Debunking Bigotry // The Trans Military Ban

Military uniform

We went to bed Tuesday night worried about healthcare and woke up Wednesday morning scared shitless for the lives of America's transgender individuals. At what point does Ashton Kutcher show up? At what point does Donald point to the hidden cameras and announce the weirdest reality show ever?   

The transgender community is already a marginalized set of people within the larger LGBTQ+ community. In the Obama administration, LGBTQ+ issues and safety were a part of the forefront of the agenda, abolishing "Don't Ask Don't Tell" and enforcing bathroom inclusivity policies in public schools. The Trump administration is seemingly on a warpath of destruction to undo these policies and threaten human rights and any progress made in the past 8 years (or 80 if we're being honest.)   

Besides waking up to the news that our five-time draft dodger and commander-in-chief cowardly went to Twitter to announce his position, a lot of us also woke up to gross misinformation from our colleagues, friends, and family. I decided to debunk some of the claims that have been made in defense of Trump’s decision in hopes that the next time you or someone you love is confronted with these excuses you will be able to shut them down.

Excuse #1: Being Trans Is a Safety Concern to the Military

So let’s forget for a minute that trans people are some of the bravest in the world — the number one argument is that a trans person would stunt military readiness. Let's unpack that.   

Not every trans person is transitioning nonstop. Transitioning is a part of someone's life, some go through it longer than others, but it is not a process that lasts their entire life. A lot of trans individuals have fully transitioned and currently lead very active and healthy lives. 

So let's say someone in the military is in the process of transitioning — that means many different things. They could be switching pronouns and coming out as trans, they could be entering or continuing hormone therapy, or they could be undergoing top or gender reassignment surgery. In 2007, narcotic prescriptions for military members numbered at 50,000 a month. Does a prescription or time off for a surgery mean that somebody is not able to serve our country? If that were the case, we'd lose the majority of the military.    

There also seem to be concerns that transgender soldiers are not physically capable of serving alongside their peers, especially in combat situations. There is no basis for this fear. The thousands of active duty transgender service members who are currently working to protect our country have all been subjected to the same physical and mental fitness standards as everyone else in the military, per the policies implemented under Obama. And as Sen. Tammy Duckworth said this week on twitter:

Excuse #2: Trans People Join the Military for Health Coverage   

Another misconception is that trans people only join the military for the health coverage. Why is that hurtful? It implies that someone who is transgender can't possibly want to join the military to support their country.   

It also implies that no one else joins the military for benefits — whether those benefits are medical coverage, college tuition, income, etc. This is not true. We know that the military provides a career with benefits that are enticing for a lot of people, and especially the working class poor.

Moreover, the claim that the amount of money the military spends on transgender soldiers is so massive that it could negatively impact the military’s ability to function has no basis in reality. It is estimated that there are currently up to 6,630 trans service members in active duty, which makes up less than 1% of the active duty population. The annual cost to support those trans service members is estimated between $2.4 and $8.4 million, according to Forbes. Even though this seems like a huge amount of money, that’s still only about 0.017% of the total annual defense budget. To contrast that, each year the military spends about $84 million on erectile dysfunction medication. In summary, this excuse is simply built on lies and fear.   

Excuse #3: Being Trans Is a Mental Illness   

People somehow feel emboldened to spew alternative facts that justify their bigotry — the biggest one being that transgender individuals are mentally ill. Individuals relying on this excuse cannot grasp the difference between sex and gender, and because they can't understand it, it must not exist and it must be someone's fault.   

Not only is the notion that being transgender is a mental illness false and harmful to the trans community, it's insulting to those actually suffering from real mental illness. I know you're going to want to hear from the American Psychological Association, the national organization of psychologists which publishes the highly revered and highly criticized DSM (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders), so I'm already one step ahead of you.   

"A psychological state is considered a mental disorder only if it causes significant distress or disability. Many transgender people do not experience their gender as distressing or disabling, which implies that identifying as transgender does not constitute a mental disorder. For these individuals, the significant problem is finding affordable resources, such as counseling, hormone therapy, medical procedures and the social support necessary to freely express their gender identity and minimize discrimination," says the APA in a statement on their resource page for “Transgender People, Gender Identity and Gender Expression.”

There you have it. Stop pretending like you have a Ph.D. in gender science if you cannot understand the difference between gender identity and mental health. And maybe you should take some time and read all of the APA’s resource page while you’re at it.

