The first thing I wanted to say to Chelsea Manning was congratulations. Not on the sentencing, of course. But on coming out as transgender.
I was not entirely shocked by the news, which was hinted at throughout Manning’s trial. Up to this point, whenever I’d seen photos of Manning with the buzz cut and the beret, I’d thought, this person looks uncertain and afraid. But in that selfie I saw of her en femme, with the blonde wig and haunting, melancholy eyes, I thought for the first time: This person finally looks like herself.
When I came out as trans back in 2003, an older person in the LGBT movement offered this advice: “You have to comport yourself with unimpeachable dignity. Carry your head high, and above all, don’t ever let people see you cry.” By this she meant that trans issues were still so new to the American consciousness that any trans woman in the public eye had to behave in a manner above reproach. Lots of people wouldn’t call Manning “above reproach,” though; as a spokesperson she sets a very complicated example.
I’ve been deeply conflicted about the Manning story from the beginning. I opposed the Iraq war, and I believe Manning’s actions helped shed necessary light on the true nature of that awful enterprise. At the same time, she did break a solemn oath. I’m truly sorry I can’t be more all-or-nothing on this, but as we say among “our people”: Reject the binary.