Former U.S. military intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning has penned an op-ed for Yahoo Beauty in which she recalls her time in the military, saying she felt uncomfortable around men who “objectify and denigrate women behind closed doors.”
“The one place I never felt at all comfortable in the military was in private circles of conversation,” she wrote in the column, published Wednesday. “There’s a tendency, especially among young men, to objectify and denigrate women behind closed doors. They’d say ridiculous, raunchy things about women — call them sluts and whores, basically just treat them like objects. It was a line I just couldn’t cross. I’d try to avoid those kinds of macho conversations, because that’s inevitably what would come up. I’d get very, very distant.”
Manning, who has come out as transgender, explained that she enrolled in the military at age 20, at a time she was openly gay and was going through periods of cross-dressing, and even had “thought about transitioning.”
“To overcompensate — and because I was constantly being reminded of how inadequate I was as a male — I enrolled in the military,” she wrote. “My thought was, ‘I must enlist and man up.'”
She also touched on the military leaks that landed her in prison and said that she never expected a widely publicized picture of her in a blond wig would “be shared with the world.” (Manning was found guilty of 20 charges in 2013, when she was sentenced to 35 years for leaking classified information to WikiLeaks while serving in Iraq. The day after her sentencing, Manning came out publicly as trans, and became the first trans person to undergo hormone therapy in a military prison. Manning and her legal team appealed to President Obama for a commutation of her sentence — which he granted on Jan. 17. She remained in an all-male prison until she was released.)
Manning was released from Fort Leavenworth prison in May, and has been keeping a relatively low profile since — though she did speak out on Twitter after Trump announced his ban on transgender people serving in the military, and participated in New York City’s Pride March.
“I loved my job and I took my military career very seriously. There’s this idea out there that, had I not been trans, the leaks and stuff would never have happened,” she added. “But to my mind those are two completely separate things. Had I been out, I think I still would have been attracted to the military, but I would have been more comfortable and gotten along with people better. Being closeted often put me in situations where I couldn’t concentrate or even think straight.”