Media Fail Chelsea Manning Transition
It's like when a woman marries, and Nancy Smith becomes Nancy Jones -- you don't insist on continuing to use her maiden name. You might slip, and you might even always think of her as a Smith, but if you are talking about her you say "Nancy Jones." Nothing political, it's just that that's her name now.
Tell me, what sense does this make: "Bradley Manning said today that he has changed his name to Chelsea and will now be addressed as female." That is exactly what the media were doing. Try this: "The Army private formerly known as Bradley Manning has changed her name to Chelsea and announced that she will now be addressed as a female." Because that's her name now. It used to be Bradley, now it's not. Now she's Chelsea.
Here's Bitch Magazine talking about it -- good article.
In light of Chelsea Manning—formerly known as Bradley Manning—announcing her name change and preferred gender last week, news outlets were stumbling over themselves in stories reporting on the convicted Army private's transition. Only a handful, including NPR, have revised their policies to refer to Manning as a woman.I think the bottom line is this: gender identity is real. Chelsea Manning is not a guy dressed like a girl. The person who was known as Bradley Manning was misnamed and mislabeled, and has corrected that.
Although almost all of the news stories on the name change have included Manning's words, "I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun," most decided to interpret the statement in their own, unique way. Some outlets, like the initial interview with The Today Show, alternated awkwardly between masculine and feminine pronouns. Many media outlets decided to completely ignore the statement they quoted and just stick to "Bradley," "he," "him," and "his" as if nothing had ever happened.
The worst policy of all came from National Public Radio. On Friday, after major outcry from listeners, cultural critics, and activists, NPR announced "we have evolved" and NPR's Managing Editor for Standards and Practice Stu Seidel issued new guidance on referring to Manning. Apparently, NPR will rethink how its stations refer to transgender people in the future:
On the pronoun front, the best solution is the simplest: If we're going to use a new name for a transgender person, we should change pronouns as appropriate. In this case, we should refer to Manning as a "she." This is a matter of clarity and consistency. We just can't tie ourselves in knots trying to avoid pronouns every time we tell the Manning story.This policy makes a lot more sense than their previous system, which was explained thusly in The New York Times:
While we need to have clarity, we also have a responsibility to tell full and complete stories, whether we're reporting on an artist using a stage name or a prominent transgender person making a public request for a name change. If the person's earlier identity is relevant to a story, we have a responsibility to make that clear for our audience.
National Public Radio will continue for now to refer to Private Manning as "he," according to a spokeswoman, Anna Bross. "Until Bradley Manning's desire to have his gender changed actually physically happens, we will be using male-related pronouns to identify him."What does this statement even mean? How exactly would NPR want Manning to validate the worthiness of her preferred prounouns? Would NPR want periodic photographic evidence tracking Manning's physical transition from male to female? Would they be requesting exclusive access to her medical records so they can determine when she undergoes gender reassignment surgery? At what point will Manning's body be traditionally feminine enough to merit a feminine pronoun? NPR Changed its Horrible Policy Misgendering Chelsea Manning
You will sometimes hear it described as a person "having the wrong body" or "being the opposite of their biological gender," but I think it is easier to think of it as the doctor making a mistake. The baby comes out, they hold it up and take a look, the doctor checks a box on the birth certificate and there you go, paint the nursery pink or blue and pick a name that fits. Gender is most often correlated with observable genitalia, but sometimes it isn't. The doctor just got it wrong.
This article goes into some depth, I will skip down a little.
It's fantastic that NPR has "evolved" so quickly and come to recognize the error of its reporting on Manning.It's not that it's politically incorrect, it's just incorrect.
But now it's strange that NPR is among only a handful of news organizations to change their policies and admit that they should improve their language. Will it be years before NBC, ABC, CBS, and CNN come around? CNN's policy is just as unfair as the one NPR scrapped: "CNN's policy is to reference Manning with masculine pronouns since he has not yet taken any steps toward gender transition through surgery or hormone replacement therapy."
It's understandable that media is scrambling over this issue. Manning's public change of gender identity is the first transition that has received this much attention. Therefore it makes sense that news organizations might have some trouble figuring out how to report this kind of story. But that's why GLAAD and the National Lesbian Gay Journalists Association have policies to help inform coverage of trans* folks.
Both GLAAD and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association issued statements instructing journalists on how to report on transgender individuals. Sources like MSNBC and Salon who previously misgendered Manning have admitted their mistake and tried to make amends by not only updating their stories but instructing fellow reporters on how to follow suit.