On August 22 Chelsea Manning came out to the world, saying that she is trans gendered. She has been open since 2010 within the transgender community, using the name Breanna online. In her open letter to NBC’s Today Show Manning writes, “I also request that, starting today [Aug. 22] you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun.” Yet mainstream media like CNN, USA Today and Politico continue to refer to the Wikileaks source as “Bradley” and “he” despite her request.
Julia Serano is the author of Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity. “General news media is pretty good these days,” she says in an interview, talking about misgendering media in the Manning case. “People think they know this person,” she says. Manning made the news in a big way as a male after leaking U.S. military classified documents in 2010. News media has used this reasoning for its continued use of the incorrect pronoun. Serano says this is trans-phobic, “Media outlets should know better,” she says, “They really messed this one up.”
According to an Aug. 27 Time article, some media outlets have a policy to wait for an individual to begin their transitioning process via hormone replacement therapy before referring to them as their transitioned sex. In Manning’s case, she is being refused this therapy while serving a 35-year sentence in a men’s prison in Ft. Leavenworth.
“When a trans woman comes out and tells you that this is her name and these are her pronouns, everyone should use that name and those pronouns,” writes Sophia Banks on O.Canada.com. “Using her old name, what many of us in the trans community refer to as a ‘dead name’ is beyond disrespectful. It is spiteful and cruel.”
Serano says when a trans person commits a crime, or is a victim of a crime, the media tends to use the wrong pronoun in an attempt to dehumanize the individual. In day-to-day life people may use the wrong pronoun out of lack of awareness or transphobia. “There is a sense of entitlement that the world has on gender,” Serano says. And if transgender people don’t look the part or “fit nicely in the binary gender,” some cisgender people may get uneasy, or even hostile. “If the world sees you as ‘respectable’, they’ll treat you with respect,” she says. “As long as you’re a nice gender conforming person.”