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How Wikipedia Edited Pvt. Manning’s Gender Without Spectacle

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Posted on Aug 22, 2013
Jared Rodriguez/Truthout

An illustration of the WikiLeaks whistle-blower.

Although many media outlets deliberated on how to appropriately express the former Bradley Manning’s bold declaration that he is a female, Wikipedia editors beat them to it. The online encyclopedia entry is now under the name Chelsea E. Manning, with a parenthetical note that explains Chelsea was born Bradley E. Manning; the picture now reads Bradley (Chelsea) Manning.

Slate explains the criteria Wikipedia’s editors followed to reflect the transition:

The changes to the Wikipedia page generally follow the AP Stylebook’s entry on transgender, which dictates that writers should “use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly.” But that broad command doesn’t pertain to the finer points of pronoun usage, leaving unresolved questions of how to refer to Manning’s actions pre-transition. For more complex linguistic conundrums, Wikipedia editors seem to have follows GLAAD’s suggestions, particularly this decree:
“Avoid pronoun confusion when examining the stories and backgrounds of transgender people prior to their transition. It is usually best to report on transgender people’s stories from the present day instead of narrating them from some point or multiple points in the past, thus avoiding confusion and potentially disrespectful use of incorrect pronouns.”

Remarkably, these changes seem to have drawn minimal dispute among editors. Almost immediately after Manning’s announcement, a few editors changed the entry title and the pronouns. One editor did protest, claiming that “this is a complete inaccuracy. He is still a man, legally and biologically. It does not matter what his wishes are,” and a few tried to undo altered pronouns. But the AP/GLAAD style suggestions have clearly carried the day.

Wikipedia’s rapid reaction is especially notable in light of the media’s continuing strain to respect Manning’s gender wishes.

Manning’s desire to reveal the “real me” came shortly after a court-martial ended in a 35-year prison term. As someone responsible for helping others see reality, the sincerity and vulnerability displayed in Manning’s declaration adds another layer to this American hero’s story. Manning’s lawyer said he hopes that, although the prison where the whistle-blower is meant to serve has declared it does not provide hormone therapy, officials will do the “right thing.” Otherwise, he said, “I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure they are forced to do so.”

—Posted by Natasha Hakimi

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