Private Manning is the Trans Icon America Needs
From left: the author, Chelsea Manning, and Lady Gaga. Image by the author
I didn’t know who Chelsea Manning was until she told everyone who she was. I don’t really follow current events outside of what I find on art, fashion, and queer-interest blogs. I knew about WikiLeaks, but that’s it. The last time I had heard from Julian Assange was when he had tea with Lady Gaga last year.
Chelsea got a lot of press on Thursday, so I jumped online eager to learn more about a trans* person who was getting more press than I was—I’m a trans* person, and I thought I was getting a lot of press lately for my work as an artist and it girl. (The asterisk stands for all kinds of queer, including those like mine which lie outside of the gender binary.) The trans* community is a smallish and semi-tightly-knit community. From a distance, this Chelsea Manning seemed like a big deal.
I did some research on Chelsea, and I discovered I relate to her a lot. Reading through her leaked chat log with ex-hacker Adrian Lamo, I found that she—like myself, countless other LGBT people, and her colleague Julian Assange—is a Lady Gaga fan. Or was at least a Lady Gaga fan in 2010 when she sent this to Adrian Lamo, her online confidant [sic]:
(02:14:21 PM) bradass87: listened and lip-synced to Lady Gaga’s Telephone while exfiltrating possibly the largest data spillage in american history
I kept reading, and it grew clear to me that the queer community—the trans* community in particular—had an icon on its hands. A stealthy, angry, t-girl had “exfiltrated probably the largest data spillage in american history” while giving shows to her faves by Mother Monster, and we were just hearing about it now. We knew about “Bradley,” but now we know about Chelsea.
A headline from The Week reads: “What happens now that Bradley Manning is Chelsea Manning?”
My answer is that we sit down, shut up, and take a moment to look at what people do when they’re young, smart, powerful, trans*, and American.
Here’s how Chelsea described herself to Adrian:
(10:59:07 AM) bradass87: <– [this person is kind of fragile]
(10:59:29 AM) bradass87: :’(
She discussed her gender dysphoria with the only person who would listen:
(03:04:05 PM) bradass87: its clearly an issue… i mean, i dont think its normal for people to spend this much time worrying about whether they’re behaving masculine enough, whether what they’re going to say is going to be perceived as “gay”… not to mention how i feel about the situation… for whatever reason, im not comfortable with myself… i mean, i behave and look like a male, but its not “me” =L
(03:04:34 PM) bradass87: its… odd
(03:04:40 PM) bradass87: or at least painful
Oh. And by the way, it sucks to be queer in the US military:
(11:49:02 AM) bradass87: im in the desert, with a bunch of hyper-masculine trigger happy ignorant rednecks as neighbors… and the only safe place i seem to have is this satellite internet connection
(11:49:51 AM) bradass87: and i already got myself into minor trouble revealing my uncertainty over my gender identity… which is causing me to lose this job… and putting me in an awkward limbo
Chelsea, however, had a secret weapon and a really crazy choice to make:
(12:15:11 PM) bradass87: hypothetical question: if you had free reign over classified networks for long periods of time… say, 8-9 months… and you saw incredible things, awful things… things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC… what would you do?
I read this last part, and I instantly understood everything. When you’re a young, smart, and powerful trans* American—that is to say, when you’re “kind of fragile,” experiencing abnormal amounts of “odd” pain, surrounded by “ignorant rednecks,” and generally at risk of “losing” your job—there’s this feeling you get. I don’t think there’s a word for the feeling in English, but I get it all the time, because I am a young, smart, and powerful trans* American. This feeling—it’s a vindictive, Dionysian kind of venom, coming in torrid waves when you least expect it. It’s a thrill that you are where you are despite what you are—that comes first—and then there’s this throttling shriek in your head telling you to tear it all down and tell everyone why. Suddenly, the only way to right the myriad wrongs which have befallen you for being who you are is to bash back as hard and fast as you possibly can, wailing and gnashing your teeth as the blood splatters up into your face.
I felt this feeling after a Skype interview for an internship when someone thought the camera was off and said, “Oh my god! Nice earrings! Where were his eyebrows?” I felt it after I explained my pronoun choice (I use “they/them/their”) to a family member and he asked me if I thought it was all “a little much.” I felt it after somebody from Columbia, where I'm a student, posted on the Columbia University Insults page that I was “a disgrace to men everywhere.”
Chelsea “saw incredible things, awful things” which, if exposed, might topple oppressors. She was losing her job and lost in her body and in great pain, so what did she do?
She cranked up the Gaga and tore the federal government 750,000 new assholes.
I couldn’t possibly tell you how many angry trans* people there are right now across the United States holed up in their bedrooms listening to Mother Monster and feeling very fucking angry about a whole lot of shit. Like Chelsea, “rednecks” and “Washington D.C.” happen to be at the top of my list, and we’re not alone in that.
“What happens now that Bradley Manning is Chelsea Manning?”
I cannot speak for Chelsea, but I see her formal declaration of womanhood as a seminal moment for the trans* and queer community. Chelsea Manning is a young, smart, and powerful trans* American, and proof that—if given an inch—we will take 750,000 fucking miles on a lip sync.
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