Chelsea Manning poses in swimsuit for Vogue: 'This is what freedom looks like'

Beth Greenfield
Senior Writer
Chelsea Manning posed for Vogue in a Normal Kamali swimsuit and spoke to the magazine about her life. (Photo: Annie Leibovitz/Vogue)

Chelsea Manning — the transgender Army private imprisoned in 2013 for leaking classified information, whose sentence was commuted by former President Barack Obama — has been making a splash, albeit a gradual one, since her release from a military prison in May. She began posting flirty Instagrams on her first day in the free world and has now made a quick ascent with her public profile, to the pages of Vogue.

“Guess this is what freedom looks like,” Manning wrote in her Thursday Instagram post, which features a photo of herself posing on an empty beach in a red one-piece Norma Kamali swimsuit.

The glamour shot, taken by none other than Annie Leibovitz, is from her profile in the September issue, in which the 29-year-old New York City resident attends a Lambda Literary Awards party, visits the home of legendary drag queen Flawless Sabrina, and talks about her awkward childhood and tense adolescence, as well as being an “adrenaline junkie” and a Marc Jacobs fan, coming to terms with her transgender identity, and surviving prison.

“There are people who have really put their lives on the line for something, and they come out on the other side of it. You can feel that with her,” Laura Poitras, executive producer of a documentary being made about Manning, said of her subject to Vogue. “Now that she’s free, what is she going to do with her freedom?” She added, “When I first met Ed Snowden in Hong Kong, he had the same sort of eerie power.”

Manning said she’s not quite sure how she’ll harness her power yet, and the Vogue story notes she had been interested in running for political office before transitioning. On whether it’s something she’s still thinking about, she noted, “I’m certainly not going to say no, and I’m certainly not going to say yes. My goal is to use these next six months to figure out where I want to go.”

These days, in addition to regularly posting Instagram pics of herself — whether in a power suit, a fuchsia sheath dress, or a swipe of bold purple lipstick — Manning noted she has been playing video games, teaching herself the programming language Rust, working on her memoir, and just starting to think about dating, declaring, “I’m not planning to be single!”

Finally, she said about her aspirations and where she’s at right now, “I have these values that I can connect with: responsibility, compassion. Those are really foundational for me. Do and say and be who you are because, no matter what happens, you are loved unconditionally.” Manning said she wishes she’d learned that lesson earlier: “Unconditional love. It is OK to be who I am.”

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