Chelsea Manning, Part 2: Her Gender

On the day after she was sentenced, Chelsea Manning made a public statement. It was read for her, on a television news program, by her lawyer, David Coombs. In this statement, Chelsea announced that she was transgendered: although she had been born with male genitalia, brought up as a male, gone to school as a male, and joined the army as a male, she had felt since childhood that she was really female. She explained that despite her long prison sentence, she wanted to “transition” immediately. She said she wanted to start hormone replacement therapy as soon as possible so her body would develop a more female appearance. She also asked to be addressed in future by her new female name, Chelsea Elizabeth Manning; her male name, Bradley Manning, should only be used, she said, when sending letters to the prison.

Chelsea’s announcement was the first time she had spoken publicly of her transgenderism. But the public had first learned of her situation before the trial when logs of her chats with an online friend, Adrian Lamo, had been leaked. And then, at the trial, the subject had been brought up by her legal team, apparently in the hope of winning the judge’s sympathy and getting a lighter sentence for Chelsea. With the help of expert witnesses, they argued that Chelsea’s crime was somehow the result of her mental instability and that her mental instability was largely caused by her transgenderism.

Chelsea’s lawyers also called Seargeant Paul Adkins as a witness. Sergeant Adkins had been Chelsea’s supervisor while she was serving in Iraq. He told of having received an e-mail from her that included a “selfie” in which she was wearing lipstick and a long blond wig. In part, the e-mail, which had the title, “My Problem,” read as follows:

This is my problem. I’ve had signs of it for a very long time. It’s caused problems within my family. I thought a career in the military would get rid of it...and I’ve been trying very, very hard to get rid of it by placing myself in situations where it would be impossible. But, it’s not going away; it’s haunting me more and more as I get older.

While giving testimony at the trial, Sergeant Adkins also told of once having found Chelsea lying in a fetal position on the floor of a storage room. Beside her, there was a knife and a torn seat cushion. She had used the knife, the sergeant explained, to cut the words, “I want” into the cushion.

After Chelsea’s statement was read on national televison, The United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where she was to be imprisoned, issued a statement of their own, saying that the Army does not provide hormone therapy for “gender identity disorder.”

In May, 2014, the Pentagon announced that it was considering transferring Chelsea to a civilian prison. In a civilian prison she would be able to receive hormone therapy. And eventually, if she wanted it, sex reassignment surgery. Chelsea’s lawyer, however, was still arguing that Chelsea should receive treatment in a military facility of some kind. He said that Chelsea would not be safe from abuse by other inmates in a civilian prison.

Despite the Army’s unwillingness to treat Chelsea, they have allowed her to change her name. On April 24, 2014, she officially became “Chelsea Elizabeth Manning.” Army spokesmen said that the only effect of the change would be in how Chelsea’s name was written in her records. They made it clear that, in the eyes of the Army, Chelsea would remain a man and would be treated like any other male prisoner.