It’s been a long time! I see that you’ve moved back to Maryland from Kansas, got a whole new look going on, and what’s this I hear about you running for office?
Last letter I got from you was in 2015, when you were at Leavenworth and I was in L.A. Wow, lots of big changes for us, huh? Of course, like thousands of other people, I still find out what you’re up to thanks to Twitter, and saw that tweet last week that said “fuck the police,” on National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day, no less. I know a lot of our friends feel that way.
— Chelsea E. Manning (@xychelsea) January 9, 2018
But what’s got most everybody talking now is this thing with you gunning for U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin’s seat. That is so hard to get my head around! I need you to walk me through this, and help me help you.
Because I think you’re making a terrible mistake.
You remember, we both came out as transgender in 2013, and next month it’ll be three years since the Army approved the start of your medical transition with hormone therapy. Isn’t it amazing how it feels to live your real, authentic life now? Despite some bumps in the road, my life is good. Yours is too, I hope. You look amazing, hot even! Especially the hair — you know I’m jealous.
But wow, this Senate thing? Girl, your life is about to go totally upside-down bonkers and it’s not even a year since you left prison. This won’t be like it was when you were tried for espionage and sentenced to 35 years for leaking military secrets. OK, that was insane, but if you thought the media were tough on you before, the reporters on the politics beat have huge claws and are no doubt ready to pounce.
Tell you what, forget that, and let me just talk to you about your strategy. I’m not sure what you’re doing for work these days, but between us, maybe don’t stress your CV in your campaign? Bringing up your military experience is likely to backfire, especially with the veterans.
Taking on Cardin is definitely going to be a challenge too, and not just for you, of course. Three other people are running for his job. But didn’t the Human Rights Campaign give him high marks back in June of last year for the Lavender Scare bill? He’s not exactly an enemy to our cause, you know what I mean? And I read he has a war chest with $2 million already. I saw you’ve started fundraising, but c’mon: We trans women are not exactly blessed with deep pockets.
Hey, I saw your TV ad, where you show the cops beating people; I can’t tell where. Then you declare you’re “willing to fight” and “take the reins of power” from the establishment. "You're damn right," you say at the end. Love that! And the rose? Nice touch.
Looks like, what, iMovie? I mean, it’s cool and all. But it feels like it’s missing something, am I right?
I mean, that vid’s definitely targeting your WikiLeaks fan base, but what about, you know, issues? I mean, the ones that matter to Maryland voters, what are they? Do you even know?
OK, never mind. Let’s say, by some miracle, you win. Then what? Even if you run on the platform in your ad, the way the Senate works is not through seizing power but through collaboration, compromise, and being part of a party caucus that legislates together.
You know your criminal record and commutation would be nothing more than a lightning rod in Washington, one that will scare away all the people your constituents need you to work alongside for them to have a voice in our federal government.
That is what senators do: represent the people, all of them. As much as I know you are regaled as a hero whistleblower, there are many Americans who, fairly or not, brand you a traitor. And I’m just being straight with you: a candidate whose only achievements up to now are leaking government secrets, going to prison, and transitioning just cannot win enough votes to make this fight worthwhile.
How can I say this and you not hate me? Let’s find another way to get your name in the headlines and your face in front of the cameras without you spinning your wheels. Frankly, I don’t want you to be the latest trans woman to try to make a huge splash after coming out and fall flat on your face. You know it happened to me too, right?
There must be a role for you where you can still fight the power and not waste your time or soak up money that, if it’s supporting your bid, won’t go to help qualified pro-LGBT candidates beat bigoted anti-LGBT conservatives.
Look, Chels. You’re a smart woman. Way smarter than Donald Trump. And it’s because of him that we definitely need smart women like you — hey, like us — to work for change and to support the candidacy of qualified, electable leaders of tomorrow.
And I know you definitely see yourself as one of those leaders.
But I’d be lying to you if I told you that I do too. Not yet. It’s just too soon! And what this really looks like to a lot of us is you trying to get publicity instead of helping effect change.
With Trump as president and the Republicans in power, we need everybody to get more active in our communities and our local governments, and start the wheels turning. Did you see how many transgender people got elected last November? The Advocate even named transgender Americans persons of the year! And I’ll bet that was a huge inspiration to you. It was to me too.
I was inspired to get involved in local politics and even started my own talk show.
But I decided I will not be running for office right now. Instead, after spending the past year working behind the scenes of my town government, I’m focused on learning how it works from the inside.
Last week, I won an endorsement by the Democratic Party for a nonvoting seat on the town council. It’s a start, and I think I can make a difference for my neighbors.
And you can do things your way too, of course.
Good luck, Chelsea. But one trans woman to another, I wish you’d change your mind about running for the Senate, before it’s too late.
Then again, you’ve shown us all, you always do things your way.
Maybe this time it’ll work out?
DAWN ENNIS is a journalist, a blogger at LifeAfterDawn.com,,HuffPost,, and Medium, and the host of a talk show on YouTube, RiseUP With Dawn Ennis. Ennis was America's first transgender journalist in a TV network newsroom when she came out four and a half years ago, and was the first trans editor on staff at The Advocate.