Despite the former army private's request to be referred to as a woman named Chelsea Manning and be described with female pronouns, news organizations are still referring to the WikiLeaks leaker as a man. News of Manning's request to be referred to as a woman broke this morning, when she issued a statement that she wants to be called Chelsea. "I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female," Manning wrote in her statement. "I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun (except in official mail to the confinement facility)."
The Associated Press ignored Manning's request in at least one version of its story. This first instance appears to be referring to Manning's court martial, which occurred before Manning's announcement today:
But that doesn't justify the following instance, which has the pronoun "his" in reference to Chelsea Manning's current attorney (in the time it took to publish this post, the AP changed the use of "his" into "the soldier"):
Reuters also ignored Manning's request, using "he" in instances of the past and future:
The New York Times also went with a male pronoun in referring to Manning's future:
Though Manning's request was mocked by some of Manning's detractors, Manning's request isn't an uncommon one among transgender people, who continue to battle for acceptance. Ignoring the way a transgender person wants to be referred to sends the blatantly disrespectful message that that person and the way he or she lives his or her life is somehow wrong or incorrect.
"When in doubt, always defer to the way a person self-identifies," GLAAD explains. That's a good rule to go by.
Manning's case, of course, is a little different, as she is one of central figures in one of our biggest new stories, so it is understandable that there is going to be a lot of confusion over what to call Manning. The ultimate question, then, is how to remain respectful while also telling the story as honestly as possible.
At The Atlantic Wire, we wrestled with those questions, too. This morning, when I was writing about the news on the fly, my editors and I tried to figure out what approach to use regarding pronouns. We wanted to be both clear about the news at hand while also respecting Manning's wishes. We ultimately came to the decision that we would refer to Manning as Chelsea after the first paragraph, where we introduced the news of Manning wanting to be referred to with female pronouns.
So what are the explanations at other news organizations? According to the AP's own style guide, its reporters seem to have broken the rules about how to refer to transgender people. Here's what thee 2011 edition 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.
But it's The New York Times that had perhaps the most controversial rules regarding what pronouns to use. Brian Stelter, who has been getting an earful on Twitter about his pronoun choice, pointed out that the Times style guide can ignore a person's preference if his or her former name is newsworthy enough:
FYI: NYT stylebook (http://t.co/OImFX0wjeK) says we use transgender person's preferred name & pronoun "unless a former name is newsworthy."— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) August 22, 2013
The Gray Lady's public editor, Margaret Sullivan, talked to editors at The Times who defended their decision, citing the "newsworthy rule." In regards to the masculine pronouns that still appeared on the website, an editor told Sullivan that the story's language "will evolve over time." Sullivan doesn't think that's the best idea, and gives some solid advice that all news organization could keep in mind: "It’s tricky, no doubt. But given Ms. Manning’s preference, it may be best to quickly change to the feminine and to explain that — rather than the other way around."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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