On Wikipedia and Breanna Manning

Another blog post about trans issues, bear with me. :)

One thing that really annoys me about Wikipedia is that it’s really pro­gres­sive about LGBT issues (thanks to the very well-organised LGBT WikiPro­ject), except where it really mat­ters. And where it really mat­ters is in the case of Bre­anna Man­ning, although you prob­a­bly know her bet­ter as “Bradley”. Yes, I’m talk­ing about the Wik­ileaks whistle­blower. Her gen­der incon­gru­ence has been known to her coun­sel­lor and CO for at least two years, and con­firmed by her defence lawyers six months ago, so why do Wikipedia still refer to her as a man?

Wikipedia’s Man­ual of Style on iden­tity states:

Dis­putes over how to refer to a per­son or group are addressed by poli­cies such as Ver­i­fi­a­bil­ityNeu­tral point of view, and Arti­cle titles where the term appears in the title of an arti­cle. When there is no dis­pute, the term most com­monly used for a per­son will be the one that per­son uses for him­self or her­self, and the most com­mon terms for a group will be those that the group most com­monly uses for itself. Wikipedia should use them too.

Any per­son whose gen­der might be ques­tioned should be referred to by the gen­dered nouns, pro­nouns, and pos­ses­sive adjec­tives that reflect that person’s lat­est expressed gen­der self-identification. This applies in ref­er­ences to any phase of that person’s life. Nev­er­the­less, avoid con­fus­ing or seem­ingly log­i­cally impos­si­ble text that could result from pro­noun usage (for exam­ple: instead of He gave birth to his first child, write He became a par­ent for the first time).

This has been gen­er­ally been con­strued to mean “refer to peo­ple as they pre­fer to be referred to”. So the woman born Ste­fani Ger­man­otta is referred to as Lady Gaga (or sim­ply “Gaga”), and the man born as Chastity Bono is referred to (since his tran­si­tion) as Chaz. And there is no dis­pute that Bre­anna wants to be referred to as female:

i wouldn’t mind going to prison for the rest of my life, or being exe­cuted so much, if it wasn’t for the pos­si­bil­ity of hav­ing pic­tures of me … plas­tered all over the world press … as [a] boy … the CPU is not made for this motherboard …

But, time and time again, she has been mis­gen­dered as a man? Why? Because the sources say so. Source fetishism is a prob­lem on Wikipedia, where peo­ple just blindly believe the sources with­out exam­in­ing the con­text; there was a short-lived arti­cle on “female priv­i­lege” solely because some­one had found the term in a few aca­d­e­mic papers. The “com­mon name” pol­icy is often mis­used in such a way, and I have been long an oppo­nent of its appli­ca­tion. The talk page archive shows the latent trans­pho­bia there, that Breanna’s own iden­ti­fi­ca­tion is less impor­tant than what the news says. And even worse, she’s not even in the cat­e­gories for  Category:Transgender and trans­sex­ual peo­ple. As the user 7daysahead says, “it is… on the verge of abu­sive to leave the arti­cle as it is; even if we admit uncer­tainty it’s not worth the risk to not change things.”

And really, gen­der pro­nouns are not some mag­i­cal indeli­ble unchange­able part of one­self. They’re part of an iden­tity. And so should gen­dered pro­nouns: if someone’s gen­der iden­tity is female, and prefers the pro­noun “she”, even if she presents as male, even if she wishes to remain bio­log­i­cally male, then peo­ple should respect that person’s wishes and refer to her as such. It’s not rocket sci­ence. Gen­der isn’t inher­ent or clear cut. Hell, sex isn’t even clear cut. But soci­ety doesn’t want to recog­nise that yet, and insists on gen­der polic­ing, when it’s not moral or even necessary.


  1. J. Trandstom says:

    Gen­der pro­nouns are not some mag­i­cal indeli­ble unchange­able part of one­self … but not using the right one is on the verge of abusive”.

    You’re reach­ing near-Republican lev­els of cog­ni­tive dissonance.

    • Sarah says:

      It’s not up to any­one else to decree despite someone’s wishes what gen­der pro­noun should be used. While we can’t explic­itly ask Man­ning what pro­nouns she’d pre­fer, it’s very clear that she would’ve pre­ferred to be (in)famous as a woman.

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