Soon after being sentenced by a military judge to 35 years behind bars for leaking US diplomatic cables and other evidence of war crimes, the person formerly known as Pfc Bradley Manning announced to the world that she - not he - would from now on like to be referred to as, "Chelsea". After being called everything from hero to traitor, Manning announced she wanted to be called something else: a woman.
"As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female," Manning said in a statement. "Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope that you will support me in this transition."
It's not hard, identifying someone as they wish to be identified. It's actually really easy and it's called politeness. But sometimes bigotry and political partisanship get in the way of good manners and basic decency.
Erick Erickson, a conservative pundit, former CNN contributor and all-American dumbass, chose to react to the news of Manning's transition with the over-compensating masculinity of a 13-year-old bully who wets the bed. "Chelsea," he wrote on Twitter, is "someone who won't man up [ editor's note: do you get it? ] to what they've done and instead goes for a sympathetic distraction in the press". Because as anyone familiar with the corporate press (and the American public) will tell you, nothing garners more sympathy than a recently convicted national security whistle-blower - "traitor" in the parlance of our times - coming out as transgender.
Earlier, because he is a tiny child in a bloated body, Erickson linked to a piece about Manning's gender identity with the comment: " HA HA HA HA HA . . . . "
No 'liberal' in LGBT
Other reactions on the right were similarly dumb and antiquated and voiced by manly men who wouldn't be caught dead wearing clothes that fit right. But it would be easy to focus on them. The more troublesome reactions, including by far the most loathsome, came from the other end of the permissible political spectrum: the reactionaries who don't like Sarah Palin.
|Manning sentenced to 35 years in prison
"Manning isn't a particularly effective advocate/ally for any of his causes [sic]," wrote political consultant and former congressional staffer Dana Houle, choosing to ignore Manning's request to be referred to using "the feminine pronoun". As he notes in his biography on Twitter, which appears to be where most of his work is published, Houle notes that he works to, "Elect Democrats", so he speaks from a place of knowledge when it comes to ineffectively promoting progressive causes.
Oliver Willis, a researcher at Media Matters, a watchdog group that employs liberals to watch Fox News, wrote that, "Bradley Manning is insane if he thinks taxpayers will finance his treatment." Projecting one's transphobia onto taxpayers comes across as more Tea Party than Democratic Party, but when it comes to faux-machismo in the service of empire, those two political factions have more in common than not.
It's not the first time liberals have been less than sensitive when dealing with the gender identity issues of a whistleblower who embarrassed their president. Earlier chat transcripts with an undercover informant revealed that Manning had long wondered if she was in the right body. But rather than display sympathy for a young person quite predictably questioning their identity - most of the punditry class got to do that in college on mommy and daddy's dime - liberal Democrats interpreted Manning's personal questions as signs of mental illness that they chose to believe explained her whistle-blowing.
"My main opinion of Bradley Manning is that it sounds like he has pretty serious emotional problems and turned out not to be a particularly effective whistleblower, the former probably having quite a bit to do with the latter," wrote Alyssa Rosenberg, a Parks & Recreation blogger at the liberal Center for American Progress. Joy Reid, a pundit regularly featured on MSNBC, characterised Manning's admissions in those private chat transcripts as "TMI", writing that they showed "a guy seeking anarchy as a salve for his own persona, psychological torment".
The aforementioned left-of-Republican commenters would probably not reduce the entirety of a good, party-line Democrat's being to concerns about their gender identity. If a good, party-line Democrat exposed war crimes under a Republican administration, for instance, these pundits and bloggers would credit the whistleblower's moral outrage at war crimes with providing sufficient motivation, rejecting talk of their gender identity as red-state bigotry.
Elections do change some things.
One person's palace
Perhaps the most grotesque reaction to Manning's request to be identified as a woman came at the centre-left website The Daily Beast from a columnist hand-selected by editor Tina Brown. Entitled, "How Will Chelsea Manning Be Treated in Prison?", the column by Mansfield Frazier begins auspiciously: with a lengthy editor's note explaining that the piece's original assertion "that prison rape is rare" is, in fact, not true as "200,000 adults and children are sexually abused in American detention facilities every year".
With that out of the way - the thing you are about to read is false - what follows is a lengthy apologia for rape in prison, one that says Manning's experience "could be terrible", but concludes that "transgender and gay inmates are often treated quite well" (a presumably editor-inserted paragraph that follows notes more than a third of transgender inmates report having been sexually assaulted in prison, meaning the preceding claim is: false).
When I was in the joint, rape wasn't just something you could let happen to you.
"When I was in the joint," Frazier wrote, "rape wasn't just something you could let happen to you." In other words: the victims wanted it. Further, "From what I witnessed, it was quite common for a transgender inmate to get 'married' behind bars" to that "big, dreaded prison dude known as 'Bubba'." Bubba, in some cases, "would become a pimp, and both of them would be 'prison rich' as the johns line up outside her cell to pay for her sexual favors."
"One thing is almost a certainty," Frazier's editor for some reason let him continue, "celibacy probably won't be an option for Chelsea Manning." For some, Frazier wrote, prison is a prison, but "we need to keep in mind that one person's prison is another person's palace. Chelsea Manning could become the queen bee."
Lovisa Stannow, executive director of Just Detention International, said in a statement provided to Al Jazeera that it is "simply outrageous to suggest, as Mr Frazier does, that sexual violence against LGBT inmates is a problem that has been exaggerated, or that prison is a 'palace' for LGBT people". Stannow's group speaks out against sexual abuse in US prisons, which is rampant - and often carried out by the authorities. If the Daily Beast wants to know what prison might be like for a transgender person like Manning, Stannow suggests the Daily Beast provide one a platform to explain.
A spokesperson for the Daily Beast did not return a request for comment, so who knows if that will ever happen. Prisoners, like the transgendered, are barely people to the conservative and not-quite-as-conservative mind, so we treat and talk of them accordingly; it's no scandal to suggest they may actually enjoy getting sexually abused - and we don't need to hear their perspective when discussing them. And since Manning embarrassed a Democratic president, you weed out a good many (though certainly not all) of the bleeding hearts that otherwise might stick up for her. You don't need a face-saving quote from Tina Brown's spokesperson to know that much.
Charles Davis is a writer currently based in Los Angeles.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.