Chelsea Manning has been interviewed for the next month’s issue of US Vogue—accompanied by a stunning photo shot by iconic photographer Annie Leibovitz.
The article—written by Nathan Heller—explores Manning’s new life in New York as well her upbringing In Oklahoma.
“I knew that I was different,” she says of her childhood.
“I gravitated more toward playing house, but the teachers were always pushing me toward playing the more competitive games with the boys.”
“I spent so much time wondering, ‘What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I fit in?’”
Manning says the internet played a large role in exploring her identity—after her father introduced her to computers and programming early on.
“I learned that I wasn’t alone. I learned about all these different life possibilities and options,” she says.
“Because I would actually be anonymous online, I could be more myself.”
Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison in 2013 after sending classified documents to WikiLeaks— Barack Obama commuted her sentence earlier this year in one of his last acts as president.
Vogue notes that Manning mentioned in a column for the Guardian that she was nervous about presenting as a female. Upon leaving the Fort Leavenworth prison where she was detained—this nervousness dissipated.
“It feels natural. 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.”
The Vogue article also reveals that Manning is starring in a documentary called XY Chelsea, directed by filmmaker Tim Travers Hawkins.
The 29-year-old says she’s using the next six months to figure out her career but is planning to move from New York to Maryland after the summer.
“I have these values that I can connect with: responsibility, compassion,” she says.
“Those are really foundational for me. Do and say and be who you are because, no matter what happens, you are loved unconditionally.”
“Unconditional love,” she says. “It is OK to be who I am.”