Transgender individuals have faced a long, difficult fight in obtaining their rights as citizens and as individuals within the United States and throughout the world. Gender identity is complex and when it intersects with the views of society, a society afraid of change and the unordinary, is creates even more of a complex and sometimes dangerous life, one filled with the inability to live freely and participate in activities ranging mild to as noble enough as serving in the military. There has been plenty debate about whether transgender individuals should be able to serve in the military, one that has culminated in the Trump administration’s attempt to ban them from serving despite them just having received rights to do so in 2016, under Obama’s presidency. For the New York Times and the Heritage Foundation, the publication’s editorial board and Thomas Spoehr (respectively), argue both sides of the issue. Transgender people should be allowed to serve their nation in the military, as the important objective is protection and such an effort should be a unified front, not one based on discrimination over an arbitrary concept that matters little in the face of threats to national security.
The New York Times’ article on Trump’s transgender military ban calls it a “cruel determination to transform America into a country that divides and dehumanizes its people” (2018). Although the effort for the ban has been continually shot down on account of its blatant discrimination, it raises the larger question of if transgenders should serve in the military. The question of whether they are fit to serve lies in myth, lies, stereotypes and judgment about the community. The gender dysphoria that many transgender individuals are diagnosed with appears to be the cause for concern in the military, with opponents arguing that their cognitive abilities are impacted by their “confusion” and dissatisfaction with their bodies, not to mention the medical options they take to have their physical bodies match their gender identity including but not limited to hormone replacement therapy (HRT), surgery and laser hair removal. In addition, being in the military requires consistent action and physical fitness, yet the standards of which remain unchanged. There is no scan or test to identify a “mismatch” in gender identity and gender dysphoria is corrected by transitioning, yet in deployment, that may be a difficult feat.
For those who have already transitioned, there is no downtime. Logistics aside, however, the ban coming from this administration, which has already made it a point to denigrate and attack Muslims, refugees, and undocumented persons, is just a step further in the process of separating citizens. This, though, puts servicemen and service women—gender identity aside—at risk, especially those who can lose their careers and those who can never start theirs.
On the other hand, Thomas Spoehr, the Director for the Center of National Defense, comments for the Heritage Foundation, stating that “military readiness has to be first concern.” Using his own experience as a commander of a brigade from 2001-2003, he recalls meeting many individuals who failed to meet medical requirements for military service, arguing that they would not able to serve until their condition had been resolved in comparison to transgender individuals’ GD not being resolved to serve. Due to their medical treatments and recovery times, Spoehr argues, this makes them unfit to serve, along with their mental resilience and ability to handle the “extreme stresses of the harsh crucible of combat.” On this basis, he says, transgender individuals would not be allowed to join. Spoehr makes no explicit argument against transgender individuals in the military, but certainly insinuates that their mental “instability” is not worth the high stakes of “experimenting” with national defense.
What Spoehr fails to realize, however is that the gender dysphoria and psychological distress and suicide attempts of which he speaks is ameliorated by the ability to transition between genders. When trans individuals have the support of family, friends, peers and colleagues, the psychological distress greatly decreases and mainly in part to the medical interventions that allow a smooth transition. Transgender people who wish to serve in the military, as well as cisgender or non-gender-conforming individuals, should be able to do so based on skill and ability, not discriminations and assumptions about things that can be refuted with solutions and actual facts. Discrimination only adds to the suffering of an already marginalized and minority population that lives boldly and courageously enough to come out of the shadows of their identity, even when society wishes that they would not. To truly address concerns of gender dysphoria and the psychological distress that accompanies it, the military should enable better standards of mental and physical health care that allows people to transition in some form and become comfortable with their identity, as it should for any other demographic of people in the military.
This should happen as quickly as possible, but reform to such a long-standing institution is admittedly difficult. However, when it comes to national security, the willingness and desire to serve should matter more than physical attributes and gender identity. As it stands, transgender recruits are still able to enlist in the United States military despite President Donald Trump’s tweets demanding the ban. It has been barred multiple times, yet its initiation is enough for people to recognize that when it comes to keeping the nation safe, what is—or is not—underneath the clothes of the person in question is irrelevant.
- “Mr. Trump’s Transgender Military Ban.” New York Times, 29 Mar. 2018, p. A22(L). Global Issues in Context, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A532631139/GIC?u=oran95108&sid=GIC&xid=dd6865ac. Accessed 27 Oct. 2018.
- Spoehr, Thomas. “Should Transgender Americans Be Allowed in the Military? Not So Fast: Military Readiness Has to Be First Concern.” The Heritage Foundation, www.heritage.org/defense/commentary/should-transgender-americans-be-allowed-the-military-not-so-fast-military.