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Masud: “I am a woman”

in WORLD, 19/09/2013

For better or for worse, people think in boxes. They have boxes for things, and they have boxes for people: Bengali, westerner, Muslim, Hindu, atheist, Asian, White, Black… Curiously, one pair of boxes seems to play a particularly important role in people’s lives: Think about it… What was the first-ever question that anybody has asked about you? Likely, the answer is: “Is it a boy or a girl?? And, likely, that question was asked before you were even born. But does it really matter whether you are a man or a woman? And should it matter?

A day after being sentenced to serve 35 years in federal prison for leaking classified information, the United States Army soldier formerly known as Bradley Manning ignited a media firestorm by announcing that she considers herself a female and wants to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. “I want everyone to know the real me, the 25-year-old said in a statement. “I am Chelsea Manning."

Manning is a transgender person. According to the American Psychological Association, “transgender is an umbrella term for persons whose gender identity, gender expression, or behaviour does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth. Gender identity refers to a person’s internal sense of being male, female, or something else; gender expression refers to the way a person communicates gender identity to others through behaviour, clothing, hairstyles, voice, or body characteristics." Note that transgender people may or may not have a desire to alter their bodies hormonally or surgically, and that Manning hence only represents part of a wide spectrum.

Manning is not “pretending to be a woman, or merely “acting as if she was a woman. Rather, being a woman is an integral part of her identity. We respect that, as we believe everybody should, and hence refer to the soldier using the female pronoun. Being recognised as who we are is important, for our well-being, and for our self-esteem; just as it is important that we feel at home in our own skin.

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