to violence and war crimes. Manning makes clear that she believes in the public’s right to know, was leaking the documents for the public good rather than selling them off for a profit.

But what occurred to me immediately4 after I sent off the final copy to the lovely Sarah Jaffe at Alternet was why is this, a year after Wired and Gawker first published speculation about Manning being trans, still an open question? These unverified chats from a dubious source (the inimitable Adrian Lamo) are—remain—the only piece of public evidence about her identity. If they’re true, then every news story, every picture is basically its own form of violence against Breanna Manning’s identity as a woman—the kind cissexist society reserves for trans people, who are considered “really” their assigned sex and deceivers from the start.

But really. What lawyer would advise someone accused of multiple crimes against their country to choose that time to come out as a trans woman? What is the likelihood that the Left would rally around a trans woman as a hero? Would there have been the kind of support that caused Manning to be moved from apparently torturous conditions in Quantico to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas? Would there be a wide movement caring about a trans woman being tortured? What if she wanted to be housed with female prisoners, would many people support that?

We can’t know any of that for sure, either, but we can guess. And my guess is: not bloody likely.

In any case, these are the kinds of open questions about institutional structures that prevent trans people from being out, that play into the cissexist narrative of cis-until-proven-otherwise (and even then….), that condition who violence is acceptable against and who it’s not. Because if you were trans and being held in solitary confinement for a year and a half, and being tortured, would you put yourself at the mercy of the public’s kind regard for trans people?

1Use of assigned name only so it’s clear who I’m talking about, and not as a sign of an originary “truth” of Manning’s identity, sex, etc.

2Likely pronoun – at least, likelier than “he.”

3This does not confirm the transphobic narrative that trans women are inherently more violent, or that violence negates a trans person’s gender identity. We can honour someone’s life and identification whilst recognising that they’re possibly a hero for leaking their information, and an arsehole for their violence and probably a whole bunch more, right? Complexity, it’s a thing.

4Every writer in the history of the world has done this, right? Realised the clear, major problem with a piece of work two minutes too late.


  1. Mejoff wrote:

    “We can honour someone’s life and identification whilst recognising that they’re possibly a hero for leaking their information, and an arsehole for their violence and probably a whole bunch more, right? Complexity, it’s a thing.”

    Some of us, but probably not many. See for reference the number of people on ‘the left’ who couldn’t get that while Assange was doing great work for the whole truth and justice schtick, he might also simultaneously be a sex offender.

    Monday, July 18, 2011 at 5:12 am | Permalink
  2. hemp wrote:

    The short answer is that it is the intersection of transphobia and misogyny that specifically targets trans women. But that dry academic answer never communicates the visceral and intense experience that it is…Heres a limited list of examples of what transmisogyny looks like. …Relationship and Sexual Violence..When trans women desperately in need of sexual assault or domestic violence services are turned away because their needs are considered less important than the hypothetical discomfort their presence might cause for others thats transmisogyny…When activists encourage people not even to try to fight for trans womens access to sexual assault and domestic violence services because of the possibility that it could leave trans men unable to access those services thats transmisogyny…When I personally sought out support after being abused by my trans male partner and was told by a prominent genderqueer activist that because Im a trans woman and felt validation in talking with cis women who have experienced abuse I must have invented the abuse in an attempt to feel more like a woman by having an abusive boyfriend thats transmisogyny…When a trans woman is brave enough to talk openly about surviving childhood violence and experiencing rape only to be told that her pain is less valid or important than cis womens experience of sexism thats transmisogyny…Gender Expression..When trans women who present femininely or assert a binary identity are blamed for perpetuating binary gender roles while its forgotten that many or even more cis women do the same thats transmisogyny.

    Thursday, August 4, 2011 at 10:51 am | Permalink