To She or Not to She? Media Outlets Struggle to Pick a Pronoun for Chelsea Manning

The New York Times announced its decision to refer Manning in the feminine, so who are the holdouts?

  • Share
  • Read Later
Alex Wong / Getty Images

U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning is escorted as he leaves a military court at the end of the first of a three-day motion hearing June 6, 2012 in Fort Meade, Maryland.

Today, the New York Times will begin referring to Chelsea Manning by the feminine pronoun, five days after the army private sentenced for leaking sensitive documents went public with the decision to become a woman. “I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun,” Manning wrote in an open letter to NBC’s Today show. The surprise announcement caught editors flat-footed as they hastily consulted their style guidelines on transgender individuals. Turns out many had a policy that respected the wishes of transgendered individuals after the transition took place, but in the unprecedented circumstance of a public figure transitioning in the middle of a media storm, few knew when, exactly, to acknowledge Manning’s request as a grammatical fact.

(MORE: Manning Biographer: Media Should Respect The Trans Experience)

According to USA Today, early adopters of “she” included the Huffington Post, the London Daily Mail, MSNBC and Slate. NPR’s spokeswoman told the New York Times that it would stick to “he,” until its managing editor for standards and practice quickly reversed course, saying that the organization’s “thinking has evolved.” The Associated Press straddled the fence for awhile, briefly adopting “gender-neutral” terms before taking the plunge yesterday.

Hold-outs include CNN, USA Today, and Politico, which are awaiting evidence that Manning has begun hormone therapy, undergone surgery, or taken some further step to justify a change in their style guidelines.

The longer they wait, the stronger the criticism from LGBT-rights advocates.  A writer for the Daily Caller compiled a selection of quotes from various news outlets, slotting them under “Bigoted!” or “Not Bigoted!” or, in one case, “Kinda funny, but Bigoted!” depending on which pronoun they applied to Manning. As for TIME, a story on Manning’s announcement made its intentions clear within the first sentence: “Chelsea Manning first announced to the world that she considered herself to be a woman with a tweet sent from the account of ‘Breanna Manning’ in May of 2010.” The transition, at least for Manning, is old news.

MORE: “I Am Chelsea Manning”: Why Gender Isn’t So Easy to Identify