It's been nearly three months since former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning--at the time, Bradley-- walked the streets for the first time as a free woman. And now, the 29-year-old trans women boasted her new look--and opened up about her life--on the cover of 'Vogue' magazine.
In the roughly 5,000-word essay writer Nathan Heller documents Manning's initial appearances to the New York social scene following her early release from Fort Leavenworth prison, in which she served seven years for leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks.
"Tonight, a summer Monday, is a different kind of coming-out. To honor the occasion, she has picked an event with a celebratory turn: the after-party for the Lambda Literary Awards, which each year honor books by members of the LGBTQ community."
Manning, who, to some has been hailed a hero, and, to others, a traitor, addresses a wide-range of issues in the Vogue profile, touching on everything from her troubled life growing up with divorced parents, decision to share 750,000 sensitive documents to Julian Assange's "whistle blower" organization, and her life in prison.
Manning had to quickly grow up during her adolescent years. After her father left her mother, Manning's mother swallowed a bottle of pills--forcing her and her sister to admit her to the hospital. Throughout the subsequent years, Manning had to manage her mother's alcoholism with her sister, Casey, all while trying to navigate basic responsibilities.
“I had to learn how to do all of this stuff with my mother and also deal with the friction between my parents,” Manning said in Vogue. “I loved them both, but they were angry at each other. I always felt like I was doing something wrong and I had caused it.”
Following a series of relocation, Manning's anxiety about her identity caused her great grief. At 19, she began seeing a therapist for the first time.
“That’s the part of my life I replay the most: whether or not, living in Maryland and seeing a therapist, I could have finally been able to say, ‘This is who I am; this is what I want to do.’ It was the first time in my life when I really considered transitioning. But I got scared."
So Manning did what seemed contrary to her identity--she joined the military in hopes of figuring it all out.
"It was a naive thought, but it was very real to me in 2007," she said.
It was during that period of her life in which Manning felt the need to publish what she called "wrongdoing" by the government. In the profile, Manning never admitted that she regrets her decision to publish state secrets.
“I’ve accepted responsibility for my own decisions and my own actions,” she continued. "I think it’s important to remember that when somebody sees government wrongdoing—whether it’s illegal or immoral or unethical—there isn’t the means available to do something about it,” she says. “Everyone keeps saying, You should have gone through the proper channels! But the proper channels don’t work.”
As a result of her actions, Manning was sentenced to 35 years, charged with 20 counts. The day after her sentencing, Manning publicly came out as trans.
The transition to prison is likely to be a difficult one for any individual, but particularly for a recently-debuted trans woman. While incarcerated, Manning partnered with the American Civil Liberties Union to advocate for better health care in prison. Their efforts were often stonewalled, though. Manning attempted suicide twice. Then, in January, after seven years in prison, President Obama commutated her sentence.
“Let’s be clear: Chelsea Manning has served a tough prison sentence,” Obama said. “I feel very comfortable that justice has been served.”
Since her May 17 release, Manning has kept a low profile in New York. She doesn't plan on living there forever, though. Soon, she hopes to head to the Maryland suburbs--not far from where she grew up.
"My goal is to use these next six months to figure out where I want to go," she added. “I have these values that I can connect with: responsibility, compassion,” she goes on. “Those are really foundational for me. Do and say and be who you are because, no matter what happens, you are loved unconditionally.”
Read the full interview here.