That awkward moment when you have to explain trans
1. More than three years after he was arrested and charged in the biggest leak of classified information in U.S. history, today Private Bradley Manning will hear his verdict announced.
2. In 2009, over a span of six months, Manning chatted online with someone who could personally understand what Manning was going through.
3. That individual was trans activist and YouTuber, Lauren McNamara.
Manning had been a fan of her YouTube videos, and reached out to her online hoping she would be someone in whom he could confide. Manning befriended her online shortly before his 2009 deployment to Iraq.
4. She would later be summoned as a defense witness at the Manning trial. Her testimony gave unique insight into Manning’s personal character.
5. The following excerpts come from McNamara’s personal account of her time as a defense witness, “The Humanity of Private Manning.”
As I turned to face the room, my heartbeat pounded in my ears even worse than before, and I could barely speak when Overgaard swore me in. My mouth went dry and my throat tightened. In front of me, at the defense table, I saw Bradley Manning for the first time. However underwhelming and unimportant everything seemed in the empty courtroom before, however much I’d thought the reality of the situation fell short of the idea, the reality had surely caught up and exceeded whatever I expected to feel. I could sense the energies of some pivotal moment of history turning to focus themselves on me, and the weight of it was almost unbearable.
Coombs asked me what my name had been before I changed it, the name I still had in 2009 when Manning spoke with me. In front of this room of strangers and the entire world listening outside, I spoke a man’s name in little more than a wavering croak. He then asked why I changed my name. I thought it was obvious – did I really need to explain it? What came out was something like this: “I’m a woman, and I wanted my name to reflect that.” A young woman in an aisle seat seemed to be vaguely impressed.
I kept looking over toward Manning. I wanted, more than anything, to see some indication that he was okay – that he was still alive in there, that he hadn’t been destroyed by all this. He only stared straight ahead at the ceiling-mounted monitor, with no visible emotion on his face. I tried desperately to make my pulse stop pounding, but seeing him that way just added to what I began to realize was a growing despair.
What I didn’t reveal at the trial was that Manning opened up to me in part because we were both gay men. That’s not who I am anymore, and by the time Manning contacted Lamo, there were clear signs that he too was considering transitioning – signs that any other trans person would see as indicative of someone who was so far into this, they weren’t likely to turn back.
I’ve talked about Manning as male, because there’s been nothing but silence and denial on this front from his family and his attorneys, and I simply don’t know how else to refer to him. But I do know what happens when you take one of us and lock us away for most of our early twenties, unable to access treatments like those he was seeking. It horrifies me, and it should horrify anyone else who truly understands what it means to be held hostage by our own bodies.
Somewhere, in some other universe, I might have been able to stop all of this – or I might have ended up in a cell, too. But now there’s the unbearable discrepancy, the miserable and unyielding knowledge that I would get to walk out of that courtroom as a free person and he wouldn’t, that he’s locked in a cage and I’m not, that I got to transition and he didn’t.