Chelsea Manning looks empowered and free in a new feature for the September issue of Vogue – and she sounds it too.
The former military specialist, who was released from prison in May following a commuted sentence, told the fashion magazine that despite the controversy surrounding her decision to leak more than 700,000 classified government documents via WikiLeaks, she does not regret doing so.
“I’ve accepted responsibility for my own decisions and my own actions,” she said, noting that her decision to leak the information was aligned with her own moral code. “I think it’s important to remember that when somebody sees government wrongdoing – whether it’s illegal or immoral or unethical – there isn’t the means available to do something about it. Everyone keeps saying, You should have gone through the proper channels! But the proper channels don’t work.”
Manning further explained that she had technically tried to get the information out through the mainstream press, but ultimately opted to go through WikiLeaks after getting nervous about her short window of opportunity to release the information.
“I did this all on leave. I had only twelve days,” she said of a period in early 2010 when she attempted to reach out to The Washington Post and The New York Times. “I ran out of time.”
Manning was tried and convicted in 2013 and came out as transgender the day after she was sentenced to 35 years in prison, a declaration that made her an activist icon for many.
In looking back at her life back then, Manning told Vogue that one of her regrets was not seeking support from her aunt and sister in the days prior to her enlistment in the army, when she was living with her aunt in suburban Maryland, even though she knew something felt off.
“That’s the part of my life I replay the most: whether or not, living in Maryland and seeing a therapist, I could have finally been able to say, ‘This is who I am; this is what I want to do,'” she said. “It was the first time in my life when I really considered transitioning. But I got scared. I really regret the fact that I didn’t know or realize I already had the love I needed, especially from my aunt and sister – just to seek support.”
Since leaving prison, Manning has been busy writing her memoir about her experiences, and is the subject of both a documentary in the works and an art project based on her DNA.
The installation, titled “Probably Chelsea,” consists of a futuristic collaboration between Manning and artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg, who used swabs of Manning’s DNA to create 30 mask-like faces via 3D portraits. Manning mailed cheek swabs and hair clippings to Dewey-Hagborg while she was behind bars, starting in 2015, and the artist extracted DNA information from the samples to generate possible portraits of her friend.