Chelsea Manning Talks About Her Lifelong Fight to Claim Her Gender Identity in Moving NYT Profile

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A new profile in the New York Times Magazine is finally giving Chelsea Manning—the whistleblower who was imprisoned over the largest leak of classified data in American history before having her sentence commuted by President Obama in January—the opportunity to tell her full story, including her decades-long struggle with gender identity.


The profile, by Matthew Shaer, also comes with some stunning photographs by Inez and Vinoodh.


Long before she gained notoriety, Manning was a child who always felt painfully out of place.

From the Times:

At the age of 5, Manning recalled, she approached her father, an I.T. manager for Hertz, and confessed that she wanted to be a girl, “to do girl things.” Brian responded with a lengthy and awkward speech on the essential differences in “plumbing.” But Manning told me, “I didn’t understand how that had anything to do with what you wore or how you behaved.” Soon she was sneaking into her sister’s bedroom and donning Casey’s acid-washed jeans and denim jackets. Seated at the mirror, she would apply lipstick and blush, frantically scrubbing off the makeup at the slightest stirring from downstairs.

“I wanted to be like [Casey] and live like her,” Manning said.

Manning, then known as Bradley, would later come out to friends and family as gay, but recounts to the paper that, even before she joined the military, she knew she was a woman. In fact, her decision to join the Army would be influenced both by her father’s prodding, and a desire to cure her gender dysmorphia:

Brian Manning had often fondly recounted for Chelsea his days in the military: It had given him structure and grounding, he said. Manning hadn’t been ready to listen then. Now she was. Enlisting might be the thing to “man her up,” to rid her of the ache. Besides, while her ideas about American foreign policy had become more nuanced, she still considered herself a patriot — in the Army, she could use her analytical skills to help her country.


But what is perhaps most striking about Manning’s story is how Iraq pushed her to two major revelations: that the war, and how America conducts itself, was largely invisible to Americans, and that she finally wanted to make the transition she had been longing to make:

“Before I deployed, I didn’t have the guts,” Manning, who was then privately referring to herself as Brianna, told me. But her time in Iraq was changing her. “Being exposed to so much death on a daily basis makes you grapple with your own mortality,” she went on. She no longer wanted to hide.


Manning’s decision to leak nearly 750,000 classified and unclassified state documents, of course, would have major ramifications—and come at great personal cost.


In 2010, she was sentenced to 35 years in military prison. She was jailed for seven until her sentence was commuted. During that time—which took place in an all-male facility—Manning transitioned. The situation, and her treatment, was so harrowing that she attempted suicide twice.

Since being released last month, however, Manning now has the opportunity to experience the sort of freedom she never had before, sending out this statement toward the end of her sentence:

“For the first time, I can see a future for myself as Chelsea. I can imagine surviving and living as the person who I am and can finally be in the outside world.”


You can read the profile in its entirety here.

Staff writer, The Root.

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