Opinion

Commentary: Transgender military service is common sense

Captain Smith* is a staff officer with a Stryker Brigade Combat Team. As a junior officer, she finally came to terms with the discrepancy between her physical appearance as male and her inner sense of herself as a woman, and began transitioning to be her true self. Though this caused some concern with her chain of command, she was still rated — while transitioning — as the top performer at her grade.

Captain Jones* was a Tac officer, drilling officer candidates for the National Guard in a sSouthern state. The Guard views Jones as a female, but he has transitioned. His good ol' boy colleagues delighted in challenging the recruits who call Jones "sir," saying "Does she look like a 'sir' to you?!" They privately say to Jones "that's so funny, 'cause you totally do." But the joke became tired. Unfortunately, higher command insisted that recruits be corrected if they call the obviously male-appearing officer "Sir."

Air Force Master Sgt. Doe* is a flight engineer examiner, with over 20 years' service. She's highly valued, widely respected, recruited by similar units. But she loves her job too much to risk telling her chain of command that she is trans. Will it affect her flight status?

Senior Airman Logan Ireland is well-known now because of a New York Times profile telling his story of deploying as a transgender man.

Maybe it's my religious background, but I believe that all babies are born perfect; but some require surgical intervention to live healthy lives. Most of us require surgical intervention at some point in our lives. But if that surgery involves sex organs, we freak out; we revert to junior-high gross-out reactions. Which is why few people know about the thousands of children born with indeterminate genitalia, or XXY chromosomes; we are more comfortable believing that there is no blurring of the line between "male" and "female" in brain and body. But that's false.

Let's get back to the field. If Captain Smith went through a six-month deployment, continuing her hormones, managing her privacy without any issues, why does the Army need her to act like a man when she gets back to home base? If Senior Airman Ireland performs his Security Police duties in Afghanistan, billeting with other men, managing his own privacy, why does he have to wear female dress blues when he gets back stateside? If Captain Jones's recruits call him "sir," why is he ordered to correct them?

There is every indication that senior military leaders know that the 35-year-old policies on transgender service are out of date and need to be changed (the American Medical Association agrees) — but there has been no resolution of the ongoing confusion among commanders who want to keep good troops and are crafting their own solutions.

Sue Fulton is a graduate of West Point and a former captain.

Photo Credit: Courtesy Sue Fulton

The British Ministry of Defence has commonsense protocols for transgender troops to work with medical personnel and their local commanders to plan for gender transition, so planning a date-certain for changing gender is straightforward. The NCAA has clear guidance for when transgender women are allowed to compete as women, and vice versa (roughly speaking, six months after starting hormone therapy), so PT standards are easily addressed. Medical treatment is well-established and has no long-lasting impacts on physical readiness. (Contrary to common beliefs, if surgery is needed, it is neither exorbitant nor complicated, and service members would return to duty in a reasonable time period). Medications are already available in the military medical system, even down-range, and easy to use in "austere environments" — we deploy transgender civilians without problem.

For every question about transgender military service, there is a common-sense answer. So why are over 15,000 transgender troops, and their leaders, left hanging?

On June 9, the Pentagon commemorated LGBT Pride month with an event in the Auditorium, featuring Secretary of Defense Ash Carter as the main speaker. Transgender military service was not mentioned, but the secretary made this comment: "We must start from a position of inclusivity, not exclusivity. Anything less is not just plain wrong, it's bad defense policy … If we're going to attract the best and brightest to contribute to our mission of national defense, we have to ourselves be more diverse, open, and tolerant, too." Over a dozen transgender service members and veterans in that audience are waiting to be included.

*not their real name.

Sue Fulton is a 1980 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and president of SPARTA, an organization of LGBT military service members, veterans and their families. The opinions expressed are her own, and do not reflect the views of any other organization she is part of.

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