Chelsea Manning isn’t a person that can be summed up in a few sentences. Manning, 29, in an interview with Matthew Shaer of the New York Times, opens up about her reasons for releasing intelligence information, her experience in prison and her journey to embracing her identity as a transgender woman.
Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking classified intelligence to WikiLeaks. She served seven years behind bars before her sentence was commuted by President Obama in January 2017. She has been labeled an “ungrateful traitor” by President Trump and a whistleblower by her supporters.
In Manning's interview with Shaer, she described her gender dysphoria as an always present aspect of her life. “Morning, evening, breakfast, lunch, dinner, wherever you are. It’s everywhere you go,” she said.
As a young child, Manning assumed that her fascination with girls’ clothing and makeup meant she was gay. A difficult childhood resulted in Manning moving back-and-forth between the conservative, Oklahoma household of her father and the Welsh home of her mother, a place where she felt free to browse LGBTQ chat rooms and experiment with makeup. However, a return to Oklahoma brought 18-year-old Manning face-to-face with the backlash that came with living outside the gender norm. Her attempt to “eradicate this gender thing” had spurred her to dye her hair black, wear eyeliner, and date her first boyfriend. Her stepmother felt that she was “unclean” and denied her access to the family kitchen.
Further abuse came when Manning enlisted in the army. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” prevented her from being out as a trans woman, but this policy didn’t shield her from the homophobic slurs of other soldiers. Institutional homophobia would follow her from the army base to the prison complex where corrections officers made digs about her gender. Manning attempted suicide on more than one occasion.
However, Manning asserts that her experience in the army helped her to realize the importance of living as one’s authentic self. “Being exposed to so much death on a daily basis,” Manning told New York Times, “makes you grapple with your own mortality.”
During a two week leave from the army, Manning bought women’s clothes and a blonde wig, and mustered the confidence to go out for a day as a female. After returning to service, she would send a photograph outing herself as a woman to an army superior. And later, in the midst of her much-publicized trial for leaking classified files, Manning would take an even more monumental step towards being herself—opening up to the public about her gender identity. In a statement given to the Today Show in August of 2010, Manning wrote, “As I transition into the next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am female.”
Chelsea Manning was released from prison on May 17, 2017. The complete profile can be read at the New York Times.