The Unique Bravery of Transgender Soldiers
The transgender community is full of fighters and survivors
Turns out tweets aren’t policy.
Pres. Donald Trump seemed to end the U.S. military’s open acceptance of transgender troops on July 26, 2017 when he tweeted out that America would no longer allow said troops to serve in any branch in any capacity. According to Trump, transgender troops cost too much and destroy readiness. His assertions are easily disproven.
The next day, the Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joe Dunford sent an internal memo to senior Pentagon officials that refuted the president’s online policy directive. “I know there are questions about yesterday’s announcement on the transgender policy by the President,” the memo read. “There will be no modifications to the current policy until the President’s direction has been received by the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary has issued implementation guidance.”
“In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect,” he wrote. “As importantly, given the current fight and the challenges we face, we will all remain focused on accomplishing our assigned missions.”
That’s great news for America’s transgender troops, but it’s far from a reprieve. There’s a good chance the White House will follow through on Trump’s tweet and go through the motions of creating the transgender ban. Which is a damn shame, because transgender troops are incredibly brave and uniquely predisposed to military service.
They’re born fighters and survivors, which is probably why, according to some estimates, they’re over-represented in the U.S. military.
In the hours after Trump’s tweet, America’s former and current transgender military personnel voiced their displeasure. “I would like to see them try to kick me out of my military,” Staff Sgt. Logan Ireland told Air Force Times. “You are not going to deny me my right to serve my country when I am fully qualified and able and willing to give my life.”
“I have never described myself as trans; I’m a motherfucking Marine, that‘s all that matters,” an anonymous Marine corporal told paper. “Don’t tarnish my title with your bigotry and fear of the unknown.”
Above — Staff. Sgt. Ashleigh Buch of the 38th Combat Training Squadron in October 2016. U.S. Air Force photo. At top — Sgt. Sam Hunt, the first openly transgender soldier with the Nevada Army National Guard. Nevada Joint Force Headquarters photo
“Let’s meet face to face and you tell me I’m not worthy,” retired Navy SEAL Kristin Beck told Trump through Business Insider. “We are liberty’s light. If you can’t defend that for everyone that’s an American citizen, that’s not right.”
Beck’s story, the subject of a forthcoming documentary, is particularly instructive.
As Christopher Beck, she served for 20 years in the Navy’s elite SEAL teams, moving from Team ONE all the way to SIX. She served 13 tours during that time and earned both a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. She is brave, unique and irreplaceable. She’s the face of transgender service in the American military.
Thanks to social fears and decades of ignorance, it’s hard to know exactly how many Americans identify as transgender let alone how many serve in the U.S. military. But, based on early research, transgender people are one of the only groups over-represented in the military.
A UCLA study from 2014 put the number of current and former transgender troops at around 150,000. A recent study by the Rand Corporation puts the active and reserve numbers of transgender troops at around 4,000, but Rand’s numbers don’t take into account veterans.
If the UCLA study is correct, more than 20 percent of America’s total transgender population is serving or has served in the armed forces. The only other group that serves in such numbers is Native Americans.
These numbers may be skewed, with more transgender Americans in the population going uncounted, but the anecdotal evidence backs up the assertion. Dr. George Brown spent the 1980s as a psychiatrist at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio and saw so many transgender airmen he published a study attempting to explain the phenomenon.
Brown theorized that transgender men joined the service in an attempt to prove their masculinity and refute their inner feelings. He noted transgender service members often took on dangerous roles in the military — those they felt were more masculine.
Brown’s assertions are only part of the story and they’re rooted in 20th century understandings of both war and transition. People join the military for a range of reasons — adventure, family traditions, cash and the chance to see combat. The reasons are as varied as the individuals joining. Transgender people join for a variety of reasons too, but their bravery in the face of adversity makes them uniquely qualified to serve.
For many trans people, just stepping out the front door and confronting the world is an act of bravery. Trans people face sexual and domestic assault numbers disproportionate to the rest of the country. Lately, they’ve become pawns in the latest round of America’s culture wars. They can get into legal trouble for using the wrong bathroom in the wrong state. For transgender people, simply being who you are can be an act of courage. The military is a great place to train up that courage.
Joining the military is a chance to become part of something bigger than yourself. It’s also a means for people to escape bad family situations, reinvent themselves and test their mettle. Military training strips away the bullshit of civilian life and forces a person into survivor mode. Once all the noise of modern life fades away, a recruit learns who they truly are.
Transgender people are poised to take advantage of that military benefit. They’ve also proven that, once tested, they’re qualified to rise through the ranks and prove themselves to the military. Hell, they’re often asked to prove who they are every single moment of every single day.
They’re fighters by nature. They have to be to survive. They’re the kind of person you want defending America.