Wokeness at the DOJ

A shout-out to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Virginia.

I didn’t want to derail the discussion of Julian Assange’s indictment by the Justice Department but it’s worth noting the wokeness displayed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Virginia in constantly referring to Manning as “Chelsea/her” even though the crimes were committed as “Bradley/him.” My understanding is that this is indeed the preferred practice and I commend the prosecutors for their respectful treatment of the trans community here, even though I’m sure they have little respect for Manning herself.

I would once again add the caveat that the academic in me would at least like a footnote or some other mention that the crimes were committed when Manning was presenting as “Bradley.” While she’s perhaps famous enough with the contemporary audience that it’s unnecessary, these documents will eventually be read by future scholars and others without personal familiarity with the case. We shouldn’t consider it hateful “dead-naming” to include context in journalistic or official documents.

Most reports or references to Manning’s life since presenting as Chelsea wouldn’t need such reference to her previous identity, any more than most references to a married woman would need to mention her maiden name or most references to Kareem Abdul Jabbar would need to mention Lew Alcindor. But if the story was mostly about their exploits under the old name, a clarification would generally be useful.

FILED UNDER: Gender Issues, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. John Peabody says:

    A nation breathes a long sigh of relief. OTB has recognized the correctness of the Eastern District of Virginia.

  2. grumpy realist says:

    This reminds me of the problem that Japan has had with married female scientists wanting to keep their maiden names. Japanese law still insists that a woman change her name when she marries*. The traditionalists huff and puff, the female scientists say “well, if you’re going to insist on throwing all the work I’ve done up to now into a black hole of inaccessibility, I just won’t get married, period.” Then the traditionalists scream bloody murder about the modern Japanese woman not getting married and having kids (collapse of the Japanese population, oh woe!), the female scientists ignore them, etc. etc. and so on.

    My suggested solution was to cross-reference like mad in all the databases so whenever a publication search was done on one of the names the other name would come up. It would have required a lot of hard work, but was more practical rather than trying to change the law.

    (*except for the relatively rare cases where the husband is “adopted” into a family so the family name doesn’t die out.)

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @grumpy realist: Huh, I would’ve just suggested leaving the 14th century and changing the law.

  4. Kathy says:

    James, let it go.

    It’s an old “problem” in history. People change their names, or the name they are known by changes, all the time. In Mike Duncan’s telling of the English revolution, you started with Joe Blow, for example, who later becomes Lord Cherrybottom, or something, earl of Lumpford, or whatever. Who cares?

    The infamous Caligula had a full name. Caligula was a childhood nickname that means “cute little army boot.” Caesar’s given name was Gaius. Julius was his family name. It goes on and on.

    Even whole empires are called today something different. The Byzantine Empire called itself the Roman Empire, which it totally was right up until the fall of Constantinople in the XV Century CE.

    About the only time I can recall this has become a problem, is in regard to the Amarna(*) Period in Egypt. After the death of Pharaoh Akhenaten, we hear for a short time of an obscure Pharaoh named Smenkhkare(**), whom historians haven’t quite identified. Some think this pharaoh is Nefertiti, Akhenaten’s royal wife. Egyptian pharaohs took on a literal carload of names after ascending to the throne, so this would be normal. But we don’t even know if Smenkhkare changed their name to begin with.

    That’s that.

    But I’ll ask: if Bradley Manning had changed names to, say, Robert Manning, would you be making a big deal about it?

    (*) Amarna is what we call that era today. It’s named after the local Arabic name for the region where Akhenaten built his new court and capital, away from the older capitals like Memphis. The name of the place in Akhenaten’s time was Akhetaten.

    (**) Yes, this name would be heretical to Akhenaten.

  5. MarkedMan says:


    But I’ll ask: if Bradley Manning had changed names to, say, Robert Manning, would you be making a big deal about it?

    I’m with James on this one. First, I don’t think he’s making a big deal about it. And second, speaking only for myself, in your Bradley to Robert scenario I would appreciate a mention that previous articles referred to Robert Manning as Bradley Manning. Newspapers are a series of “posts” that don’t automatically refer back to themselves. When Manning first appeared in the newspapers she was Bradley, and the many, many articles that were written on her back then made no mention of Chelsea. If you were to get interested in the story for the first time and want to search for what it was that Manning did all those years ago, you wouldn’t find anything. A brief note that earlier articles reference her as “Bradley Manning” would be helpful.

