On a bitter cold December day in 2013, I found myself seated across from a Navy Captain, the doctor who oversaw the Naval Medical Processing Station in Norfolk, Virginia. I was tired, still coated in the dust of Afghanistan, and still uncertain of which time zone I was in. He stared at me with a smirk on his face and leaned forward, studying me with an intensity I couldn’t place. “Isn’t this fascinating?”
I stared back silently before offering only a confused, “Sir?”
He clapped the surface of his desk and coins and papers rattled as he settled deep into his chair. “The Navy ― the military ― isn’t ready for transgender people yet, but they need to be. They need to be, right now.” He continued, “The services will be stronger when they recognize you and people like you. And they will. I guarantee it.”
When I stood to leave his office, we shook hands and he held my eyes for a second. “Well done, Sailor.”
It has been a little over three years since I separated from the United States military after transitioning from female-to-male while still in service. If I said there weren’t days where I missed the military, I would be lying. The community that the service creates is unlike any other I’ve experienced; through my time in the service, I never once doubted that the person to my left or my right would defend my personhood. Some of the most incredible people I know wear, or once wore, a military uniform, and I am proud to wear the title of veteran. But I struggle in being proud of this country that has so effectively worked to silence the voices and experiences of transgender people.
I am proud to wear the title of veteran. But I struggle in being proud of this country that has so effectively worked to silence the voices and experiences of transgender people.
I struggle in being proud of a country that has, in 2017 alone, seen at least 15 murders of transgender women and stood by while the murderers are regularly excused. I struggle in being proud of a country that celebrates the victory of a presidential administration that built a platform on promises to strip people’s access to healthcare, education, and other integral civil rights. I struggle in being proud of a country that only advocates for transgender people when it relates to the military.
In July of 2016, former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter made history when he declared what thousands of other people already knew: Transgender people serve in the United States military honorably, and should be able to do so without further obstacles. The community rejoiced for what this meant, and while I recognize that a country who dresses a military industrial complex in a transgender flag is still a country thriving on the military industrial complex, this decision for transgender people meant new ways to gain economic freedoms and opportunities. I watched friends I knew in the service move from being shy and scared, to becoming leaders in their commands, finally affirmed and validated to bring their full selves to work. I celebrated with veterans who knew that though our time in service was over, future service members would not have to face the heart wrenching decision of choosing between loving themselves or loving their job.
I watched friends I knew in the service move from being shy and scared, to becoming leaders in their commands, finally affirmed and validated to bring their full selves to work.
Today, the President of the United States made a statement that shows his intention in reversing this freedom and opportunity for transgender people. This is a decision made by someone who dodged the draft, someone who has never once experienced the plethora of emotions in being able to call yourself a soldier, sailor, Marine, airman, or guardsman, someone who does not know what it feels like to be in a combat zone or what it’s like to feel like the entire country is incapable of recognizing your own humanity. This decision to eliminate transgender servicemembers, those who are already serving and those who would like to join, is vague at best and does not have any clear direction, but it sends a clear message to transgender people. Trump’s Twitter tirade, and the statements from the White House and other politicians following the Tweet, may not effectively do anything to prevent transgender servicemembers from continuing their service, but it does so much more. These dangerous ideas tell transgender people that they are a disruption to society, a burden that can be ordered away, a problem that is not worthy of a sustainable solution. These ideas tell transgender children that their country does not want them; these ideas tell transgender adults that their country will not fight for them.
The Department of Defense is the largest employer of transgender people across the nation, and it is a stronger institution when it is led by a diverse team. Trump’s brash decision to demand transgender people be removed from the service is not one that strengthens our country; in fact, it weakens our nation as a fighting force, and as a leader of civil rights.
I do not know where that Captain from December 2013 is today, but I do know that he was right. The military is ready for transgender people ― and it has been ready for a long time. Let them serve; we already are.