My Pronoun Problem

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Last week our culture panel, The Nose, tackled Bradley Manning’s declaration that he is a woman named Chelsea. Many interesting points were made, but all three of my panelists favored the notion of everybody — press included — honoring Manning’s request to refer to him from now on as said woman and as “she.”
In situations like that, I’ll often lean the other way, just to make sure the issue really gets discussed. And in this case, I had substantive questions anyway. (And these questions netted me a small but wriggling catch of irritated emails, which is why I’m dilating a little more on the topic.)
US soldier Chelsea Manning graffiti in the "Abode of Chaos" museum of contemporary art, in Saint-Romain-au-Mont-d'Or, Rhône-Alpes region, France, via Wikimedia Commons

US soldier Chelsea Manning graffiti in the “Abode of Chaos” museum of contemporary art, in Saint-Romain-au-Mont-d’Or, Rhône-Alpes region, France, via Wikimedia Commons

Should the press blithely acquiesce to everybody’s claim about who they are? No. Why not? Why isn’t it a simple matter of courtesy to honor somebody’s wishes in a matter like basic identity? Because sometimes those wishes contain agendas.
In 1980, all three candidates for president claimed to be born again Christians. (Medium-sized stuffed animal if you can name the third without Googling.) Ronald Reagan’s claim was worth looking at. He didn’t really participate in organized Christianity the way the other two guys did. That didn’t mean he was untruthful.  But it was worth asking a few extra questions.  You don’t really attend church, but you’ve accepted Jesus as your personal savior.  How’d that happen? (And what was up with the astrology?)
In 2000, George W. Bush said he was a reformed alcoholic. Or something like that. He said he’d had a drinking problem and that it went away, thanks to a 1985 meeting with Bill Graham followed by Bible study.  Well, probably. But it seemed worth asking about. Graham didn’t remember it exactly that way.  Was Bush really ever an alcoholic and was he now in some convincing state of recovery.  Why not just accept what he claimed about himself? Because the claim could have numerous possible agendas, including the inoculation of Bush against questions about prior cocaine use.
What if George Zimmerman had claimed — as others did about him — that he was Latino? His mother is Peruvian. Would it have been right to honor his self-identification as a person of color or better to analyze that claim? I think you know the answer.

Let me be clear: My sympathies are largely with Bradley Manning. Had I been the judge, he would have received the lightest possible sentence. And if he really wants to be a woman, I hope he gets to be, even if that has to happen in the federal military prison system. (That’ll be like trying to grow an orchid on a NASCAR race track.)  But I don’t know, right now, how much of his current claim is based on legal strategy. I don’t know whether he’s going to walk the whole thing back in three months. As a person, I would try to honor his wishes. As a journalist, I have to ask questions.

As I wrote to one woman who said I was smug, mean and “showing my age,” day in and day out, you WANT journalists to check out people’s stories. On certain occasions, we will do that with a claim that you, personally, would just accept at face value. It’s bad form to call us names on those occasions. We’re just doing our jobs.
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16 thoughts on “My Pronoun Problem

  1. peter brush

    Chelsea can call himself whatever she wants, but objectively she’s a man. When the ship is going down I’m not giving him priority over any other guy. Out of the way, bub; that lifeboat seat is mine.

    The question of self-identifying is involved in Mr. Manning’s nationality. Don’t know if he may have dual citizenship by virtue of mom’s Welshitude. We seem to have quite a problem keeping anti-American activists out of the military. As with citizenship, we might want to consider stricter loyalty standards.
    In the affirmative discrimination racket who gets to decide who’s not a white male? How many drops of oppressed minority blood does one have to have? Must be about twenty years ago now that a white guy from South Africa was not allowed to call himself an “African-American” for law school admissions purposes.
    I have not much of an idea what exactly Manning disclosed, or how damaging to our country’s interests. I have zero sympathy for him. No tax money for any gender bending, shifting, changing or re-assigning, por favor. It’s bad enough that jerks like him and Major Hasan get paid their salaries until actual conviction for their treachery, and that we have to pay for their perpetual incarceration.
    I haven’t followed it closely, but hasn’t Mass. already performed voluntary sex-changing therapy on some of its imprisoned-American-community? My sense of it is that the transformed do not chose whether to reside in a men’s or women’s hoosegow.

