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Facing my fear: being in public as a woman for the very first time

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Reprinted from The Guardian

I'd long known I was a woman. But it was the height of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," so I hid my true self. Then, one day on leave, I decided enough was enough

Chelsea Manning
Chelsea Manning
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The first time I passed as a woman in public was on leave in the US from my deployment to Iraq in February 2010.

I'd long known I was a woman, but I'd been afraid, and a bit embarrassed, to appear publicly as myself before this. Not only was I worried that I could lose my already-tenuous connections with my family, but I was terrified that I could face administrative, or even criminal, charges from the military. It was the height of "Don't Ask Don't Tell," and we in the queer and trans community lived in fear on a regular basis.

Then I went to Iraq, where death was all around me. It made me realize just how precious and frail life really is. I decided I wanted to take the plunge, and do something that I wanted to do, for once. For myself.

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I remember nervously shopping for the clothes I wore that day. I had decided to go into a department store and buy a gorgeous casual business outfit. I walked into the store and snuck over to the women's section. I was wandering around for 10 or 15 minutes looking at many outfits in many different sizes. I realized that I didn't know where to start.

It was then that one of the sales associates walked over.

"Can I help you?" she asked.

"Yes, actually, you can," I replied with a catch in my throat. "I am trying to buy a professional outfit for my girlfriend for a job interview. She's never really worn business outfits before, so she wasn't able to give me any guidance."

"Oh absolutely," the saleslady said brightly. "I can help you with that. What are her sizes?"

I paused. "I don't remember," I said, thinking fast. "But she's about my size, except she has a B cup."

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It was her turn to pause. "This might seem a little odd," she said, "but can I just measure you real fast?" So she did, while I explained deceptively that my girlfriend was two inches taller than me.

"That doesn't change the size at all," she said, pulling out some options. I joined her -- once I knew what sizes to look for, I could start picking out things I liked right away. I felt more comfortable mixing and matching things together rather than being too coordinated, and she and I were able to put together a nice outfit quickly. I bought a casual gray business suit jacket and skirt with a white blouse and black tights.

I walked out of the store, moving with purpose. I ran to my car. Where to now?

The next stop was a high-end cosmetics store and then a discount outlet to buy a nice coat, since it was cold. This time, I wasn't as clueless. I knew cosmetics pretty well already, as I had purchased and worn makeup many times before. I had figured out my coat size with the nice sales lady in the department store. I found a faded purple coat and bought it.

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Private Chelsea (Bradley) Manning is the heroic whistleblower whose actions, releasing secret government documents, through Wikileaks, contributed to setting off the Arab Spring and discussions about military policy, diplomatic policy and (more...)
 

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