Why We Need Trans People In The Military

Republished at HuffPost, Queer Voices

I like to think my husband and I are supportive parents. We let our kids be themselves but still enforce boundaries and demand respect. Our expectations are pretty high, but not over the top. Our children make us proud in a lot of ways.

Our oldest, Jack, is a rising high school senior, takes a full AP and honors course load, and carries a 4.3 GPA while also holding a part-time job and balancing a social life and girlfriend.

Our daughter Kate is a rising high school sophomore, taking honors courses and making all As & Bs while also working as a babysitter, volunteering at our local community theatre as a Camp T.A., and balancing a busy social life.

Our youngest child, Charlie, is a rising middle schooler, makes good grades, is carving a name and image in the online gaming world, and is probably the bravest child I’ve ever known.

Charlie is TGNC (trans and/or gender non-conforming), was AMAB (assigned male at birth), has been expressing feminine since age 2.5 yrs (so no, it’s not a phase), and goes by they/them/their(s) pronouns. I’m like most moms, fairly protective. I would never want any of my kids to join the military (I’d be way too scared of losing them), but if for some reason that’s what they ended up doing, I’d find a way to muster support and I’d be proud.

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Charlie with their big brother, Jack

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Charlie with their big sister, Kate

When I woke up on the morning of Wednesday, July 26th, Jack had already gone to work, Kate was sleeping in, Charlie was gaming, my husband was working downstairs, and I had the bed to myself! I decided to turn on the TV and just be lazy, because I’m on summer break. The first thing I heard was more breaking news: Don the con, who I can’t even call President Trump anymore, because he is no President, had tweeted another mandate. With no legal basis whatsoever, Don the con mandated this in a succession of three tweets:

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Screenshots of the president’s morning tweets regarding an apparent ban on transgender people serving in the military

It’s kind of hard to decide exactly where to start on this one. Aside from the fact that this was an obvious distraction from the Russia probe, it also conveniently distracted us from the GOP healthcare bill. Just the evening before, that bill had passed a motion to move forward with Senate debate on Wednesday. Of course, other possibilities exist for the reasons behind this tweet. One could be that Don was trying to earn his way back into the good graces of Rush Limbaugh and Tucker Carlson, who publicly proclaimed their disdain for the way Don the con was treating his own appointed Attorney General, Jeff Sessions. Or maybe Don was just using another buzzword known to be a hot button among his base – transgender – in an attempt to rally his people, stir the pot, and get them ramped up and on a roll over something they passionately hate. However you wrap it, it’s still a distraction. 

As I continued listening to the news, a statement came from the Pentagon, something along the lines of how they refer any questions about the President’s statements to the White House, and that they were going to continue working with the White House to address any new guidance on banning transgender people from the military. Later, Sarah Huckabee Sanders brought an extremely dramatic and odd vibe to the White House press briefing that seemed completely orchestrated by Scaramucci, and read like a soap opera: the reading of Presidential fan mail. It was as if the entire White House team was trying very hard to convince and reassure themselves, still, that they won.

Sanders then read a letter by someone she claimed was a nine-year-old boy named Dylan, but goes by “Pickle.” (That alone seems suspect.) Apparently, little Pickle doesn’t understand why so many people are mean to Trump, wanted to know how much money Trump has, and announced that he even had a recent birthday party in the theme of Trump, complete with a birthday cake shaped like Trump’s hat. (I feel certain that Don himself could’ve written this particular piece of fan mail, as it stresses all the things important to him: whining about people who are mean to him, how much money he has, celebrations of himself, and monuments erected in his effigy, or at least, bare his name.) 

