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What’s in a name?

by on April 24, 2014

I was recently browsing the Huffington Post when I came across an article concerning Chelsea Manning’s request to receive a name change to gain recognition for her changed gender identity. Regardless of how you feel about Manning’s criminal record, there has been recent debate concerning her changing gender identity in the context of her prison sentencing and how major media groups should refer to Manning.

Gender dysmorphia is a diagnosable condition. Chelsea Manning had had psychologists diagnose her with the disorder, and while some newspapers are usually willing to publish according to preferred gender, many question the choice when dealing with Manning.

Manning’s criminal status places her in morality limbo. Journalists fear even the smallest accusation of bias that may be incurred if they decide to publish Manning’s story with her chosen gender published. 

Manning’s story raises interesting questions surrounding not just how journalists must address new and changing minorities, but how journalists must respond to accusations of bias when they attempt to treat these minorities with respect. What language should they use? Is acquiescing to requests of minorities showing bias?

In the case of Manning, many news sources felt that addressing her by her chosen pronouns was akin to sympathizing with her decision to release US government documents. News groups varied in their portrayal of Manning, some continuing to ignore Manning’s changed gender, others allowing it in their papers and yet even more treated it with the same social pariah as leprosy. 

When does respect become bias? How close can a news story get to a subject before others complain of them being in bed together?

Chelsea Manning may or may not be a criminal, but she is a transgendered woman, and news sites will continue to ignore her gender out of fear of exposing bias.


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  1. I think you bring up a great point here, especially with the example of someone who broke in law. Like we were talking about in class, will people be less likely to accept Chelsea Manning’s identity because of what she did? What about in Laverne Cox’s situation in which she’s embraced by such a large community?

    It’s a really interesting point to examine when putting two transgender people side by side, and seeing that someone who did not commit a crime is more likely to have his/her identity accepted.

  2. This is a very tough subject but is important in these changing times. I have to disagree with the news sources that feel using her chosen pronouns are bias. Just because Chelsea Manning is a criminal doesn’t mean that her basic human rights should be violated. Everyone has the right to an identity and I believe that we should respect Chelsea’s gender, whether she has a diagnosed disorder or not. I don’t have to believe that Chelsea is innocent/guilty to respect her identity.

  3. I agree that this is a difficult subject to dissect. However, my hopes are that news outlets and news consumers alike, will begin to separate gender and sexuality with criminal behavior. An identity is an identity, whether Chelsea is a criminal or not. At the very least, the correct pronoun should be used.

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