The Wikileaks whistleblower Chelsea Manning has won a vital battle in her bid to fully transition to living as a woman. An army court has ruled that the US military must now refer to the trans ex-soldier using the feminine pronoun or the gender-neutral "Private First Class Manning".
The 27-year-old was convicted in 2013 of leaking 700,000 classified documents to Wikileaks – the largest collection of classified information ever released to the public. She is currently serving a 35-year prison sentence in military prison.
Manning was diagnosed with gender dysphoria while still serving in the army and on the day after her sentencing announced that she wanted to be known as Chelsea, not Bradley.
"As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning," she said. "I am a female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope that you will support me in this transition. I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun."
The US government would not acknowledge the transition, referring to Manning as "he" in court. The Guardian reports that government lawyers wrote to the courts saying: "Unless directed otherwise by this honourable court, the government intends to refer to [Manning] using masculine pronouns."
The whistleblower has fought the US army every step of the way, forcing the army court of criminal appeals to step in and do the honourable thing. Manning's small but significant triumph may have ramifications beyond her own personal victory – as it stands, transgender individuals are barred from joining the army altogether. Forcing the military to recognise her gender identity may be the first step in a long road to change.