Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier praised as a whistleblower by some and condemned as a traitor by others, identifies as a woman. She wishes to be called Chelsea Manning, would like to be referred to with the feminine pronoun and would like to begin hormone therapy. As Manning put it, “I was born trans. I am a woman from birth but because I was born with a penis I was labeled a man. What we do choose is when to come out, not what our gender is.”
So there it is — she said, “I am a woman.” Seems simple enough. See how I didn’t say, “He stated, ‘I am a woman?’ ” No, of course I didn’t, because to do so would invalidate Manning’s explicit request to be acknowledged as a woman.
To do so would essentially say, but, yeah — you’re not really a woman. To do so would roll my eyes at not just Manning but the identity of all transgender people. To do so would be essentially calling Manning delusional — I don’t care if you think you’re a woman, you have a penis, damn it! This is the same kind of mentality that results in reactions to Manning’s statement like, “He’s crazy” or a “He’s a tranny!” It’s the same mentality that keeps gender-identity disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — that essentially tells transgender people, “You have a disorder that can be treated,” just like how we can all pray the gay away, right, guys? (Homosexuality was once in the DSM as well.)
And yet, transphobic mentalities continue. I’m not just talking about comments and tweets and whatever other mediums the peanut gallery uses to spew ignorant, hateful remarks. I’m referring to articles pertaining to Manning’s transgender identity that continue to refer to her as “him.” Even articles that specifically address the media’s failure to comply with Manning’s request to be referred to with feminine pronouns do exactly that. They literally do exactly what Manning requested they not do, effectively undermining Manning’s authority on her own gender and identity. It’s patronizing, disrespectful and, apparently, correct, according to the Associated Press Stylebook.
Yes, the AP Stylebook, the holy book of journalistic style, states that reporters should, “Use the pronoun preferred by 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.” In other words, the identity of a transgender person is apparently not valid to a reporter until he or she undergoes surgery or hormone replacement therapy. It’s almost as if the AP Stylebook is trying to call a bluff — like, oh yeah, if you’re so trans, where’s your sex reassignment surgery, huh? It’s insulting — not to mention that it’s not always convenient or within someone’s financial means to get surgery just because of some outdated stylebook. The gender of a trans person is not validated by a surgeon’s knife; it’s validated by the individual.
And don’t even get me started on the need for trans people to “present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth.” What the hell does that even mean? I don’t bake cupcakes when I’m stressed out, I’ve only seen one episode of “Girls” and I never laugh while eating salad. I rarely wash my jeans, I shower “when I feel like it” and I sincerely like to drink beer. I’m not the most “lady-like” lady, so does that qualify me to be a transgender man? Seriously, the idea that trans people necessarily need to “present” themselves as a certain gender not only reinforces baseless gender stereotypes, it’s a vague and absurd requirement.
You don’t have to be a reporter to support, or at the very least respect, transgender rights. The mere act of using the appropriate language to address Manning and any trans person sets an example of how to respect a human being.