When Chelsea Manning wasn't busy shutting down a hater with a brilliantVogue Magazine name drop on Twitter yesterday, she was celebrating. It was four years ago that the former soldier came out as a transgender woman only a day after being sentenced under the Espionage Act to 35 years in prison for leaking diplomatic cables. It was during those four long years in prison that she spoke out, attempted suicide twice, and, finally, found freedom thanks to a commuted sentenced handed down by POTUS-Of-Our-Hearts, Barack Obama.
Manning has endured and become a symbol of hope not just to the transgender community, but also to the entire world. Now, one day after her fourth anniversary of coming out, the activist has released an essay she penned for Yahoo Beauty about her life in the military, the transgender military ban, and the freedom she finally has to express herself.
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"I'm here and I'm free and I can do whatever I want," she says of her decisions. From her lipstick to the clothes she wears, Manning has taken back control. But, it wasn't always that way. As she explained about the time before she joined the military, she went through "periods of cross-dressing" and had thought about transitioning, but decided she had to "enlist and man up." It was within the military, though, that she realized how brutally macho the culture was, and how she didn't fit in with the casual sexism she encountered.
"The one place I never felt at all comfortable in the military was in private circles of conversation. There's a tendency, especially among young men, to objectify and denigrate women behind closed doors. They'd say ridiculous, raunchy things about women -- call them sluts and whores, basically just treat them like objects. It was a line I just couldn't cross. I'd try to avoid those kinds of macho conversations, because that's inevitably what would come up. I'd get very, very distant."
Manning later explained that, while this culture dragged her down, she did love her job and believes she would've thrived had she been able to come out. Now, with her military life behind her, she's looking ahead--but don't ask her about running for office quite yet.
"People ask if I'll eventually run for office and be that voice, but the truth is I'm not ready to make bigger decisions just yet. Right now I'm just settling into my new apartment, I'm watching the Handmaid's Tale. I'm not discounting any of the bigger things, but I need to buy a couch and a coffee table first."
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In the meantime, as she fights back against Trump's transgender military bans and perfects her eyeshadow skills through YouTube tutorials, she's just focused on finally being her authentic self: "I'm still the same person that I've always been on the inside. Everything I've gone through has just strengthened my sense of self and my sense of who I am. I can't pretend to be anyone else. I don't have a public persona. The person you see is the person I am."