  6. grumpy realist says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: This is Japan…..stuff that gets considered “traditional” gets carried on forever. The other aspect nailing this tradition firmly into place is the history of authorities wanting to be able to track families, so there’s this insistence that all members of a family have the same name. And the births get recorded. In the official “seat” of the family. Those links stretch way, WAY back and are very firmly part of the Japanese identity. Which is why it’s common when you ask Japanese where they’re from, they’ll mention a tiny little hamlet on the backside of Shikoku, nebbermind that the family has for the last five generations been living in a Tokyo suburb. And that tiny little hamlet on the backside of Shikoku is where they’re expected to go visit during Obon–the Japanese version of the Feast of the Dead. (The trads still insist on the week of August 15th, even though the Japanese government has been trying to shove the holiday into July. For years.)

    My Japanese friends found it amazing that I wasn’t able to rattle off my family history going back generations–because THEY certainly could. This isn’t to say that there weren’t, erm, CHANGES in families…my neighbours told me that two branches of their family had managed to end up swapping offspring at some point fleeing from some disaster–one branch of the family had made it over to Hawaii but without their own son and with the son of the other family–and had never gotten around to swapping the kids back.

  7. Jay L Gischer says:

    As the parent of a trans woman, I face this sort of issue a lot. For instance, how do I tell the story of her birth, given that what we said at the time was, “It’s a boy!”. Because we didn’t know, and had no way to know, that she was trans.

    I am happy to describe the camping trip we went on when she was eight in terms of “she did this” and “she didn’t like that” and so on. The pronoun refers to her person now, and the past tense puts that person into the past. But sometimes the story involves recounting what people said, or wrote, and at the time, they used male pronouns and her old, male name.

    I’ll tell you one of my favorite stories from their childhood to illustrate. I will use Thing One for the older, cisgendered daughter and Thing Two for the younger, because I don’t want to put their names on the internet for them.

    Thing Two was slow to talk, though she was very adept at pointing and grunting to communicate. So Thing One, who was quite a precocious talker, and older, fell to translating her wishes. One time, after point and grunt, she said, “Thing Two wants a cookie! And he thinks I should have one too!”. Thing Two looks puzzled for a minute, then nods in agreement. Yes, that works!

    So, in the quote, I would use a male pronoun and her (dead) male name. Because that’s what Thing Two said, and it bothered me to not accurately report that. Furthermore, unlike most such things, it’s hard to find a way to tell this story that avoid the problem, though I can often restructure other stories to avoid direct quotes.

    Yet, the story doesn’t depend on Thing One’s gender, or specific name. If I insert her current, legal name and gender, it’s still funny. So I’m switching to that.

    But yeah, I get that it creates some internal conflict to do so. To me, she’s worth it. We’re about 10 years into the process, and this sort of thing is getting easier every day.

  8. Michael j Reynolds says:

    @Jay L Gischer:
    I’m in the same situation and stumbling at the same point. Past events: filed under male name. Recent events: female name. It seems vaguely dishonest to refer to someone by a name that no longer applies, but it also doesn’t much matter as you point out. It’s basically an issue with my database (brain) as to how I labeled a file, now needing a small bit of code reminding me to switch ‘C’ for ‘J.’ I certainly understand people being confused, I was. Then again, my poor wife had to call me Frank, David and Carter in public and switch back to Michael in private, and she never screwed up. It’s possible she’s a bit quicker than I am.

  9. Stormy Dragon says:

    The DOJ doesn’t want to indict her when she committed the crimes, they want to indict her now. If she was indicted under her old name, she could file a habeas on the grounds that she’s not the person named in the indictment.

  10. grumpy realist says:

    @Stormy Dragon: This is the sort of thing that you do only as a delaying tactic rather than a real defence. Continuing to push it as a real reason as to why said individual shouldn’t be charged will just piss off the judge.

  11. Franklin says:

    @Kathy: Very respectfully, I also disagree. In this case, most of your examples are of people who became famous or made their place in history after the name change.

