Chelsea Manning 4: Her Early Life, Part Two

As her childhood came to an end in the late 1990s, Chelsea continued to do well in school, and she continued to pursue her technical and political interests. She was also developing long-lasting friendships with several of her classmates. But at the same time, in her inner life and in her home life, there was turmoil.

In the first place, she had realized that she was “gay” — that she was sexually attracted to boys. She was also, perhaps, already feeling some confusion as to whether, deep down, she herself was really male or female; but, judging by statements she made later, if she did have such doubts, she was struggling against them and telling herself that somehow she would be able to completely overcome the desire to be female.

In any case, she does not seem to have spoken to anyone during those years of any transgendered feeling. She did, though, eventually speak to others about her “homosexuality”. This acknowledgment of her “difference” — and the ability to discuss it is not something that would have come easily. By the mid-1990s, homosexuality was more widely accepted in the US than it had been in the past, and many teenagers, and even younger children, would have been receiving sex education in school that would have included discussion of homosexuality; but Oklahoma is a “socially conservative” part of the US with a predominantly religious population. And the internet, which Chelsea would later use as source of information and companionship was still in an early stage of development.

Chelsea had heard the word, “gay” though, even before she understood it and came to realize that it applied to her. In 2010, talking on an instant messaging service about growing up in Crescent, she said:

I didn’t like getting beat up or called gay. Didn’t really know what “gay” meant, but knew it was something bad, so I joined sports teams and started becoming an athlete. (2, 17)

But Chelsea did eventually learn enough and become courageous enough to talk about how she felt. In the summer of 1999, when Chelsea and her best friend, Jordan, were staying overnight at the house of another friend, Chelsea bluntly announced that she was gay and then added, “I have a crush on a boy.” Jordan assumed that he was the “boy” but he does not seem to have been upset or even embarrassed. He simply replied, “Whatever floats your boat, man.” And then the three friends went back to talking about computer games. (1, 19)

Shortly after, Chelsea also told her mother and, once again, she received a calm, sympathetic response. Sue simply said that it was fine with her, and added, “But try not to tell other people, especially your Dad.” (1, 19)

Sue’s advice would have been quite easy for Chelsea to follow because, by that time her her father had left home. Earlier in the summer, he had come home one evening and told Sue that he had become involved with another woman and was moving to Oklahoma City to live with her. Sue later told a friend that Brian had explained himself by saying to her, “I want to have my cake and eat it too.” (1, 19)

That night, Sue swallowed a handful of pills. Then she woke Casey up and told her she’d tried to kill herself. Casey woke up her father, but he was still drunk and unable to drive. Casey drove to the hospital with Brian beside her in the front seat and Chelsea in the back looking after her mother. Sue spent a week in hospital. When she came home, Brian quickly moved out.

Chelsea and her mother stayed on in the house for a while and then rented a smaller house near the center of Crescent. They were still there at the time of the attacks on the World Trade Center in September, 2011. Chelsea and her friends reacted strongly to this event, and according to one of her biographers, Chase Madar, in the dismay and sadness that followed, Chelsea’s friends turned to [her] as a source of wisdom and judgment.” (2, 17)

Another biographer writes of how, in a later interview, Chelsea’s friend Jordan, said that after hearing of the attacks, he and Chelsea were “just freaking out.” And Jordan added, “We understood the impact and the consequences, the heaviness of what had happened.” This writer, Denver Nicks, adds that though Chelsea and Jordan were upset by the loss of life in the attack, what troubled them even more were:

the inevitable consequences of the attack. [They] were concerned about the pandemic fear that might paralyze the American economy after September 11. And they knew American military and civil establishments would have to change in response to the attacks. (1, 20)

Two months later, Chelsea told her friends she was leaving Crescent. Her mother was taking her back to her hometown in Wales.