  2. Richard

    I could care less what the shameful little exhibitionist wants.

    I’ve had a co worker and a student in change. They were seemingly normal well-adjusted people other than that one odd fact.

    Manning is a circus sideshow act. Not losing sleep over, he, she, or it. If he called himself Klinger and said he hailed from Toledo, I might give him a break for his Section 8 homage act.

  3. peter brush

    Somehow, I have difficulty believing that DelaPaz is the guy’s “real” name.
    DelaPaz gave several false names to police, including “Jesus De Cristo,” police said. Police at the department’s detention center determined DelaPaz had given a false name and that he was a convicted felon who does not have a valid pistol permit.

  4. Billy

    I am the least interested and knowledgeable about gender-bending and fender-bending and everything else that goes along for the ride. But I do believe that we have too much time on our hands. The 35 hour 5 day work week. To much time to become mischievous. What does a guy do when he (or soon to be she) attains the leisure class? He runs to the garage and grabs a hammer and chisel and before long, he wants to experience what it is like being a woman.

    Well I say all power to you, brother…’er sister. Let’s go back to work 7 days a week. Be inventive. Start a business and stop seeking to be employed by someone else. Before long, you will be demanding a living wage and a gender change. Go West and strike it rich.

    I believe that George W bush admitted to being a reformed alcoholic in order to divert attention away from his once cocaine habit. And that shiner he got once in the White House? He didn’t fall out after getting a pretzel stuck in his throat while watching TV by himself. Laura hit him during an argument after finding out he was receiving oral sex from little Condalessa Rice after she inadvertently left bite marks on his you know where.

  5. Jim

    Another “safe” topic, Colin. How about writing on what Manning released; and how that war criminal Obama will do whatever he can to hide the truth about this country and our foreign policy.

  6. Judith Russell

    Folks within “the community” have been aware of Manning’s gender dysphoria for several years now; there were available logs of online chats pointing at it back in 2011. It’s not something we are proud of or have sought to broadcast; in these times of fighting “DADT”, having a trans person in uniform who was evidently destabilized and a security risk and blaming it on the condition does not help. So I do not think it’s a legal ploy so much as it is setting up as compassionate a situation as possible over what will be a long incarceration. Although perhaps there is a bit of magical thinking afoot, as if “her” assuming a new name and gender will wash away some of “his” sins.

    And yeah, gender transition is a hell of a lot more than hormones and surgery – there is an entire buffet of social and cultural interactions that will be unavailable to Manning in prison. (“Orange is the New Black” notwithstanding)

    So whatever, name, gender, hormones. She’s going to be in prison for a long time, the cost of hormone treatment is not really that significant compared to the cost of incarceration from the get go. Now get off the media stage so we can consider something more substantial.

  7. Cynical Susan

    The actual subject of the post is the problem of choosing the correct / appropriate pronoun for Manning. In a somewhat similar situation, a wonderful British traditional singer and captivating story-teller died in England earlier this month. American fans knew him as Lou or Louis Killen; he was a charming zestful attractive man who turned the heads of a lot of ladies, three of whom married him. Perhaps ten years ago a magazine publisher told me that Killen was going to transition. I laughed because said publisher was known to tell some captivating tales himself, but no, really, Lou had been thinking about it for a while. He moved back to England where indeed he started the physical and psychological therapy he sought. Killen continued to sing, although the audience was not what it had been. And then this month we read the obituaries for Louisa Jo Killen.

    The first obit was written by a long-time friend of Killen’s, and she used “she” throughout the article. The last one I read was in the NYTimes, and I think they got it right — they used “he” when the performer was Louis, and “she” after the changes had been made.

