“I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female … I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun.” After being sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking secret government information, Pvt. Chelsea Manning made it clear that she wishes to be referred by the pronouns she and her. Why do major news outlets such as Fox and CNN dehumanize her by refusing to use her preferred pronouns?
Transgender people are among the most discriminated groups in the world. If we cannot count on news outlets to respect them and report reputably, where can allies begin in order to create safe spaces for transgender people?
We must first understand the basics of gender identity. If someone is designated female at birth and identifies as a woman, she is a cisgender woman – cis meaning “on the same side.” This is gender identity: the innate sense of being a man, woman, both or neither.
If someone is designated male at birth and identifies as a woman, she is a transgender woman. It is important to remember that an individual can fall anywhere between or beyond the gender binary of man/male and woman/female.
As for transgender folks, it is of the utmost importance to understand that transgender women are as much of a woman as a cisgender woman is. Period. Not all transgender women or men have medically changed their sex, and there is more to transitioning than surgery. Furthermore, a transgender person’s genitalia are no one’s business.
By using the incorrect pronouns, we are refusing them the right to self-determination, and we are reducing an individual’s character to their genitalia. In “A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey,” 45 percent of participants report being repeatedly and purposely referred to by the wrong pronoun.
Our society is obsessed with the gender binary; thus, transgender people receive the worst kinds of discrimination with 41 percent attempting suicide. The statistics are devastating in every area of life and occurrences of discrimination and assault increase dramatically when race and class are factored.
One of the worst issues facing Manning is that she is a woman being sentenced to a men’s prison. While most people do not agree rape should be punishment as a crime, CNN panelist and lawyer Richard Herman said he believes Manning would get “good practice at being a woman.”
These nauseating comments are often directed at transgender women since prison rape is viewed as a joke. The equally nauseating statistics are quick to refute it. One study finds that 15 percent of transgender inmates are sexually assaulted in prison. That number rises to 20 percent for MTFs, or male-to-females, and to 38 percent among transgender people of color. Additionally, 24 percent of MTFs are denied hormone therapy – which is, indeed, a medical treatment – and that number rises to 30 percent for transgender people of color.
What can we do as allies? We can begin by using proper pronouns to respect transgender people humanity and speak out against those who do not. We ought not to concern ourselves with their genitalia; you would never ask people assumed to be cisgender about their genitalia, would you? We can speak against anti-trans remarks in public. When in doubt, it is best to ask for someone’s preferred pronoun. Most importantly, we must ensure that the voices of transgender people are being heard and listen when the community speaks out.