While honoring Bradley Manning's wish to be identified as a woman and called "Chelsea," Time magazine writer James Poniewozik wants to know exactly when did Bradley become Chelsea, posing various grammatical issues raised by journalists accepting Manning's self-delusion about his gender.
"Since she’s a longtime figure in the news, in a case involving her actions years previous, how do you refer to her history? Did Bradley leak information to Wikileaks, or did Chelsea? (Or Breanna?) Did she serve in Iraq or did he?" Poniewozik wondered in an August 18 Tune In Time.com blog post, adding, "The answer goes to the question, still fuzzily defined, of what philosophy and definitions we’re using when referring to the growing number of transgender persons":
Is cultural gender the same as biological sex? Does the person’s gender “change”–for media purposes–at the point of a public statement (bearing in mind that not everyone issues public statements)? Does it date to the point at which that person began to consider him or herself a different gender (bearing in mind that the realization might happen gradually over years)? Is it retroactive to birth–does Present You, in effect, override the consciousness of Past You? Think about it long enough, and it’s not just a question of what a man or woman is, but what identity and personhood is, period.
Wow, getting deep there, James.
Of course, journalism is, or at least should be, concerned with objective truth, not abstract philosophical speculation. Manning is biologically a male and always will be. It's encoded in his DNA to the chromosomal level. It's a scientific fact that is done violence by an insistence to value political correctness and subjective feeling over objective truth.
In the abstract one can speculate and make fine distinctions between "cultural gender" and "biological sex," but the task of the journalist should be to convey objective truth to the reader. It is true that Manning "is biologically a male who wishes to identify publicly as a woman." Using phrasing like that would be perfectly objective and value neutral. Is it clunky and unwieldy? Yes, but that's the position journalists are put in by newsworthy subjects like Pvt. Manning who insist that the wider world not merely accepts their freedom to choose an alternate "gender identity" but ratifies their newfound gender as thought it were objectively true.
In the end, Poniewozik (pictured at right via his Twitter profile) ultimately punted on his own question, deciding that as a copy editor and journalist he wasn't up to the task and decided that the subject, Mr. Manning, knows best (emphasis mine):
Sometimes copy editing and language, like a lot of human activity, is an attempt to impose certitude and consistency on things–here, identity, psychology, self-perception–that are really shifting and complicated. (I’d guess that Manning’s “since childhood” remark argues for using “she” in the preceding example, for instance. But do I know that “since childhood” definitely means “before middle school”? No, I do not.)
I can’t say I know enough to decree a universal rule here yet, and maybe there isn’t one, beyond simple consideration. Which is to say, if I don’t know the ideal way to refer to someone like Chelsea Manning, a good starting point is to at least assume that she knows better than I do.
It may not seem like a big deal on its face, but this is a symptom of a larger problem. In the newsroom, truth is not the highest objective. Staying in the good graces of the cultural and political left is.