On the heels of being sentenced to 35 years in jail for a variety of crimes, Private Manning has officially come out as transgender and now wishes to be referred to with feminine pronouns. You’d think this wouldn’t be that hard for a bunch of professional writers to manage, but apparently it is.
Here is the relevant portion of Manning’s official statement, for those who haven’t yet seen it:
As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope that you will support me in this transition. I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun (except in official mail to the confinement facility).
Pretty clear, right? Manning identifies as female and wants to be referred to with feminine pronouns. However, all the initial coverage of Manning’s statement from NPR, The New York Times, and Associated Press continue to refer to her using male pronouns. NPR even went so far as to point out that Manning hasn’t yet changed her legal name yet as an excuse for why they’re still calling her Bradley, as if that’s easy to do while also getting sentenced to prison after a huge and controversial court case.
This would almost be comical in a “tea for this man’s breasts!” kind of way if it weren’t actually very damaging to the way that transgender people are treated in this country. It’s basically akin to if someone corrected you on how to pronounce their name and you decided to completely ignore them and pronounce it however you wanted — except, you know, worse, because transgender women face an incredibly high risk of hate-related violence against them. Continuing to call Manning a “he” after being asked explicitly not to do that makes it harder for transgender people everywhere to be taken seriously — and easier for those asshats who would seek to otherize or harm them to do so without repercussion.
Here’s how the AP style officially tells you to refer to transgender people:
Transgender: Use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth. If that preference is not expressed, use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly.
See that one part, “preferred by the individuals?” That’s the really important part here. Manning wants you to use “she,” so use “she.” Not that hard. It’s not as if people won’t know who you’re talking about using context clues. Regardless of preferred first name, “Private Manning” is basically a household phrase at this point as it stands, so your readers are going to figure it out. If not, that’s on them.
Oh, by the way, since this one’s also a sticking point that a lot of media professionals still get wrong: it’s transgender, not transgendered. Just an FYI.
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