Gender identity is one of the most important aspects of every human’s life. A person’s gender is usually determined at birth and from this moment, becomes a social and legal fact. However, a moderate number of people has problems with the gender assigned to them at birth – transgender people. Ongoing debates within feminist studies and theory resulted in the development of a queer theory that legitimized transgender identities. The change of physical appearance or function through clothing, medical, surgical, or other means often becomes part of the personal gender experience of a transgender person. The person in this video is Jessica Haut – a transgender woman who serves in the U.S. army. She decided to finally come out to her commander, as she also begins her transition process (VICE News 2021).
The problem of sexual minorities has arisen in the American army relatively recently – in recent decades. Previously, this delicate issue was solved quite simply: military personnel suspected of homosexuality, as a rule, were written off without further ado to civilian life, depriving them of any severance payments and pensions. Nevertheless, there were enough representatives of the LGBT community who still wanted to serve their country. Thus, in 1993, the law “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was passed, according to which LGBT people could serve if they did not openly declare their inclinations. The command was also forbidden to find out the sexual orientation of subordinates. Until recently, transgender soldiers were banned from serving in the military sector, and were considered the most oppressed part of the American LGBT community.
Barack Obama signed a decree on the admission of transgender people to military service in 2016, but in August 2017, Donald Trump canceled this directive. Finally, as Joe Biden became new president of the United States, he renounced completely Trump’s decision to ban transgender people from serving in the army. Today, opinions on the matter have changed: Washington now believes that gender should not interfere with military service, since America’s strength lies in diversity. Therefore, it is important to have full understanding of the matter of transgenderism and transgender soldiers in the U.S. army.
In 2016, US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has ordered the abolition of the rule prohibiting open transgender people from serving in the army in the ranks of the American army. This was the result of Carter’s strategic policy, who focused on equal access to military service for all Americans. Moreover, since taking office in 2015, Carter has allowed women to occupy any military position, and the openly gay Eric Fanning has taken over as Secretary of the Army (the civilian leader of the Army) for the first time in the U.S. history.
When it became known about the corresponding plans of Minister Carter, many representatives of the American army leadership were outraged. The main argument was that the presence of transgender people in the ranks of the army could reduce its combat effectiveness. However, after becoming the U.S. president in 2020, Joe Biden also stressed that, according to research, the service of transgender people in the army does not have any negative impact on the country’s defense.
Beginning in April 2021, US military personnel have even been able to change gender while on duty. To do this, the army has developed special procedures, and the defense health agency has adopted guidelines to support military personnel diagnosed with gender dysphoria – the stress people experience due to gender mismatch and gender identity.
Transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity differs from their birth sex. This concept includes both those who only feel like a person of the opposite gender, as well as those who have gone through surgical procedures and hormone therapy, which allow them to physically change their sex. In addition, the concept of “transgender” includes genderqueer people, bigenders and pangenders – people with different types of undefined or fluid gender identity. Most trans people experience dysphoria – the feeling of discomfort from the inconsistency of gender identity with the sex assigned at birth. Often this dysphoria gives rise to a desire to align internal feelings with the appearance and documents.
According to various Pentagon’s statements, recruits, in the event that the gender with which they identify themselves is different from the gender indicated on their birth certificate, will be enlisted in the army according to their preferred gender. To do this, applicants need to provide a birth certificate, as well as a court order or passport indicating the gender with which they identify themselves. The Pentagon noted that this opportunity can also be used by those who have not yet completed medical procedures for gender reassignment. Those applicants who did not indicate their preferred gender when submitting documents will be assigned to the gender indicated on their birth certificate.
Army Service Coordination Cell is a special expert team that can provide the commanding personnel with comprehensive information on every question related to transgenderism. Assistant Secretary of Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs works closely with transgender soldiers on their requests regarding gender transition.
Men and women who have already undergone gender reassignment surgery will be able to apply for military service no earlier than 18 months after the procedure. During this time, they must show that they are physically and emotionally stable after the operation. The distribution of military rooms and bathrooms, height and weight standards, order of medical examinations and requirements for underwear will be determined according to the gender identity of the person, even if they have anatomical characteristics of their birth gender.
