A boy named Sue
So Bradley Manning wants to be called Chelsea. I wonder how Chelsea Clinton feels about that.
Fort Leavenworth prison officials say he'll get no hormones and no surgery. Manning's lawyer calls this cruel and unusual punishment and vows to sue.
Advocates of transgender convicts claim (per recent news reports), "Self-castration, suicide and waves of desperation are byproducts of the denial of sex hormones to inmates yearning to switch genders." Sounds pretty grim, doesn't it?
On the other hand, any doubts about a Manning book deal, to be followed by a Lifetime movie, are pretty much put to rest by this latest revelation by the (wo)man, who seems compelled to reveal everything… even when it earns him a 35-year prison term.
Don't anybody dare call me bigoted. I represented a gay HIV/AIDS client before Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington made it cool in "Philadelphia." This isn't about homophobia or anything of the sort. This is about harboring a healthy skepticism concerning the motives behind Manning's latest revelation.
Manning's surprise move makes me wonder what Edward Snowden, our other current celebrity snitch will concoct when, inevitably, either he gets sick of Russia or the Russians get sick of him. Should he decide to turn himself in, plead guilty, and demand to be renamed Edwina, perhaps he and Chelsea could become cellmates.
I wonder if Chelsea Manning watches "Orange Is the New Black." Premiering on Netflix on July 11th, OITNB is the tale of Piper Chapman, a remarkably beautiful, thirty-something blond, sentenced to serve 15 months in prison for serving her lesbian lover/drug dealer as a money mule. In the first episode, the female cons showed more skin than you ever saw in a whole season of "The Sopranos." Jail, it seems, is hot, hot, hot… at least for female prisoners. Does Chelsea Manning hope to be transferred one day? Time will tell.
Meanwhile, the Manning melodrama no doubt will boost ratings for OITNB, if only because we'll all want to vicariously experience his/her new life.
I think it's easy to be shocked or unnerved into making jokes when someone famous comes out as transgender. It's becoming more common - Chaz Bono (child of Cher and Sonny Bono), Lana Wachowski (of the filmmaking duo formerly known as the Wachowski brothers), and Thomas Beatie ("the first pregnant man") immediately come to mind - but it's certainly not nearly as common as being gay, or as increasingly accepted. Bluntly put, it's still a pretty big anomaly in most people's daily lives, and things that are unusual tend to scare us, or at least make us uncomfortable.
Although the timing of Chelsea Manning's announcement may seem odd, there are a lot of things that make me unwilling to doubt her. First of all, transgender individuals aren't allowed to enlist in the military. Don't Ask, Don't Tell has been repealed, but like I said, we're all a few steps behind when it comes to transgender people. Now that Manning has been discharged from the military, it's likely that this is the first time she has even had the opportunity to be completely honest about who she is.
Furthermore, chat logs from back in 2010 indicate that she has been planning to transition from male to female for several years. Manning has said that the only reason the issue came up now is that the Fort Leavenworth prison indicated that it would not provide Manning access to hormone therapy. She's even offered to pay for hormone therapy herself, though that request, too, will likely be denied as it goes against military protocol.
But my biggest defense against those who doubt Manning's motives is this: transgender women are a whopping 13 times more likely to be assaulted in men's prisons and, historically, the odds of a transgender woman being transferred to a women's prison are not good. I have no doubt that both Manning and her lawyer were fully aware of that fact when Manning made her announcement. What are the chances that she would make it all up in a last ditch effort to be transferred? If anything, Manning has only opened herself up to the possibility of more ridicule and abuse, not less.
There's plenty to debate in this case, but personally, I don't think Manning's motives are in question.
In any case, I wouldn't mind if Manning's coming out did give "Orange Is the New Black" a little press - there's a thoughtful and sensitive portrayal of a transgender woman, played by Laverne Cox (a transgender woman in real life), that I think a lot of people could stand to see.