The US military will soon lift its ban on transgender soldiers. But for years, trans people have served in the military — by hiding their identities.
Time magazine documented the experiences of three trans soldiers, showing the discrimination and fear they faced while they served.
"When I found out I was going to Afghanistan, a lot of people were excited, some people were shaken up," said Maya Martinez, 26, who served as an Army specialist. "But I was more optimistic at the fact that I could maybe die and not have to face the realities of the life that nobody knew." Martinez added, "I have a family. I had a wife. I had my pets. And I had things to come back to. But at the same time, that doesn't mean anything to me because I wasn't able to be me."
Landon Wilson, 25, served in the Navy — until one of his superiors found out he was designated female at birth. Wilson explained, "It was my promotion that outed me — after they had saw that my enlistment paperwork said 'female.' I talked to a sergeant major, and [he] sat down, looked me in the face, and said, 'So, what are you?' And I remember thinking, 'I'm human, first and foremost, and I'm here to do my job.'"
All three people in the video were discharged because they're trans. All three said they would return to the military if allowed.
The stories are tragic, but they also get at how the military hurts itself with its ban. The prohibition doesn't just limit the military's pool of potential applicants; it also risks the mental health of trans soldiers who are forced into hiding — and that can lead to big problems when they're out in the field.
"I took my first shot of testosterone, and it was like I took my very first breath of life," Wilson said. "That made me a better person, and it made putting on that uniform so much easier."
The ban on trans service is based on incorrect and outdated medical rationale
As a March 2014 report from the Palm Center explained, the military's ban allows commanders to dismiss trans individuals from the military without a medical review, regardless of the service member's ability to serve. As a result, as many as 15,500 trans people are forced to hide their true identities if they want to remain in the military.
The Pentagon is working on a plan to undo the ban in the next six months. But it's unclear how, exactly, trans troops will be treated in the different armed service branches, and the Pentagon expects a working group to nail down the details. In the meantime, the Pentagon said it will limit discharges of trans soldiers by putting the undersecretary for personnel and readiness in charge of dismissal decisions.
The ban on trans service members, as with other forms of discrimination against trans people, is based on incorrect and outdated medical rationale. The concern is that a person's gender dysphoria, a state of emotional distress caused by how the gender someone was designated at birth conflicts with their gender identity, could interfere with someone's ability to serve, since it can lead to severe depression and anxiety.
Most medical experts today, including the American Psychiatric Association and American Medical Association, agree that hormone therapy and other forms of trans-inclusive care can treat people suffering from gender dysphoria. And not all trans people suffer from severe gender dysphoria in the first place.
So all trans soldiers could potentially serve without problems if they just got the care they need. But by blocking access to that care, the military risks pushing trans people into hiding and stops the treatment and prevention of mental health issues that can lead to actual problems in the field.