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 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.

2 thoughts on “On Wikipedia and Breanna Manning”

  1. “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.

    1. 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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