Sanders also called this a new press briefing a tradition that will happen every once in a while, to help us all remember the “forgotten men, women, and children that we are here to serve, and that the President is fighting for.” Though, after listening to his campaign spee– I mean, motivational speech at the Boy Scout Jamboree, I’m doubtful he fights for anyone but himself. Then, in a rare display of emotion, Sanders actually became choked up as she referenced her own three children and said it was not lost on her that the President has awarded her, the first “Mom” to ever serve as White House Press Secretary, this amazing opportunity, and that then led to her waxing poetic about Trump’s dedication to working moms everywhere. I thought she was going to build a Trump shrine next and bow down to it, but she simply returned to her tried and true method of deflecting on numerous questions regarding Don’s Twitter-tantrums.  

First, I can’t get over how the Pentagon gave any serious consideration to Don’s announcement via Twitter. Listening to them give credence to these ridiculous tweets, as if it’s just business as usual, seemed completely disingenuous. I know I’m only dreaming, but I sure would love it if just once, any Pentagon spokesperson could say, “We don’t respond to Twitter rants. Sorry.” Regardless, I think a case can now be made going forward that a President cannot issue mandates or military commands from social media. Second, this is such a farce! Estimates reported in media today ranged from 2,000 to 11,000 transgender people actively serving in the military right now, but a friend of mine who’s trans and in the military, having already served in four combat tours, states that estimate is actually closer to 15,000, making the military the largest employer of transgender people. But, not everyone who’s transgender is “out.” We all have transgender people in our lives that we have no idea are transgender. So there’s no way that any military research will find a definitive answer on how many servicemen and servicewomen are transgender. 

There are just so many questions that arise from this, and I’m sure they’ll never all get answered, because this ban will be impossible to enforce right now. In theory, it’s no different than the my home-state NC’s discriminatory, anti-trans bathroom bill, HB2 that became a completely unenforceable law in 2016. How is the government going to begin to implement this? What about the roughly estimated 2,000-15,000 transgender people actively serving right now, or in the reserves? Will they be branded with special signage and sent home? What about transgender people we don’t know are transgender? Government can’t just “profile” people’s gender. What will they do? Will they have everyone line up for a genital inspection? I mean, that wouldn’t even be accurate because there can be a woman with a penis, or a man with a vulva – intersex people do exist, and there are all different possible connections that make up the term “intersex.”

Also, not all transgender people have gender confirmation surgery. And it’s not like there’s just one surgery that makes someone male or female. Some of my trans women friends who transitioned later in life have undergone procedures like voice feminization surgery and facial feminization surgery, to name just a few of many different types of surgical procedures available. Some trans people elect not to have any surgeries, and they still are the gender that they know they are. And what about cisgender children of trans parents who are serving? Will those children be stripped of their rightly due benefits like health insurance because their trans parent was removed from service? 

As for the White House claims that transgender people in the military are a financial burden on the military? That was proven BS mere hours after the tweets. Don seems to forget that people have research and statistics and provable facts available for times like this. Today I learned from multiple news sources that the Pentagon budget allows 41.6 million dollars for Viagra, 22.8 million for Cialis, but for transgender medical care? 8.4 million dollars. I’m sorry, but that’s not a “burden” on the military. What appears to be more of a burden is the apparently massive numbers of impotent men in the military. Why not send them home and save nearly 65 million dollars? Surely, 8.4 million pales in comparison to 65 million; I mean, let’s be fiscally reasonable here.  

Setting costs aside, there also seemed to be another implication for ousting trans folks from the military. It was when Sarah Huckabee Sanders stated, “This was about military readiness, this is about unit cohesion.” That gelled with something Don said in his early tweet when he wrote the military couldn’t be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.” Disruption? Does he really not understand that trans people are not seeking to have gender confirmation surgery moments before being on the frontline in combat? Furthermore, and more importantly, trans people are not “disruptions,” nor are they “burdens.” They are our fellow human beings, and they also happen to be some of the most courageous people on the planet. Don should be thankful for their unwavering service. 

And as for Sanders using the term “unit cohesion,” to my understanding, that’s a military term that is about the bonding together with one’s troop and fellow soldiers, to help sustain and ensure commitment to one another and to the cause. How is the mere presence of a transgender person disruptive to unit cohesion? I mean, I guess it could be an issue if you have bigots in the troop, bigots who are ignorant and think that transgender people are sexual deviants. Bigots who refuse to understand that gender, gender identity, and gender expression have absolutely nothing to do with sexual orientation or physical/romantic attraction. 

