Chelsea Manning—graceful, blue-eyed, trans—smiles and prepares herself. Since her release from the Fort Leavenworth prison, on May 17, Manning has been living in New York, with a low profile. Tonight she will make her social debut in her own skin. From February to April 2010, while living as Bradley, an Army intelligence analyst stationed in Iraq, Manning sent three-quarters of a million classified or sensitive documents to WikiLeaks. The breach’s breadth was startling, as were its contents, ranging from the so-called Collateral Murder video, showing a U.S. helicopter killing a group of Baghdad pedestrians that included children and press, to hundreds of thousands of “Cablegate” documents, disclosing 44 years of State Department messaging. When Manning’s role became clear, she turned into a polarizing figure—celebrated as a whistle-blower by some, condemned as a traitor by others. In August 2013, after pleading guilty to ten charges and being found guilty of 20, she was sentenced to 35 years in prison. The day after the sentencing, Manning came out publicly as trans.
Tonight, a summer Monday, is a different kind of coming-out. To honor the occasion, she has picked an event with a celebratory turn: the after-party for the Lambda Literary Awards, which each year honor books by members of the LGBTQ community. The evening is glamorous; the guest list is varied. Here Manning will reintroduce herself to a community in which she seeks acceptance for more than her heavy past.