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Manning throws a curveball with womanly persona

August 26, 2013

Chelsea? He wants to be called Chelsea?

I didn’t see that coming. I would have taken him for more of a Nancy or a Marguerite.

Imagine my surprise when I learned last week that Bradley Manning announced he is really a woman and wants to be known as Chelsea.

Well, naturally I assumed I was being buffaloed. (Unrelated trivia question: What word can be used five times in repetition to form a full sentence? A: Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. See, buffalo can be a proper noun, a verb and … oh never mind, I’m sorry I brought it up.)

I have all due respect for anyone who wants to be called anything (s)he wants. We all have peculiarities we would rather not discuss. But this — the abruptness of it anyway — sounds strikingly like Monty Python’s “Life of Brian,” in which Eric Idle announces that he wants to have babies, and John Cleese responds: “Where’s the fetus going to gestate, you going to put it in a box?”

And this is a bombshell I might have brought up during the trial, just to throw the judge off guard. Yes I might have leaked sensitive documents, but I want to be called Chelsea.

You can’t sentence a guy like that to prison. It’s bad luck.

The problem for people such as myself who thought that Manning was something of a whistleblower for pointing out serious flaws in the nation’s defense policy is this: It’s awfully hard to defend someone who has thrown such a curveball.

It’s like you can stand up for Lindsay Lohan right up until the point where she confesses to voting Democratic.

The other difficult matter for a journalist is that we really don’t know how to refer to Manning on second reference, do we?

Fortunately, this is why we have the Associated Press, which publishes a stylebook to clear up such issues. Here is the AP’s advisory, which I swear I am not fabricating:

“At this time, the AP is seeking more details about the gender change statement attributed to Pfc. Bradley Manning that was read Thursday on the ‘Today’ show in the presence of defense attorney David Coombs. The typewritten statement said, ‘I am Chelsea Manning. I am female,’ and asked supporters to use ‘my new name and use the feminine pronoun.’”

Whoa. Bradley Manning’s attorney used a typewriter?

Hope he didn’t stain his top hat on the ribbon.

The AP continues, “For the time being, AP stories will use gender-neutral references to Manning and provide the pertinent background on the transgender issue. However, when reporting is completed, the AP Stylebook entry on ‘transgender’ will be AP’s guide.”

That stylebook entry states: “Use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth. If that preference is not expressed, use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly.”

In other words, a transgender person has to get up pretty early in the morning to fool the Associated Press. But people get paid to figure these things out. I’m just glad I’m not one of them.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 6997, or via email at timr@herald-mail.com.

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