The mere presence of a transgender person does not pose a safety threat or a disruption, and they aren’t a burden to anyone. Sexually “deviant” behavior, however, is a whole other thing. Like peeping, or what have you. If that’s going on, there’s a whole different level of problems, none of which have to do with the mere presence of a transgender person who is patriotic, qualified to serve in our military, fit for the job, willing to sacrifice, and more than capable of doing the job. This brings me to the final point I want to make, which has to do with bravery. I’m not a very brave person in many respects, but I admire people who are. Some of the bravest people I’ve had the privilege of knowing are my transgender friends.

I have three children, the youngest of whom is TGNC (trans and/or gender non-conforming). My child, who was assigned male at birth but has had stereotypical feminine preferences for everything, since the moment they could express, decided after 4th grade to present their gender expression like a female. My child also goes by they/them pronouns, because they don’t identify as a trans girl right now, nor do they identify as a boy. But of course, all the kids at school knew my child as a boy for several years before they were wearing “girls clothes.” You don’t have to look any further than this example to understand what actual bravery is.

Along with the “girls” clothing and shoes, my child decided to grow their hair long so they could braid it, and it would also achieve the overall look they were going for – kind of a Jacob Tobia look. When their hair got to the point where it was hanging in their eyes and bothersome, they decided to start wearing headbands. Not the simple, athletic style headbands, either. My child was drawn to the biggest, pinkest, most obvious headband with giant silk pink flowers adorning the top. 

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Charlie wearing their “signature” pink floral headband

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Charlie wearing their “signature” pink floral headband

This child of mine wore that crown of pink flowers along with outfits from Justice, and Twinkle Toe Sketchers for girls, just about every day to school for their entire fifth grade year. Though (then, he) had not changed pronouns yet, it was apparent to others that (he, then) was wearing “girls” clothes. It doesn’t take a lot of hard work to imagine the level of hell a kid would endure from other fifth grade classmates, especially boys, for choosing this look, day after day. While the girls in my child’s class were pretty awesome and understanding, the boys were mostly horrible. In fact, a few of them told me exactly how “weird” they thought it was that my son wore “girls” stuff.

I asked these kids to do me a favor and swap out the word “weird” with the word “brave.” “Can you imagine how brave a boy has to be,” I asked these kids, “to come to school every day with pink flowers in his hair and be taken seriously? Do you understand how being authentic to oneself is so important that a boy would choose to continue doing this, day after day, despite your harassment and taunts? Can you possibly imagine how brave he has to be to come to school every day, dressed as his authentic self, knowing you’re going to tease him and ostracize him? Tell me boys, are you brave enough to wear pink flowers in your hair every day to school?” Their stunned faces and silence assured me they weren’t. Because, yes, it takes balls of friggin’ steel to live your gender when it doesn’t look the way society expects.

I don’t know about Don the con, but if I were picking future military service people, I certainly wouldn’t want to alienate someone demonstrating such a deep level of bravery and commitment at such a young, impressionable age, when it’s much easier and more desirable to “blend in.” This is what many conservatives and people like Trump don’t understand, but that’s exactly what transgender people are – the very essence of bravery. TGNC people are also the very essence of what it means to be dependable, to have integrity, to be capable of hard decision-making, being empathetic to others, having tenacity, and loyalty, which all happen to be some of the most desired character traits in the military. The irony of this entire situation Trump has just created is completely lost on him, and people who think like him. Sad.  

Charlie, 4th of July 2017

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Charlie, wearing a favorite hand-me-down from big brother’s girlfriend

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Charlie, wearing a favorite hand-me-down, from big brother’s girlfriend

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Living authentically, age 11, hair finally long enough to braid!

 

 

4 thoughts on “Why We Need Trans People In The Military

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