    I think we’re most of us are aware of the name Cassius Clay because he had at least one major fight before he changed his name. Wikipedia reports, correctly in my opinion, “Clay (later Ali) won when …”

    Bradley Cooper and especially Bruce Jenner were well known before their name change. I really don’t agree that James is doing this simply because it was also a gender change.

    And let’s not get started on Prince.

  12. grumpy realist says:

    @Franklin: Ha. Take a look at the multiple names that Hokusai decided to use during his career….I’ve got a scroll painting dating from his “old man of the mountains” period. (Unfortunately insufficient provenance to be able to prove it was actually done by him. The pigments are from the right period.)

  13. Joe says:

    Here’s my two stories: First, as a lawyer who handles cases that are expert-intensive, I am regularly confronted initially by the names of opposing party experts. The first order of business is to search for all prior testimony and professional writing of this person. While it would never occur to me to ask whether a man had written or testified under any other name, it would be malpractice not to ask a woman. I knew one expert who actually changed both her last and first names over the course of her career.

    Second, I have a slightly different pronoun issue. As a divorced man living in the house where I spent almost 20 years of my marriage, I sometimes stumble over explaining who did certain things here. “We” did this and that in “my” house. It can be a little awkward to have a new date ask about the provenance of decor that my ex-wife had a central hand in choosing. NBD, but life is full of changes.

  14. Boyd says:

    I had a similar reaction while reading your earlier post, too, James. It leaves a retcon taste in my mouth which I hadn’t coalesced into the rationale you mentioned. But later generations likely won’t equate Bradley with Chelsea without some mention of the circumstances.

  15. Gustopher says:


    The infamous Caligula had a full name.

    I now have the Oscar Meyer song running in my head now, and I can’t fit the life of Caligula into it. I hope you’re happy with yourself.

    The infamous Caligula had a full name,
    Gaius Julius Something-or-other….

  16. Gustopher says:


    But I’ll ask: if Bradley Manning had changed names to, say, Robert Manning, would you be making a big deal about it?

    If Bradley Manning had changed his name to Micheal Manning, or Thor, The God Of Thunder, it would be safe to put in an explanatory note, without running afoul of dead-naming, or causing a pronoun stumble.

    Thor, The God Of Thunder (then known as Bradley Manning), was convicted of many crimes after he was very naughty.

    Clarity pretty much demands the former name be used. It wouldn’t be a problem with transfolk if bigots weren’t intentionally using transfolks’ former names to deny who they are now.

    I’m on the side of clarity, and paying some attention to intent, and not creating a series of landmines people must carefully navigate to avoid being called a bigot when they are just being clear. (During the great transgender/transgendered kerfluffle of 2010 or so, I switched to transfolk, because I just kept getting it wrong… one is offensive, one is correct, but they look the same! Is there a difference between transgender and transexual? I have no idea! Auugh! I could just use whatever the person before me used, but what if they’re using the wrong one? Noooo….)

    I’d also shift into singular they if I wasn’t sure which pronoun to use.

    Chelsea Manning (then known as Bradley Manning), was convicted of many crimes after they were very naughty. She now runs a charity or a marathon or whatever.

    But if this is the biggest problem transfolk face, they’ve solved a lot of problems.

  17. MarkedMan says:


    And let’s not get started on Prince.

    A bit of a tangent, but the Artist-Formerly-Known-As-Prince thing is worth it. When he did it I took it as just another bit of rock star eccentricity, but a few years before his death I began to realize that he was actually a very smart, very thoughtful person. Given that, what was up with changing his name to an unpronounceable symbol? It turns out it was his incredibly brilliant solution to a mess he had created for himself. He had a record company he despised but which had him locked down for multiple albums. He absolutely refused to release another album with them, but that meant that he couldn’t release another album under his own name, period. He couldn’t even appear on someone else’s album under his own name.* I imagine he contemplated changing his name, but realized that fans would be confused. So he changed his name to a symbol, one which most print media had no typeset for. He insisted that it had no pronunciation. And it didn’t even look like any other character, so fans couldn’t start calling him “Ankh” or “Celtic Cross” or some other sort of similar character. Which meant that every time anyone referred to him they had to identify him as the “Artist formerly known as Prince”. He got the practical benefit of changing his name while ensuring that everyone constantly name checked who he really was. Now, as far as I know, he never admitted this was his motivation as it would have certainly invited lawsuits. But given his intelligence and his personality, it’s pretty obvious what his motivation was. Brilliant.

