Chelsea Manning Opens Up In This Beautiful Personal Essay

“I can’t pretend to be anyone else.”

Chelsea ManningPhoto by Photo: Janus Cassandra Kopfstein, edit by Quinn Lemmers/Yahoo

Chelsea Manning released a beautiful personal essay as told to Yahoo Beauty this morning. Since being released from prison in May, 2017 Manning can be seen on her Instagram page taking on the world with bold lips and a cute pixie cut. In opening up to Yahoo Beauty, Manning talks about what it feels like to be free in the world, how her trans identity played a role in her Military experience and the empowerment she feels from makeup and style.

“I’m wearing a lot of bold lipsticks, because I’m trying to make bold statements: I’m here and I’m free and I can do whatever I want,” Manning wrote. You can see hues of pink, dark blue and red complimenting her lips—she is free and she’s not holding back.

Being a trans woman in a male prison, most of her time being spent in solitary confinement, must have been a terrifying experience. Manning wasn’t allowed access to any trans affirming healthcare during her incarceration. In her essay she continues to write about her coming-out experience and that infamous photo of her wearing a wig, feeling her true identity for one of the first times ever. Manning took that photo while she was on leave in January, 2010 and never meant for it to be shared with the entire world. It was supposed to serve as a little memory of who she was in that moment of time. Having it shared with the world, going viral while she was incarcerated, was something she could never have guessed would ever happen.

Photo by U.S. Army via AP, File

“There’s this idea out there that, had I not been trans, the leaks and stuff would never have happened. 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. I loved my job, and had I been out, I think I would have been even better at it.”

In her essay, Manning says that she was out as a gay man by the time she was 20 years-old and entering the military. She had experimented with occasional cross-dressing but wasn’t ready to fully come out; she was living in denial. Her coming out as trans was a pivotal moment in her life, but by being immediately incarcerated she wasn’t able to fully express her true self until recently when she was finally released. Through self-expressive make-up and style she found a fun way to self-define her “cyberpunk” look.

Manning is committed to being an outspoken voice for the LGBTQ community. When we are in charge of our own narratives and our own liberation—nothing can stop us. “But what’s happened over the last 20 years is that the queer and trans community has depended on people who are not queer or trans to speak for us in places of power, whether that’s a state legislature or a courtroom,” Manning continued. “We need to show up and speak for ourselves now more than ever.”

As Manning ends the essay as told to Yahoo News, she tells the readers that she will always be true to herself: “I can’t pretend to be anyone else. I don’t have a public persona. The person you see is the person I am.”

I’m continually inspired by Manning’s story and how she uses her life experiences to empower others in the LGBTQ community. To me, she represents everything that the we as a community strive to be: Bold, authentic, resilient, radical and unafraid. I see the way Manning now lives with gumption and I know there are so many young queer and trans kids who are looking up to her. That gives me hope, that we have such strong LGBTQ role models paving the way.

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