  8. John R. McCommas

    When — and only when — he gets it cut off I will refer to him as a “She”. If he changes his name legally, than fine, we will call him that —then. But can you do that while in prison? I doubt it. Till then he is Bradley and he is male. Every time he is naked and looks down he is manifestly, undeniably male. Putting on a dress and growing artificial boobs isn’t going to change that. He will always have that Y chromosome.

    What would be clinically healthy for him is to comes to terms with what he has done, accept his punishment and atone for what he has done in some manner.

    His so-called supporters are retarding his progress towards inner growth and finding mental stability. They are exploiting him by entertaining this ‘I am a girl now’ tangent. It isn’t healthy at all to pretend you are something you are manifestly are not. None of this of course has nothing to do with his crimes. It is just a pathetic manipulation to make us feel sorry for him.

    And you know what? It worked in my case. I do feel sorry for him, now more than ever. He is a big mess but he deserved the 35 year sentence he got in spades (with no parole which he could get in as little as 7 lousy years).

    We need to make an example out him for other would-be traitors. I hope they never let him out.

    1. Billy

      But not a bad guess. Remember that Perot was leading until he punked out and made a lame excuse that Bush security personal was harassing his daughter. I don’t think he really wanted to be president. Only screw up Bush’s chances which he did.

      I believe that Perot’s supporters we’re the great disillusioned. And all he was doing was exploiting their disillusionment with American politics. It is my spin, anyways.

  9. Billy

    I just had this strange idea. A kind of Damien Hirst macabre kind of art exhibit. If those who desire totransgender from male to female, what not save the genitalia, pickle each in a frame container. I guess there is usually a message associated with exhibits but I don’t have the foggiest on what message.

    I suppose the price of each would be dictated by the artist’s reputation.

    Name of exhibit: No Mas

  10. peter brush

    I’m learning about living with this brave new diversity. If “Human Events” refers to a “pre-operative transexual” with the pronoun appropriate to the gender to which he/she aspires, there must be a generally established protocol to that effect. But into which gendered prison to fit the previously misfitted but newly outfitted, I still don’t know.
    In 2010, De’Lonta was hospitalized after a self-castration attempt. She is receiving hormone treatments, psychological counseling, and has been allowed to dress as a woman in a men’s prison, according to an Associated Press report.

    1. Billy

      There can be another aspect to this spaghetti and meatball with or without clams syndrome. If a hetero or a homo becomes attracted to said individual, at what point would it be a homosexual attraction or heterosexual attraction?

      So this “brave new diversity” may be more confusing than you think, Mr Brush.

      1. peter brush

        Mr. Bill; you are surely correct. It is virtually impossible to keep up with all the various permutations and implications of our cultural attack on reality in the name of equality. As the late Don van Vliet lyricized; “there’s more than what you thought.” Of course, he also mistakenly asserted in the same “song” that “there ain’t no right, and there ain’t no wrong.”
        Life in the fast lane and the very confusing lane with Danielle and Cathleen, and who is this guy David?
        In a recent HuffPost Gay Voices blog post, doctor and author Danielle Kaufman wrote about the day when she, still living as a man, learned her wife is a lesbian.
        As shocking as that situation may have been, Cathleen, an artist, soon got a surprise of her own when Danielle, then living as David, confessed he was a gay man and then, soon after, revealed his intention to transition and live as a woman.
        The couple, who remained legally married but reside separately, recently joined HuffPost Live to share their ironic, and in many ways, inspiring story.
        “I was thinking about it for a couple of months and didn’t quite know how to tell him at the time,” Cathleen said. “I said let’s go to a restaurant. I need to tell you something.”
        After Cathleen had broke the news to Kaufman that she thought she was a lesbian, Kaufman shared her own news.
        “Without either of us talking to each other about it at the time, we both figured it out on our own separately,” Kaufman said. “I figured it out a few weeks before and I’m definitely interested in men. I had been thinking over the last week or two like how was I going to tell my wife because she’s going to be really upset.”

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