The importance of being Chelsea

Bradley Chelsea Manning
Bradley/Chelsea Manning

Whatever your opinion is on the whole Wikileaks affair, there is very little doubt about the historical importance of private Manning’s actions. The public release of morally questionable institutional documents forced the world into discussing pressing issues such as human and citizen rights, personal privacy, corporate influence over government decisions, transparency, diplomacy, rules of engagement and much more.
What went somewhat ignored were, however, the implications of Manning’s final coup de théâtre following the sentence. When the dishonorably discharged soldier annonunced her lifelong gender dysphoria and the subsequent decision to fully embrace her female identity as Chelsea, the public and media general reaction was of amazed fun. Statements such as «I wouldn’t mind going to prison for the rest of my life, or being executed so much, if it wasn’t for the possibility of having pictures of me… plastered all over the world press… as [a] boy» looked just like a sad and quirky note to be added to an already puzzling trial. Excluding the cynical interpretation of a possibly insincere choice to leverage better chances of a presidential pardon – which is something mostly ruled out by many previous evidence – Manning’s new identity hides however several interesting consequences.

The first and most important is an open challenge to the traditionally empty talk of equal rights for sexual minorities within the army and, by consequence, within institutions and society. While military prisons technically provide inmates with medical and psychological care, Manning is unlikely to receive the hormone therapy required to support her life choice – much less surgical gender reassignment. Denying medical treatment to a prisoner… What does this say about human rights?
I don’t have a clear answer myself, yet I do have statistics – and they are rather worrying. A 2009 study states that 59% of transgendered people imprisoned in male facilities (as Manning is) are routinely raped, and exactly 0% of them received any help from guards. None of them are however household names and media darlings, and none of them have armies of Assanges and Snowdens to keep the world informed about their well-being.
Whatever the future will hold for Chelsea Manning, her role in the global fight for the acceptance and equality of uncommon sexualities cannot be understated – and I bet we are going to hear about her quite frequently in the next months.