Transgendered and Military Service … Apples and Oranges?

When it comes to the issue of transgendered individuals serving in the military there appears to be a serious abundance of ignorance to go around … on both sides. And it all stems from the simple truth that both sides of the argument are clouded by a lot of emotion.

Let’s look at it from the military point of view.

I can do that with a certain amount of experience. I am surrounded by former military; The Blue Magnet is former Air Force; Her oldest son is former Marine corps; Her youngest son and his wife are former Army. One of her brothers is former Army and one is former Airforce.

My youngest son is military through and through. A West Point graduate, he was a Ranger Lieutenant in the Balkans and Captain in Special Operations in Iraq. He is honest with me when he says that he frankly doesn’t understand the set of emotions that have driven me most of my life. And, why should he? His emotional make up matches his physical body. It took me years to understand why normal people didn’t accept that my gender identity didn’t match my body. Understanding why another person isn’t like you is fairly easy when it involves just about anything but gender identity. And therein lies the problem.

The military for all the grand notions we have of bravery and honor has just one function … kill or be killed in defense of that which you hold dear. It’s the “be killed” part that drives the decisions of most military members. The driving mindset in our military is defend by conquest. In the minds of most military personel that leaves no room for experimentation with the way emotions affect the outcome of armed conflict.

I ask you, the reader, if you were facing a real live enemy bent on killing you without a trace of mercy in their eyes, wouldn’t you want the person next to you, backing you up, to have a set of emotions that matched the male gender identity 100%? I would. Pay close attention to the word gender and its meaning. I didn’t say sex. Sex is a physical issue that determines whether you can carry a child and give birth and physically nurture that child or plant the seed that creates the child. Gender identity is who a person senses themselves to be emotionally. Sadly, it has become synonymous with the term sex.

So, in an effort to get the proper perspective I posed the question of transgendered military service to my “family”. The Blue Magnet and my youngest son feel that as long as a person, any person, can meet the standards set for men to meet then they should be allowed to serve. I tend to agree.

The Blue Magnet’s youngest son, a friend who was also former army and was there at the time, as well as her daughter in law, feel that there is no place in the military at all for transgendered individuals and even extended that to the gay and lesbian community as well.

The greatest hurdle the trans community has to clear on a daily basis is “other acceptance”. In other words, acceptance by the other people, the normal people that they come in contact with every day, and that includes family members as often as not. That is a hurdle that exists everywhere but without personally experiencing it, I can assume that the highest hurdle is the one posed by the requirements of military service. However, even if that hurdle did not exist there is one that I don’t think the trans community realistically addresses. It’s this; just as in the “normal” world there is a difference between male and female only in this case it’s a difference in MtF (male to female) and FtM (female to male). Those differences are markedly different.

For instance, I know FtMs who are as physically fit as any ideal male military specimen. The male hormones they take make that physical transition very possible. On the other hand, and in this I speak from personal experience, MtFs tend to lose muscle mass and their features become very feminine in time. I’m not suited for military service and never would have been if I had transitioned at an age suited for military service.

The argument for trans inclusion in the military is based in notion that we shouldn’t be excluded just because our gender identity doesn’t match our bodies; we should have the same opportunities to serve as normal people. My question, and the question many others ask is, where does that stop? Where is the dividing line? Do we then let paraplegics join the military and serve in combat units? That is not a stupid question? It’s a question meant to highlight the fact that a line has to be drawn somewhere.

When I began this piece, I was of the opinion shared by my son and The Blue Magnet; “If they can meet the same standards that are required of normal everyday men then they should be allowed to serve.” However, that was before I ran into the vehement opposition of other family members as well as some other former military acquaintances. The opinion that I hold now is somewhat modified by some thought projection.

Let’s face it, it takes a certain unique mindset to place yourself in a position of possibly having to lay your life on the line for your country. Part of that mindset is a love of the regimented lifestyle. But a big part, possibly the biggest part, of what drives the military mind is the rush of encountering and overcoming impending danger and we should all be thankful that there are those people to whom that way of life appeals.  They are the ones that give us the freedom to voice our opinions, express what we think in spite of what others may think.

To sum it all up, I don’t particularly like the fact that I was born with a gender identity that doesn’t match my body because it has made some big parts of my life far more difficult that they would have been otherwise. But, facts are facts. I am who and what I am. Society doesn’t owe me a damn thing. Society doesn’t owe the transgendered world, of which I am a part a damn thing. Quite the opposite. As members of society it is we who owe a debt. We owe a debt of gratitude for being able to live our lives as we see fit in almost every part of society. The chip, that many of us carry around on our shoulders, just daring someone to knock it off, makes us targets for society not part of it.

That society is protected by our military and if our military feels that it can better protect us when it doesn’t have to serve as a petri dish for social experimentation then it should definitely not serve as a petri dish for social experimentation. I believe that those who have been serving should be allowed to serve out their current commitments, and to re-commit as long as their gender identity issues do not interfere with the mission. But, to open up the military to further experimentation will only lead to degradation of the military. It’s a tough line to draw but it’s a necessary line in my view.

Our community needs to learn that if we are to ever become acceptable to our society as a whole, and treated as normal people, then we have to act like normal people and not make every single issue one that demands special treatment. Normal people don’t get special treatment. Normal soldiers, sailors and airmen don’t get special treatment.

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