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Chelsea Manning: 'This is what freedom looks like'

"It feels like it's how it's supposed to be, instead of this anxiety, this uncertainty, this ball of self-consciousness that comes with pretending to be male."

After spending a shortened sentence of seven years in prison, Chelsea Manning, the former Army intelligence analyst imprisoned for providing government secrets to Wikileaks, is out and talking to Vogue in the glossy magazine's September issue.

In the summer of 2013, Chelsea was tried as Bradley Manning but came out as trans the day after her sentencing. Now free at 29 years old (Obama commuted her 35-year sentence before leaving office in January), she talks about life on the outside.

READ MORE:
Chelsea Manning talks transition after release
'Here I am': Chelsea Manning shares new look
Obama commutes 35-year prison sentence

 

ON LIVING HER LIFE OPENLY AS A TRANS WOMAN TODAY

"It feels natural," Manning, who began transitioning while in prison, told the magazine. "It feels like it's how it's supposed to be, instead of this anxiety, this uncertainty, this ball of self-consciousness that comes with pretending to be male," she says. "It didn't feel right. I didn't know what it was. I couldn't describe it. Now that's gone."

 

A post shared by Chelsea E. Manning (@xychelsea87) on

ON DATING

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Manning, who was freed in May, says she hopes to begin dating soon. "I'm not planning to be single!" she told Vogue, adding that she intends to wait until her life settles in Maryland, US. She calls herself an extrovert. "I love being around people," she says.

ON HER LIFE IN PRISON

In prison, "the first thing I learned to do was avoid television," she says. She took out subscriptions to "50 or 60" periodicals, from news and global-affairs publication to science magazines, technical journals and fashion magazines. She also liked biographies and read Cheryl Strayed's memoir, Wild, three times. But the sentence was psychologically taxing: Manning tried to kill herself twice, the last time in October.

ON HER CHILDHOOD

Manning, whose mother once attempted suicide, recalls a childhood fraught with angry, separated parents to Vogue. Growing up, she considered herself to be gay. The first time Manning considered transitioning was at 19 while living with an aunt in Maryland. "It was the first time in my life when I really considered transitioning. But I got scared," she said, and instead joined the military, naively hoping that environment would solve her identity issues. Today, she says she's learned, "it is OK to be who I am."

ON LEAKING CLASSIFIED INFORMATION

Manning was convicted of leaking more than 700,000 classified documents, including battlefield reports on Iraq and Afghanistan and State Department cables, while working as an intelligence analyst in Iraq at age 22. She has said the leaks were intended to expose wrongdoing.

Called a whistleblower by some and a traitor by others, "I've accepted responsibility for my own decisions and my own actions," says Manning now. She also says she first tried to reach out to media outlets while on leave in 2010. But "I ran out of time," she says, and so before returning to Iraq, she sent files to WikiLeaks.

"Everyone keeps saying, You should have gone through the proper channels! But the proper channels don't work." 

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