29 October 2014

Don't Tell, Don't Transition--Not Yet, Anyway

Even after the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," transgender people who live--and want to serve--in the gender of their mind and spirit aren't allowed to be in the Armed Forces.  A trans person who begins his or her transition is supposed to be discharged, under current rules.

However, there is a widespread expectation that the ban will soon be repealed.  As a result, Captain Sage Fox, who had been an Army Reservist for fourteen years, received a call she hadn't anticipated:  a call from her commander telling her that she could continue to serve in her preferred gender.  She would even have permission to be called "ma'am" and use the female latrine.

Or so she--and her commander--thought.

A short time later, her orders were reversed.  She wasn't exactly discharged, at least as the Army defines it.  Instead, she was placed on Individual Ready Reserve, meaning that she could be called back to duty but, in the meantime, would not show up for training, draw a paycheck or have access to benefits. 

In other words, the Army was, essentially, disowning her without discharging her, leaving her in a career and legal limbo.  So, trans people are being advised not to come out because of scenarios like Captain Fox's.

Or that of someone named "Hunter", who is transitioning to male.  Even though his hair is short and testosterone has done its work on him, he still has to use a female latrine (which causes women to flee) and, when attending formal dinners at the officer's school, wear a form-fitting jacket and skirt.

The question of allowing trans people to serve as who they are is much greater than it seems:  Our estimated population of 15,000 in the Armed Services actually represents a somewhat higher percentage than in the population as a whole.  Many serve for years, or even decades (as Captain Fox did) before having their "epiphanies" that cause them to begin psychotherapy, hormones and the other aspects of a gender transition. 

The irony is that trans men and trans women are drawn to enlist for essentially the same reasons.  One, of course, is job prospects. But another is the hypermasculine culture of the military.  To a non-trans person, it makes sense in the case of female-to-male transgenders.  But male-to-females also want to be in such an environment as a way (that ultimately doesn't work) of suppressing their femaleness or, at least, accentuating maleness they may or may not have.  In other words, it's the same sort of impulse that drives some to become police officers or firefighters. (My therapist told me she's treated a number of male-to-female trans people who worked in those professions, as well as the military.)  It's also the same sort of impulse that led people like me to spend lots of time in sports and physical training--or any number of closeted or manque gay men to marry women. 

Some of us (male-to-females) are also motivated by a "desire to serve our country", in the misguided way we're taught to understand it.  Again, just like our female-to-male bretheren.  And gay men.  And lesbians.  And straight people.


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