According to the analytical center RAND Corporation, about 2.5 thousand transgender people serve in the American army, numbering 1.3 million people, and another 1.5 thousand are in the reserve. Many of them serve in elite units such as SEAL and participate in military actions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other places. Moreover, RAND Corporation analysts also argue that recruiting members of the LGBT community does not diminish the cohesion and effectiveness of personnel (Schaefer et al. 2016). On the contrary, it creates an atmosphere of diversity and inclusiveness that benefits the soldiers. The US Transgender Survey of 2015 reported that 19% of transgender veterans decided to leave their service due to discrimination.
Studies on this topic, conducted not only in the United States, but also in the UK, Canada and Israel, did not reveal any negative factors on the basis of which the service of transgender people in the army could be declared contraindicated. The continuous back-and-forth play of government’s policies and agendas exhausts the trans community. The insecurity about the nearest future only adds to the general anxiety that transgender people experience on a daily basis. Thus, the importance of support for transgender soldiers cannot be stressed enough, as it allows the community to be seen and heard. Moreover, in 2014, a special advisory group organized by the Palm Center concluded that there are no medical barriers to transgender service in the military.
The life of trans people, especially in the army, is associated with additional stresses: transphobia, the need to change documents, problems with going to doctors, rejection of family and friends, and surgery. All of this often leads trans people to anxiety disorders, depression and suicide, not to mention the violence and physical risks of surgery. Moreover, harassment and bullying from their fellow cisgender soldiers might also occur.
The costs of medical transition and psychotherapy for transgender soldiers was also mentioned as a serious disadvantage for most of those who are opposed to allowing trans people in the army. However, McDermott (2019) reports that “according to new data from the Defense Department provided to the House Armed Services Committee, the military has spent about $8 million on transgender care since 2016 out of its $50 billion overall health care budget” (para. 8). This constitutes less than 1 percent of all military healthcare budget since 2016.
The issue of transgender rights in the USA was always a difficult one. Despite the slow but steady expansion of the LGBTQ+ protection rights, transgender people still face all kinds of discrimination in almost every part of their lives. According to Walch et al. (2020), “transgender individuals comprise a vulnerable group in our society that already faces significant barriers in accessing equitable health care despite the current protections that exist surrounding a person’s gender identity” (p. 306).
The political debates around the case of transgender people never seem to cease. While some parts of the country proactively support the community and promote laws protecting trans rights, other parts work in completely another direction. The question of understanding is of utmost importance here, as it allows one to look at the issue objectively and without bias. Transgender people should not be denied human rights in any aspect of their lives, and that includes military service.
This vignette reports on the details of the policy that regulates the treatment of transgender soldiers with pregnancy. As stated in the vignette, all pregnant soldiers should receive relevant medical care and administrative entitlements.
In this vignette, the guidelines for the use of showers for transgender soldiers are established. It is specifically emphasized that soldiers should discuss their concerns with commanding officers to ensure that their rights are not violated.
This vignette describes the policies on the process of urinalysis for transgender soldiers who completed their medical transition.
Schaefer, A., Iyengar, R., Kadiyala, S., Kavanagh, J., Engel, C., Williams, K., & Kress, A. (2016). Assessing the implications of allowing transgender personnel to serve openly. Web.
U.S. Department of Defense (2016). Policy on the Military Service of Transgender Soldiers Training Module Tier 2: Commanders and Leaders. Washington, DC.
U.S. Transgender Survey (2015). Military Service by Transgender People Data from the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey (Rep.). Web.
VICE News. (2021). This Is What It’s Like to Come Out as Trans in the Army [Video file]. Web.
Walch, A., Davidge-Pitts, C., Safer, J. D., Lopez, X., Tangpricha, V., & Iwamoto, S. J. (2020). Proper care of transgender and gender diverse persons in the setting of proposed discrimination: A policy perspective. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 106(2), 305-308. Web.
Watson, J., & McDermott, J. (2019). Transgender care cost military less than 1 percent of its health budget since 2016. Web.