Chelsea, to be referred to with female pronouns, and to make the transition to living life as a woman.After being sentenced to 35 years at Fort Leavenworth for leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks, Pfc. Bradley Manning quickly announced a deeply personal decision that moved the debate away from whether the soldier was a hero or a traitor. Manning now wanted to go by the name
For those who followed Manning’s story closely, the request may not have come as much of a surprise. Manning spoke about her gender identity issues in conversations with a counselor and a supervisor at around the same time she was downloading the information she would end up passing along to WikiLeaks.
Discussions of sex and gender issues seem to turn people into armchair psychologists and biology experts. Researchers aren’t exactly sure what causes homosexuality, but that doesn't stop others from being confident they know. Ask somebody at the supermarket and they may answer with the certainty of a solution to a simple math problem.
Manning’s announcement caused some immediate disbelief. Rod Dreher weighed in at The American Conservative:
I presume Bradley Manning still has a penis and male chromosomes. He is not a female simply because he says he is. Though I very much doubt that the military will give him the female hormones he has requested for his prison stay, Manning may have the operation one day, but for now, he is still a he. I don’t see why feeling pity for Manning’s psychological suffering requires us to play along with his hallucination.
At the National Review Online, Kevin D. Williamson was similarly blunt:
Dennis Avner [popularly known as "Cat Man"] was not a tiger, and Bradley Manning is not a woman. Mr. Manning, who upon his sentencing for his role in the WikiLeaks case announced that he desires to live out his days as a woman called Chelsea, is what he is, and no amount of pronoun play, psychotherapeutic doublespeak, or wishful thinking can make it otherwise.
The simplicity of the statement illuminates the intent of critics to wash their hands of the whole thing. They're interested in resolving the complex issue of gender in as simple a manner as sexual orientation was once discussed. People of the same sex cannot reproduce; therefore it’s unnatural. Similarly, either God or genetics (or both) grants us a sex. This is an immutable component of our physiology. The end.
But as we learn more about the world around us, we know that this isn’t true. Homosexuality is rife in the animal kingdom, documented in the book Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity. There was a time – just a decade or two ago – that many people thought there were no homosexual animals, and therefore human homosexuality was a form of deviance. They were wrong. Now we all know about the gay penguins.
The animal kingdom is also rife with gender-bending. It’s actually in the DNA of some species. For any social conservative worried about exposing children to transgendered behavior, be grateful Finding Nemo wasn’t scientifically accurate. Clownfish change from male to female in order to breed. Simply the existence of human hermaphrodites should at least give folks pause when declaring Manning is obviously a man even if she goes by Chelsea now. Why is Dreher presuming the content of Manning’s chromosomes? How would he know?
The bigger question is “Why should it matter to any of us if Bradley Manning becomes Chelsea Manning?” Why should there be resistance to referring to Chelsea as a woman? What does it mean to any of us at all if Manning puts on a blond wig and starts taking hormones? A letter from a reader that Dreher quotes gives some insight:
Forget the sex side of this; what about the journalism angle? What else am I allowed to dictate? If Al Gore wants to come on and be referred to as “President Gore,” do they comply with that? If Anthony Weiner insists on being called, “the entirely wholesome and family positive Anthony Weiner,” do they do that?
I mean, these are all statements that color how people view these people. You can check and see if Gore was ever president. Even if you disagree with the Supreme Court case giving the presidency to Bush, Gore was never president. Maybe that’s unfair, but it’s still not true that he was ever president.
Seriously. Let’s say that I am arrested for sneaking into a women’s restroom and ogling women. This gets reported in the news. I tell the reporter that I don’t understand this charge because I am a woman. The reporter agrees to do this. Well, the news no longer makes sense. It’s, “Woman arrested for using women’s restroom.”