More on AP’s style on Pvt. Chelsea Manning

Yesterday the AP announced that we will use Pvt. Chelsea Manning to refer to the soldier convicted in the WikiLeaks case, rather than Pvt. Bradley Manning. We also will use female pronouns for Manning.

Our decision brought several questions from readers. In particular, readers asked if we were giving in to a pseudonym by accepting “Chelsea Manning” (middle name Elizabeth) or if we should have waited for Manning to do a legal change of name. Others questioned the whole idea of referring to Manning as a woman in the absence of sex-change surgery.

Our basic guidance on transgender people has been in the AP Stylebook for years. It applies to all people, not just celebrities or public figures. It says, “Use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth. If that preference is not expressed, use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly.”

Our guidance does not require sex-change surgery in order to present oneself as a member of the other sex. Manning is clearly presenting herself as a woman, so female pronouns apply.

But what about the name?

We often do use legal names as a guideline. But AP style is not ultimately determined by court or government action. We refer to many entertainment and sports figures by the names they’re commonly known by, whatever their legal names may be.

We do oppose pseudonyms, but that policy is based on the fact that most pseudonyms are used to conceal a person’s true identity. In the Manning case, there’s no question what person we’re talking about.

Manning’s case also does not involve a spur-of-the-moment change. An army psychiatrist testified at trial that Manning was diagnosed with gender-identity disorder in Iraq in 2010. On the basis of this testimony, the photograph of Manning as a woman and the private’s own signed statement, it seems clear that Manning’s new identity, including the name Chelsea, is a real thing to her.

When Chaz Bono, the child of Sonny and Cher, underwent a gender transformation from female to male, AP began referring to him as Chaz in 2009. His formal name change came only in 2010.

While the Stylebook doesn’t directly address name changes in transgender situations, it accepts “nicknames” such as Tiger Woods and Magic Johnson. The spirit of the Stylebook entry is that, after consideration, AP can call people what they wish to be called. Manning’s self-identification as Chelsea seems to merit at least the same consideration.

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About Tom Kent

Deputy managing editor and standards editor of The Associated Press, responsible for accuracy and balance across all AP news services. Frequent contributor to forums and conferences on newsroom ethics and organization. Adjunct professor at the School of International Affairs and Journalism School of Columbia University. Former AP correspondent or bureau chief in Russia, Iran, Belgium, Australia and the United States. Graduate of Yale University. Languages: French, Russian, Spanish. @tjrkent