    *This issue is more common than you might think with musicians who are friends working for different labels. It’s why on one album the late, great Harry Nilsson had “John Lemming” and “George Harrysong” as backup musicians.

  18. Kathy says:


    But if this is the biggest problem transfolk face,

    That may be the biggest problem we face, with people who are accepting or tolerant (people who pretend to be are a different matter). it seems a needless insistence in dead-naming, which grants permission for other kinds of dead-naming which are not at all well-intentioned.

    I don’t buy the clarity argument, BTW. When discussing Bob Haldeman, do you need to point out his name was not Bob?

  19. grumpy realist says:

    P.S. have been told that the many many long Russian names is one reason why non-Russians find reading books by Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky so difficult. Alexander Federnikov Paulovich Mussiyenko gets known by any one, two, or three of his names, plus all the nicknames (“Sasha”). Yet somehow Russian readers keep this straight in their heads, no problem. No wonder the Russians are so good at mental stuff….

  20. Gustopher says:

    @Kathy: was Bob Halderman previously Nancy Halderman, and did they have a significant career as Nancy Halderman for which they were previously known?

    I get that it’s problematic that the most well known transfolks, such as Bob Halderman, are the ones who were known by their previous identity, and that these are the exact cases that need the clarification. It sets a standard that allows for some malicious dead naming.

    Minimal reference of previous name, as required to make an article or story make sense with or without background information (Manning is probably referred to by last name elsewhere, which hasn’t changed and is clear). I think that’s an easy and clear standard.

    And it avoids readings like “Wait, I thought Bradley Manning leaked data. It was Bradley AND Chelsea? What is wrong with that family?”

    Anyone who refers to Chelsea Manning as Bradley, when discussing her current work or legal issues, is an asshole. Same with people who insist upon calling Bob Halderman Nancy. They’re almost certainly a bigot, but at the very least they are inconsiderately clueless.

    In another few decades, I don’t think it will matter as much because transfolk will be transitioning earlier.

  21. Gustopher says:

    @grumpy realist: And yet we recognize Donald Trump as David Dennison, Mango Mussolini, Cuck l’Orange, Hairless Trumpenfuhrer, John Barron, Individual One, and countless other names and nicknames.

    It’s just a matter of familiarity and expectation.

    That said, I would love an ebook option to convert all the options of Alexander Federnikov Paulovich Mussiyenko to Alex or Fred, so I can follow it. Yes, it isn’t authentic, but none of it’s authentic, it’s all in a different language than authentic.

  22. Michael j Reynolds says:

    Apropos of nothing, one of my wife’s childhood friends was the daughter of the guy who wrote the Oscar Meyer wiener song. I gather it was quite a lucrative bit of work.

  23. James Joyner says:


    In Mike Duncan’s telling of the English revolution, you started with Joe Blow, for example, who later becomes Lord Cherrybottom, or something, earl of Lumpford, or whatever. Who cares?

    That actually gets very confusing, at least for me. Mike does a good job of at least mentioning those transitions and occasionally clarifying that this Lord Cherrybottom isn’t the Lord Cherrybottom from two episodes ago. In audio format, such as a podcast, that’s about all one can do. In a written format, I would expect similar mentions and then either an appendix or index or some other device that aggregates all mentions of the same person under their various names.


    Bradley Cooper and especially Bruce Jenner were well known before their name change. I really don’t agree that James is doing this simply because it was also a gender change.

    In this particular instance, that’s absolutely right. Chelsea Manning didn’t hand documents over to WikiLeaks; Bradley did. Caitlyn Jenner didn’t win the men’s decathlon; Bruce did.

    Now, in Kathy’s defense, there are some instances of this where the gender issue bugs me. For example, it’s simply not true that Kris Jenner was married to Caitlyn Jenner; she was married to Bruce. We shouldn’t retcon Kris into a lesbian partnership because her husband latter presented as a woman.

    @Kathy: @Gustopher: I’m confused by this discussion. Are we talking about H.R. “Bob” Haldeman? I don’t think shortforms are in the same category. Similarly, people known by stage names their whole career (Harry Houdini, John Wayne, Elton John, etc.) don’t really create a problem. In a longer feature, their childhood name might be important. Otherwise, typically not.