Excuse #4: My Gay Friend Says It's Okay   

The trans community is only one group within the larger LGBTQ+ community, and while issues such as marriage equality have brought discussions of sexuality to the forefront, the trans community does not have as large of a platform for sharing their views and opinion, and this has overall led to a misconception that gender identity is a matter of sexuality. It is not.

This disconnect is clearly reflected in the poll numbers. According to a recent PEW Research Center poll, 62% of Americans are in support of marriage equality, while a Reuters poll showed that only 39% of Americans think that trans individuals should be able to access public bathrooms that match their self-identified gender.

So, even if your gay friend doesn’t seem to have a problem with the trans military ban, it is critical to remember that lesbian and gay individuals are not qualified to speak on behalf of transgender individuals. Being gay doesn't dismiss someone from transphobia, nor does it make them the voice of the entire gay community. While those voices are valuable, they are not immune to hate or ignorance.   

Even a large number of feminist and social justice communities oppress trans individuals on a daily basis. TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) dismiss transwomen as valuable members of the feminist community.

Excuse #5: This Ban Is Out of the Blue  

This ban is not out of the blue. When you look at Trump's track record, you can see that he's been zeroing down on the trans community the same way he's been narrowing his view on the Muslim and Latinx communities. He's figuring out which marginalized people are still so heavily stigmatized and misunderstood that Americans will believe him when he works to further instill fear of these communities.   

The Department of Education under Betsy DeVos has rolled back much of the protections for transgender students who submit complaints of harassment or who request access to their preferred bathrooms. Trump appointed Betsy Kozma, a known anti-trans activist, to a gender equality position at USAID. In 2017 alone, 15 transgender individuals have been killed and none of these deaths have been discussed by Trump, meanwhile a handful of murders committed by illegal immigrants over the course of the last three decades has led Trump to create VOICE (Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement) and deport thousands of non-criminal illegal immigrants.  

Truth is, the LGBTQ+ community has watched so many programs be defunded and attitudes shift since January that this newest blow is no surprise, but is only what we all feared would happen.    

Excuse #6: This Is Only a Distraction from What's "Really" Going On   

News flash — this is really going on. And yes, until the vote last night came through to reject the AHCA, so was Trumpcare. And while it is true that there seems to be a new announcement each week on twitter to distract us from more sinister things, it doesn't make this announcement sting any less, and minimizes the importance and grievance towards the proposed trans ban.   

Every couple of weeks (hell, every couple of days), our president — the man literally in charge of America — takes to his twitter account to spew something disgusting and hateful. It's true. The last thing that disrupted America when movement was happening with the health care act and the Russia investigation was a sexist tweet about Mika Brzezinski and her "facelift."   

The key difference here is that a misogynist tweet wasn't going to affect thousands of people in the military and change history for trans individuals all across America. This is different. This is real life and while the strategy might have been to take away from the health care vote, it doesn't make it any less terrible.   

So, What Are We Going to Do?

Our trans community is being erased, dehumanized, and thought of as less than human. What are we going to do about it? We know after the Muslim ban in winter that large groups of outraged protesters can influence or at least stall proposed laws.    

What are you doing in your personal lives to combat transphobia? Are you telling your uncle Bill you won't stand for it anymore? Are you volunteering at a resource center or planning a march? Still can't think of what you can do to make a difference? Luckily, the National Center for Transgender Equality has 52 ideas to help you get started.

But whatever you do, don't stay silent — Americans have stayed silent for so long, and frankly, that’s why we’re in this mess.


Jamie Carle

JAMIE CARLE

Jamie is the owner of Jamie Carle Photography and resides in Vancouver, WA. Her background was always in videography. She was an AV nerd in high school and president of her school video club. When college came, she decided to major in graphic design and put video second. She became pregnant — and knowing she'd be a single mother — she made the choice to put off school while she worked, scraped, and saved. One way she was able to stay creative and sane was photography. Through thousands of photos of her baby, she was able to keep doing something really special.

She found a new passion and moved from her own child to other children, which then expanded into all kinds of family portraiture. She was asked if she offered wedding services, and at the time was floored. So she became a second shooter for another photographer and learned some ins and outs of the wedding business. This has become her favorite thing to do — capture love and tell your story.