There Will Always Be Transgender People in the Military

| Oct 9, 2017

Despite Donald Trump’s tweets and a White House order to the Pentagon to erase transgender people from the military, transgender people will always be there. In carrying out such a policy, the U.S. military could not stand the personnel losses. In the long-term transgender people will join up whether or not they do so openly or in secret. The ban also sends a message that transgender people can be double-crossed and are not valued. The current policy reflects the President’s lack of knowledge, policy acumen and caring about the issue.

The move was precipitated by anti-trans organizations who wanted the Pentagon to refuse to provide transgender healthcare. Specifically, they wanted the Pentagon to refuse to pay for genital plastic surgery. The U.S. military in modern times has always provided needed healthcare to all its troops and had already agreed to do so for transgender members. The military also discourages its members from using outside mental health and medical treatment sources. This is a practical matter of being sure that members of the military receive correct care but also because hiding treatment may interfere with their duty. Before the ban, troops who sought unauthorized outside help with transgender issues put them in jeopardy of discharge. It also put them in a position where they might be blackmailed which would endanger classified information and their security clearances. Serving in secret also undermined trust based on honesty which is a fundamental for our military.

Trans soldiers at the Video Music Awards.

During the previous administration, the Pentagon spent at least two years studying the matter and concluded that transgender people should be permitted to serve and that the military would provide needed healthcare. Studies had shown in the civilian world that treatment costs were about break-even with the resulting costs from not providing such treatment including depression and attempted suicide. Due to exposure to combat, PTSD, depression, and attempted suicide were/are already costly and highly visible problems. Besides, healthy troops are more effective. Hormones are already dirt cheap on the open market and with the buying power of the VA and the Pentagon they can get them at huge discounts. Our military delivery system for medical supplies and treatment is the best and most efficient in the world. As a member of the Army Medical Service Corps, I saw it with my own eyes. If they can deliver Viagra to troops in far flung places, they can deliver estradiol. Oversight of transgender healthcare provides a degree of treatment quality control and facilitates certification of fitness for duty.

The President was evidently intellectually unable to work out a reasonable policy between anti-transgender factions and the military which had already accepted transgender people. Predictably, transgender advocates were not represented in the Oval Office discussions. We have already seen this behavior from the President with respect to DACA, the Paris Climate Accords, and the Muslim travel ban. If he cannot figure out what the policy should be, he attacks it with a meat axe. It should also be pointed out that the current administration is severely understaffed so they do not have the “policy wonks” who could work things out. That is in part deliberate and in part because many qualified people do not want to work in this administration.

The military immediately recognized the impossibilities of an outright ban. Currently there are at least 15-20 thousand transgender troops which is the size of a World War II infantry division. The Pentagon was/is already strapped for person-power to deal with its assigned missions. The U.S. military had already recorded the names of transgender troops; to go back to the old policy would show bad faith. Military leaders must have envisioned the complicated, headache-producing out-processing policies which would have to be developed. Transgender troops were/are functioning well and the current policy eliminated exposure to blackmail and uncontrolled medical access. Many transgender troops have specialized skills. I am reminded of the cartoon in which two of our generals are standing on a balcony watching a North Korean missile descend on a  U.S. city. The punchline was “We had a guy who could shoot it down but he was transgender.” Besides all this, the military has bigger fish to fry than discriminating against transgender people. So, the Pentagon has dug its heels in for now. Meanwhile, at least 5 lawsuits have been filed to stop the ban.

Even theoretically flushing 15-20 thousand transgender troops out of the military will not get rid of transgender people in the military. Some transgender members of the military undoubtedly waited to register until all the dust had settled from the new policy and from the election. They are still there while engaging in secret transgender behavior. Even during the previous ban, transgender people joined the military at a rate 2X higher than other eligible people. This, despite the onerous conditions of the ban, including secrecy and loss of authenticity. Even now, when there is a ban on enlistments of new transgender troops, transgender folks are undoubtedly joining up while keeping their transgender behavior a secret. There are several reasons that have been given for this high rate of enlistment but the one I favor from my experience as a transgender veteran is that being in the military can be intensely engaging, taking one’s mind temporarily off the fact that they are transgender.

What would become of all those discharged trans soldiers? I understand that the Canadian military has already been advertising and recruiting  U.S. transgender people to join them. They would be serving side by side with our troops as NATO ally soldiers, assuming that Trump stays in NATO.

So far, I have stuck to aspects of the ban that involve tangible things like the costs of transgender health, the infeasibility of mass discharge and the enlistment rates of transgender people. But there are intangibles that the military would be losing if a ban is made permanent. First, they would lose the trust of their soldiers. After coming to the conclusion that transgender people could serve and then refusing to let them serve, the Pentagon would be seen as hypocritical. Troops jokingly accuse the Pentagon of being arbitrary on minor matters. A permanent ban would lay them open to accusations that they were arbitrary and capricious on a major matter. Those currently serving next to transgender folks would reduce their trust in future studies and declared policies.

Second, a transgender ban opens up the question of who will be banned next. Obviously, the gays and lesbians would be at the top of the list. The party currently in power nearly has the votes in Congress to pass legislation banning gays or other groups. Next on the list would undoubtedly U.S. citizens of Muslim and non-Christian faith. Finally, immigrants who enlisted to obtain U.S. citizenship through their service might be next. Where would it end? Atheists, democrats, and libertarians? Although it has its flaws, the U.S. military, since Harry Truman at least, has been held up as a shining example that people of all races, religions and origins can work together. (I call out Harry Truman because in 1948 with a stroke of a pen he desegregated the military. His order not only desegregated black and oriental units but abolished segregation for all races, colors, religions, or national origins.) By implementing the Trump policy, we would lose our shining example of a diverse military.

Third, what kind of message would a permanent ban send to transgender people, and their families and friends. The message would be that transgender people are not good enough to be full U.S. citizens and defend their country. I calculate that this is about 5% of the voting public. A politician would probably do not care about this message if he is devoid of ethics and serves a gerrymandered district but it might swing some elections.

As the military would say, we “jinked” (swerved) around on the issue of gays serving openly or semi openly in the military for many years. It is not clear whether Churchill or Abba Eban (Ambassador from Israel to the United States) said it but I find this quote fitting:

You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing after they have tried everything else.”

We have proven this conclusion with regard to blacks, gays and others in the military and seemingly we are about to do it again with transgender troops.

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Category: Opinion

About the Author ()

Dana Jennett Bevan holds a Ph.D. from Princeton University and a Bachelors degree from Dartmouth College both in experimental psychology. She is the author of The Transsexual Scientist which combines biology with autobiography as she came to learn about transgenderism throughout her life. Her second book The Psychobiology of Transsexualism and Transgenderism is a comprehensive analysis of TSTG research and was published in 2014 by Praeger under the pen name Thomas E. Bevan. Her third book Being Transgender was released by Praeger in November 2016. She can be reached at [email protected]

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