Xeni Jardin at 6:00 PM Sunday, Jun 20, 2010
Yesterday, I published what purported to be more detailed versions of IM logs between alleged whistleblower US Army PFC Bradley Manning and hacker Adrian Lamo, revealing specific countries and issues implicated in military documents Manning is alleged to have leaked to Wikileaks.
Journalists such as Washingtonian's Shane Harris have speculated that the "adjustment disorder" for which Manning was reportedly about to be discharged might indicate a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" issue within the military.
But these logs may also suggest that Manning's state of crisis involved a different gender identity issue.
Shortly after I published the logs, a comment appeared on my post:
"I had no idea Bradley Manning was a transsexual until I read this. That's got to put a fellow into a strange headspace in the first place."
I asked our moderators to not publish the comment, in keeping with our moderation guidelines. It appeared to be off-topic, and an attempt at a personal attack. But shortly after that comment appeared, someone I do not know who identified themselves as a transgender person tweeted at me:
Congratulations. You just outed Manning.
As transgender? Two pings one after another, from apparently different readers? What was going on, and what could I have failed to see? What could I have missed in the chat logs?
I went back to the logs, to try and make sense...
(1:11:54 PM) bradass87: and... its important that it gets out... i feel, for some bizarre reason
(1:12:02 PM) bradass87: it might actually change something
(1:13:10 PM) bradass87: i just... dont wish to be a part of it... at least not now... im not ready... 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 boy...
(1:14:11 PM) bradass87: i've totally lost my mind... i make no sense... the CPU is not made for this motherboard...
(1:14:42 PM) bradass87: s/as boy/as a boy
(1:30:32 PM) bradass87: >sigh<
(1:31:40 PM) bradass87: i just wanted enough time to figure myself out... to be myself... and be running around all the time, trying to meet someone else's expectations
(1:32:01 PM) bradass87: *and not be
(1:33:03 PM) bradass87: im just kind of drifting now...
(1:34:11 PM) bradass87: waiting to redeploy to the US, be discharged... and figure out how on earth im going to transition
(1:34:45 PM) bradass87: all while witnessing the world freak out as its most intimate secrets are revealed
(1:35:06 PM) bradass87: its such an awkward place to be in, emotionally and psychologically
The phrase around "as a boy" and the use of the verb "transition," jumped out, and reading through again, dots seemed to connect: is Manning struggling with gender identity? If these chat logs really are authentic, and if Manning wasn't punking Adrian Lamo, could Manning ("bradass87") have meant,
"I can accept prison or the death sentence as punishment for leaking these documents, I just can't accept the possibility of going through that before I've fully transitioned to being seen by others as female, which is how I already see myself."
When I read the "somewhat less redacted" Lamo/Manning logs before publishing them on Boing Boing, I thought the use of the word "transition" meant transitioning from military to civilian life -- nothing more. Manning said he was about to be discharged from the military. The "as a boy" line struck me as odd, but the notion that any of this had anything to do with transgenderism never entered my mind. But now, that passage suggested that the Boing Boing commenter and the person on Twitter might be on to something.
The phrases that seemed to support the commenters' theory that Manning was pre-transition transgender were redacted from Boing Boing. A note that a redaction had taken place was added to the post.
News reports have typically describe the logs as 'boasting,' but that seems far from a complete picture of Manning's tone in these exchanges.
I don't have access to complete, verifiably authentic chat logs between Manning and Lamo. None of us, probably not even the people who do have access to those logs, have a clue as to what Manning's motives might have been. While speculation runs wild, we don't know what, if anything, Manning actually leaked to Wikileaks.
But if the personal crisis suggested here were true, it would certainly broaden the scope of Manning's motives and state of mind, and reveal a wealth of internally conflicted human drives that recontextualize the story.
We still wouldn't know why Manning may have done what he is reported to have done. But we might have a better idea of factors contributing to Manning's distress, and why he might "confess" to Lamo, who is reported to have then turned Manning in to authorities.
Was Bradley Manning a transgender person unable to transition because he was active duty military? Did Manning, in isolation and distress while stationed in Iraq, reach out to Adrian Lamo in part because Manning believed Lamo —whom the internet-searchable public record shows has been an active member of the LGBT community—would be empathetic to a fellow geek going through a gender identity crisis?
There's no evidence suggesting this other than what we believe to be Manning's own ambiguous IMs to Lamo, which may have have been a kind of gambit.
We can't very well ask Manning, who is now reported to be in military detention in Kuwait.
In previous news accounts and interviews with Lamo, the hacker said that Manning simply found him after searching for the term "wikileaks" on Twitter, then initiating contact via instant message. That doesn't seem to make much sense.
Lamo is reported to have then identified himself to Manning as both a journalist and a minister, citing confidentiality obligations of both professions for "sources" or persons who "confess." Perhaps this, combined with a sense of shared identity and kinship in the LGBT community, could have encouraged Manning to share more information than he might have otherwise.
"To me, the most telling line is 'The CPU is not made for this motherboard," said a source with deep ties in the LGBT community.
"It's such an unusual phrase, and it's the one that jumps out at me most strongly, besides the use of the word 'transition,' which is very prevalent among trans people. We even use it as a verb. That portion of the exchange is pretty tightly packed with trans code words and lingo and analogies."
"It doesn't sound like it's just about gender identity, either, but also about Manning's identity as an aspiring hacker, as a military person, and this transition of social identity from military to civilian. All of it suggests the profile of a person who is clearly at a crossroads in life. And they've unfortunately taken a very troubling path."
I forget what ONTD_P's stance is on websites like Boing Boing, but I haven't seen mentions of this anywhere in the mainstream media. Some of the comments at the source suggest that this is just coincidence stemming from similar terminology used in the Armed Forces (e.g. "transition"). Thoughts? Is this relevant to the issue? Does this change anything? Should it? Personally, if this is true, all I can think of is wanting to reach out and stab Lamo in the eye with a rebar for manipulating somebody's pain and fear to get to play 'hero.'