Brad grew up in an unusual family. Both his father and mother were alcoholics. She wouldn’t stop boozing up even when she was carrying Brad. When he was a baby, his older sister Casey had to get up at night to feed him milk because their mother was too intoxicated to do it. A psychiatrist who once examined Brad made the observation that the patient showed typical signs of fetal alcoholic spectrum disorder (FASD).
When he was about 13, his parents divorced. Brad left the US with his mother and moved to Wales, UK where she had family. Brad was a good target for bullies at school in Wales because he was a foreigner and he was small in size and the other kids thought he was gay. He thought he was too, which he told a couple of friends. At the age of 17, he could not deal with his drunken mom anymore, and he returned to the US to live with his dad, who had remarried. The relationship with his father was good. The same could not be said with the latter’s wife. After a while it got so bad that he had to leave in a hurry in a pick-up truck his dad gave him, in which he would sleep at night at times.
By then Brad was an openly gay man. He did a number of odd jobs to support himself. Finally, he found a stable job in the US Army. Standing at a short 5 feet and 2 inches, and weighing barely over 100 pounds, and being gay, he had a hard time going through basic training in the army. One soldier who knew Brad told a newspaper reporter once, “The kid was barely five foot … He was a runt, so pick on him. He’s crazy, pick on him. He’s a faggot, pick on him….”
It is unclear whether Brad ever finished high school before he enlisted in the military. But apparently he had a sharp mathematical mind and a knack for computer work. His military supervisors saw that and soon he was working in electronic intelligence with very high clearance.
Despite success in finding a career he was seemingly wired for, and an end to a difficult childhood, two new crises emerged. One, Brad now knew he was inherently a woman. Records show that he contacted gender counselors in the army about female hormone treatments. Two, because of the sensitive military information that he was working on, he was troubled by and later disgusted at his own country’s foreign policies in the Middle East.
You probably have heard this from the news. Starting in about Year 2000, Brad started leaking classified and sensitive information to Wikileaks, particularly in relation to Iran and Afghanistan. Brad was caught in May 2010 by the authorities and charged with many crimes, including “aiding the enemy,” which was very serious. Brad was court-martialed and convicted in 2013.
Before then he was locked up in various military facilities, much of it in solitary confinement. The judge gave him a 35-year sentence.
Brad’s sentence was commuted – i.e., shortened, not pardoned, by President Barrack Obama in January 2017. The President said that his sentence was excessive in comparison to others who committed similar crimes. He was released in July the same year.
Chelsea Manning is her new legal name now. She changed it when she finally realized that she genuinely was a woman trapped in a man’s body, and she was not ashamed to admit it and announce it to the world anymore.
I am not a homosexual man, nor am I effeminate, at least I don’t look at myself that way. But I have no preconception of how good or bad a person is until I actually meet and get to know a little bit about that person. Your skin pigmentation and your sexual orientation are not my business and are not important to me. I have to confess, however, that I was not brought up to accept people that way. I was born and raised in Hong Kong, where the majority (not all, but the majority) of people did not and still do not like people who do not look Chinese. The social “hierarchy” is quite easy to follow: It’s Chinese first, and then it descends by the degree of pinkness or brownness in your skin. So if you look Caucasian, you get the most courtesy among non-Chinese, although behind your back, you are still “endearingly” referred to as a “white ghost 白鬼.” If you are African and very dark, I feel sorry for you because you are just a “black ghost 黑鬼” nicely positioned on the bottom rung of the societal ladder. My own parents would use those disparaging terms in front of us. Needless to say, they never told us it was wrong to do it. Hong Kong was a British colony until 1997. So when I was there, the white British people were the ruling elite. God, how this silly young child fantasized he was an albino unicorn so that everybody would kneel before me!
I left Hong Kong more than 40 years ago. Tell me things have changed and people are not like that anymore, and I will be a very happy man.
I am retelling the story of Chelsea Manning because I see the same bias and ignorance in America, although to a lesser degree than that of Hong Kong, for example. Ironically, bigotry and prejudice see no skin color, nationality, sexuality and every other barrier they create. Isn’t it funny?
Manning’s conduct in the military is illegal but controversial. Is she an embittered traitor, or is she just a naïve whistle-blower who followed her heart?
Well, one thing I know for sure. Life really sucks if you live one like hers. Whatever happened is in the past; I hope she still has some room for happiness.
*** The End ***
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