10 December 2014

Lifting The Ban: Will It Fly?

The day when transgenders can serve in the US Armed Forces seems to be drawing closer.  Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James says as much.  The ban on transgender people in the military "is likely to come under review in the next year or so," she says.  "Times change."

When asked whether dropping the ban will affect military readiness, she had this to say:  "From my point of view, anyone who is capable of accomplishing the job should be able to serve."

While lesbians, gays and bisexuals were able to "fly under the radar" (pun intended) during the days of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", transgenders did not have such an option.  Even those who'd already had the surgery and were living full-time in the gender of their minds and spirits are not allowed to enlist; the military could find such information easily enough even if would-be enlistees did not disclose it themselves.  And, of course, declaring one's self trans and starting a gender transition while in uniform is grounds for being discharged, most likely dishonorably.

Somehow I'm not surprised that Ms. James is the first secretary of a branch of the Armed Forces to voice support for transgenders joining the military.  For one thing, of the twenty-three people who have held her current position, she is only the second woman.    She is also the only female secretary of any branch of the armed forces.

Also, I think her statements might be motivated by the possibility that, of all of the branches of the Armed Forces, the Air Force could benefit most from allowing transgenders to join.  We (I mean transgenders) are a community of extremes:  We have the highest levels of kids who drop out of school because they were bullied--and the unemployment and homelessness that too often result from it-- but a higher percentage of us than of the general population earn college degrees.  The Air Force was probably the first of all branches to recruit significant numbers of people with bachelor's or higher degrees; if I'm not mistaken, one has to have a college degree in order to fly.  And, contrary to some commonly-held stereotypes, many trans people have training, or work, in technical and scientific fields.  It just happens that the AF is more dependent on people with scientific and technological skill than any other branch of service.

Whether or not that was her motivation, I applaud Ms. James for making her statement.  Although I don't generally encourage people to join the military, it is a part of our world and offers one of the few opportunities for stable employment and advancement to many young people from less-than-privileged backgrounds.  And there are trans people, just as there are other people, who want to serve their country and believe that joining the military is the best way to do so.

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