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“We’re here to do our job — so let us”: a trans Army captain on Trump’s ban

"We have contributed to this military and this nation as much as anyone else."

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The White House is expected to tell the Pentagon in the coming days how to implement its ban on trans military service. Trump impulsively announced the ban last month via Twitter, but at the time there were no formal guidelines for how to move forward.

There will be plenty of coverage of the implications and details of Trump’s policy. But I wanted to talk with a trans soldier, someone who is serving right now and who understands this at the ground level.

Jacob Eleazer is a captain in the Kentucky Army National Guard. He has served for more than 11 years, beginning as an enlisted soldier and later earning his commission as an officer. He is currently a member of the 198th Military Police Battalion, where he serves as a senior human resources officer.

He agreed to be interviewed, but made it clear his remarks are his opinions as a private citizen and that he is not speaking for or on behalf of the United States Army or the Army National Guard.

I asked Eleazer, among other things, to tell me what he would say to the president or to the people making policy if he could sit down with them tomorrow.

“I'd say that we are your soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines,” he told me. “We are not a special interest. We have been serving you and this country for decades. We have contributed to this military and this nation as much as anyone else. We're here to do our job — so let us.”

You can read our full conversation below.


Sean Illing

What was your reaction when you heard the news [of Trump’s proposed ban]?

Jacob Eleazer

My initial reaction was that this has got be a hoax. Someone must have hacked the president's Twitter account or someone must have photoshopped the tweets. When I realized it was serious, I was floored.

There was no indication at all that this was coming. We thought this was settled. We gained a huge victory last year when the ban was dropped. All indications were that we were moving forward on this policy and that things were moving in the right direction. And there seemed to be plenty of support from the Pentagon as well. So this came way out of left field.

Sean Illing

I don’t know if you saw this, but the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff announced that there will be “no modifications” to the current policy until or unless the DOD issues a formal policy. So it appears this is a long way from policy.

Jacob Eleazer

Well, I have drill this weekend and I'm showing up. Nobody's told me not to come to work, so I'll be there on Saturday!

Sean Illing

The president’s rationale — again, formulated on Twitter — is that the military “cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.” Thoughts?

Jacob Eleazer

I won't presume to know the president's rationale for anything, but what I will say is that the DOD commissioned a study on this when they originally lifted the ban, spending over a full year looking closely at the implications, and concluded that the impact of allowing trans people to serve was minimal in terms of impacting readiness and medical costs.

As for the “tremendous medical costs,” well, I just read yesterday in the Washington Post that the military spends five times as much on Viagra as it would on transgender troops' medical care. So I think the assertion that the costs for allowing trans people to serve will be astronomical just doesn’t square with the facts.

Sean Illing

If this policy were implemented and you were told you had to leave the service, what would you do?

Jacob Eleazer

I'm a commissioned officer, so I'd follow lawful orders. But for me in terms of my own life and my own career, I'm incredibly privileged. I'm a part-time solider, so I'd still have my job and I could still pay my bills and feed myself if I lost my commission. But a lot of active-duty folks, particularly junior enlisted folks, live paycheck to paycheck, and so this would have an enormous impact on their lives.

But it's more than that. You've been in the military, you know how it is; for a lot of these people, the military is their family. Abruptly tossing someone out of the service would have a devastating impact on them personally and on our readiness as an institution. We have trans people working in countless corners of the military, and they do their jobs well. If you purge them overnight, that hurts the entire organization.

Sean Illing

Has your gender status had any impact at all on your day-to-day life in the Army?

Jacob Eleazer

The thing that's had the biggest impact on my military career is the policies. I wasn't fooling anyone before I came out. I never looked feminine; I never showed up with makeup on my face. Everyone knew who I was. Hell, I always looked like a man. Young soldiers would call me sir and then get chewed out by my colleagues who’d yell, "Does she look like a man to you?!" But the truth is that I did, and you know what? It didn't matter. No one cared. I came out and I continued to do my job, and almost all of the people I worked with treated me the same.

Sean Illing

I served before the Obama administration, during the “don’t ask, don’t tell” days, and what I remember is that no one gave a shit about someone’s gender status or sexuality. I had active-duty friends who were gay, we all knew they were gay, and not one person cared. The idea that they had to officially pretend they weren’t gay struck all of us as absurd.

Jacob Eleazer

All we've ever asked for is the opportunity to serve our country and to earn the respect of the men and women with whom we serve. That's it. The people on the ground understand this, and they have no problem with it. This is about policy, not the average soldier. Almost every person I’ve ever served with cared about one thing: Can you do your job? If you can, you’re needed and welcomed.

Sean Illing

So when you were finally able to come out, nothing changed? No one treated you differently?

Jacob Eleazer

The only thing that changed was that I could finally go to work and not hide who I was, who I really was. I didn’t have to live a lie. I was able to be honest with folks about who I was, and that allowed me to bring my whole self into work. So when that ban was lifted, it was a huge weight off my chest. I felt like I could be a real person.

Sean Illing

If you could sit down with the president or with the people making policy, what would you say to them?

Jacob Eleazer

I'd say that we are your soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines. We are not a special interest. We have been serving you and this country for decades. We have contributed to this military and this nation as much as anyone else. We're here to do our job — so let us.

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