When Pfc. Bradley Manning announced that he wanted to be called Chelsea Manning and seek hormone therapy as part of his gender transition, there was much talk in the media as to just how to refer to Manning.
As USA Today reports, different media organizations came to different conclusions:
“The Huffington Post, the London Daily Mail, MSNBC and Slate have all started using the feminine pronoun.
“NBC’s Today, USA TODAY, The Boston Globe, Politico, CNN, Fox, the New York Daily News, the New York Post, the Daily Beast, the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times are using the masculine pronoun.”
Thursday, NPR decided to use male pronouns and explained its decision to The New York Times. On Friday, NPR’s Managing Editor for Standards and Practice Stu Seidel issued new guidance, saying that NPR’s “thinking has evolved” and that the network will honor Manning’s preferences.
From here on out, on first reference, the network will refer to the private as Chelsea Manning, while in the “near term” noting that she came to prominence known as Bradley Manning. The network also will use female pronouns.
Here’s the note Stu sent to the newsroom Friday evening:
Army Private Manning’s request to no longer be known as “Bradley” is one NPR should respect. We allow people to decide what they want to be called. Manning asks to be called “Chelsea.” (This is different from granting anonymity or using a pseudonym for a source, since Private Manning has made public his decision to change his name.)
Manning also asked to be referred to as “she,” not “he.” That request gets into many questions of defining an individual’s gender that we feel are best left to the person in question, so long as we are telling a complete story.
Arguably, the earliest identification any of us is given is whether we’re a “boy” or a “girl; a “he” or a “she.” Our gender is on our birth certificate, our driver’s license, countless forms, and so on.
Does an individual’s sense of his or her own identity trump those designations?
Like so many of our journalism colleagues, we’ve had numerous newsroom conversations over the last two days about how NPR should refer to Manning. Yesterday, we decided to make clear in first reference that Bradley Manning wished to be known as “Chelsea,” and we decided to use male-related pronouns on later references. Our thinking has evolved.
We are fond of saying that our style and language use is always open to challenge and subject to change. We also believe that a healthy newsroom is open to debate and reflection. In the past day, we have been challenged by listeners and readers and by colleagues at our member stations and in our newsroom, raising a chorus of views, including requests to rethink, backed up by arguments that make good sense. We have been persuaded.
Going forward, on first reference, please use “Chelsea Manning.” For the near term, we should make clear that we are talking about the person who gained public notice as “Bradley Manning.” (The need for that clarification will, undoubtedly, diminish as the name Chelsea Manning becomes better known – and as Private Manning fades from routine public prominence.)
On the pronoun front, the best solution is the simplest: If we’re going to use a new name for a transgender person, we should change pronouns as appropriate. In this case, we should refer to Manning as a “she.” This is a matter of clarity and consistency. We just can’t tie ourselves in knots trying to avoid pronouns every time we tell the Manning story.
While we need to have clarity, we also have a responsibility to tell full and complete stories, whether we’re reporting on an artist using a stage name or a prominent transgender person making a public request for a name change. If the person’s earlier identity is relevant to a story, we have a responsibility to make that clear for our audience.
This promises to be a continuing subject of discussion, which will inevitably come up in the future as others in the public sphere make similar changes. Our internal discussions are vital to our journalism. Anyone who wishes to continue this email thread, please write to me but, as always, spare “reply all.”