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Can a website vote on a person’s gender transition?
When convicted WikiLeaks whistleblower Pfc. Chelsea Manning—née Bradley Manning—announced she would live as a female, Wikipedia editors launched into an intense debate about how to handle Manning’s gender reassignment.
Now, the administrators’ official verdict is in. On Wikipedia, Chelsea has been sentenced to remain Bradley.
Although Manning’s entry acknowledges her name change and refers to her using female pronouns, administrators decided they didn’t have the consensus needed to rename the “Bradley Manning” entry, and that readers were still more likely to search for Bradley than for Chelsea.
They added that Manning’s legal and biological status weren’t considered in the decision, as those factors aren’t part in Wikipedia’s editorial policies.
“This was by no means an easy process, and the closing administrators recognize that any conclusion to this discussion would engender further controversy; however, we are in agreement that this result is the only proper interpretation of the discussion conducted with respect to this dispute,” wrote bd2412, on behalf of the admins.
Wikipedians have continued the debate on the talk page of Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, where a veteran Wikipedia user named Josh Gorand argued that voting on whether to recognize a person’s gender transition is extremely problematic, and that “deliberately misgendering a transgendered person … is generally a form of violence.”
Wales himself dismissed the argument, maintaining that discussion and a vote was the fairest way to settle the debate.
“I’d like to suggest that rhetoric that using the name ‘Bradley’ rather than ‘Chelsea’ is a ‘form of violence’ against that person is completely false, and it not something that is even remotely ‘generally considered’ to be violence,” he added.
While the English-language version of Wikipedia opted not to use Manning’s new name, at least seven other editions of Wikipedia—including Swedish, Dutch, Persian, Danish, and Finnish—have adopted “Chelsea Manning” as the article title.
Although the debate is closed for now, administrators said they would consider addition proposals for the move to “Chelsea Manning” after 30 days have passed.
UPDATE: Jimmy Wales points out that he has personally been a vocal supporter of the move from “Bradley Manning” to “Chelsea Manning.” It was the allegations of violence with which he took issue, not the name change itself. In an earlier discussion on his talk page, Wales wrote, “We ought to very strongly defer to how people identify themselves.”
Image via Wikimedia Commons, remix by Jay Hathaway
Jay Hathaway is a former senior writer who specialized in internet memes and weird online culture. He previously served as the Daily Dot’s news editor, was a staff writer at Gawker, and edited the classic websites Urlesque and Download Squad. His work has also appeared on nymag.com, suicidegirls.com, and the Morning News.