What Is It Like To Be a Trans Soldier?
In July 2017, the president of the United States announced a ban on transgender people serving in the military. This hasty decision, announced on Twitter, outlined no details in regards to what would happen to current active trans servicemembers.
The announcement came amid a disagreement around a $790 billion defense and security spending package scheduled to vote on. The disagreement threatened the bill’s ability to pass. In the same week, lawmakers argued whether or not taxpayers should pay for gender transition and hormone therapy — despite its infinitesimal cost. And that’s how the president tweeted his solution and shut down support for 15,000 active-duty members of our military without a concrete policy in place.
Since then, groups of House Democrats, a bipartisan group of senators, retired generals and admirals, and many others have requested, advised, and written letters to the president in order to urge him to reject this unconstitutional directive. Many trans veterans have tweeted their disappointment, and others are suing. But there are also those who agree with the president’s planned policy.
The military is already a hard place to be for a trans person. In one series of tweets, the president further alienated countless active-duty soldiers – some currently overseas.
Trans soldiers sacrifice
“I’m a transgender veteran and gave my entire youth (19-26) to the service of my country. It’s all I know. This is outrageous and so wrong.”
– Tomi Kay, transgender Army veteran
Every person who fights for our country — reserves, active, veteran — sacrifices part of themselves to their country. They sacrifice time with family, the normalcy of a civilian job, their safety, their food choices, and where they live, among so many other things. They sacrifice what their purpose is for the entirety of their active duty. Being in the military has a way of defining who you are, and it’s a sacrifice to give your identity to the government in order to fight for freedom. For a servicemember, no matter your race, gender, sexuality, age, level of education, rank, or religion, you’re a soldier and you’re sacrificing so much to be a soldier.
Many transgender service members sacrifice so much more than the average soldier. For one, while transgender soldiers make up a small percentage of military members, they serve at a higher rate than most other demographics. It’s also a scary job to have as a trans person, so many stay quiet to avoid backlash.
The general view of LGBTQ service members has been leaning in a positive direction, and Trump’s announcement pushed this issue the other way. Mental health issues in transgender people are largely triggered by stigma and inequality, so his comments were highly damaging.
What is it like being a trans soldier? It’s about sacrifice, just like any other soldier.
Trans soldiers experience trauma
“Don’t talk about my service [Donald Trump]. You will never be as good as me and thousands of servicemembers. No matter how hard you try.”
– Rachel Lauren Clark, transgender Marine Corps veteran
A soldier’s life is something that they agree to sacrifice when putting on their uniform and vowing to protect their country. The same flag lies over their coffin regardless of their gender or orientation. They can be shot, injured, wounded, or left with a life deeply affected by PTSD.
They may lose fellow soldiers, have lasting mental health problems as a result of war, or experience mental health issues while overseas. Soldiers may battle the grief of losing a loved one back home while they continue to battle overseas – or the grief of losing another soldier. They may experience anxiety or depression as a result of missing the birth of children, the declining health of a parent, or other family emergencies.
Trauma comes in all forms, and those in service can experience it in so many different ways while serving their country. Some are lasting, others are short-term, some are physical.
Some new recruits experienced trauma within training, in dealing with other recruits, or in unfair treatment from higher ranking officers. In a world where LGBTQ soldiers are just gaining equality within the military world within the last five years, it’s extremely damaging for the president to encourage the viewpoint that they are not welcome. The world of military interaction and training is a harsh, gruelling, and demanding environment; you’re transformed, both inside and out. The most self-assured recruit is stripped down, and for the marginalized recruit the difficulties are multiplied.
What is it like being a trans soldier? It’s accepting the possibility of experiencing trauma, just like any other soldier.
Trans soldiers battle life as a civilian
“When you attack transgender military members you are attacking America’s war fighters. [Donald Trump] once again shows his apathy for service.”
– Shane Ortega, transgender Marine Corps and Army veteran
Military service members join up, go through the riguors of basic training, serve their country in whichever capacity, and come home a completely different person. A soldier’s experiences no longer relate to the average civilian.
If soldiers experienced trauma as a result of serving, they come home with that battle. Transgender men and women who serve are handling the transition from soldier to civilian as well as their potentially handling their own gender transitions in some capacity.
Mental health can be a concern, finding the right career path can be hard, and adapting into a world they used to be a part of are all a battle for military members going from one extreme to another. Some military members can find fulfilling careers in military social work where they can feel at home, and at peace helping others. Others find education programs designed for veterans to help them move forward in their civilian life.
No matter what their military career looked like, it’s difficult to go from living life as a soldier to living life as a civilian. They miss home, and then they miss the battlefield. They miss freedom, and then miss structure. They connect with family, and then connect with fellow service members. They have to integrate back into a job, a home, a life that seems foreign. The transition is easier for some, harder for others.
What is it like being a trans soldier? It’s battling the transition back to being a civilian, just like any other soldier.
Trans soldiers do it for your country
“As a trans vet I am disgusted!! My being trans was never a deterrent nor a distraction from my
duty to serve. Being validated made me better.”
– Toni Miller, transgender veteran
There’s a great deal of pride that comes with serving your country. If you ask a vet which branch of the military they served in, they straighten up a bit before telling you. There’s pride there, and each branch tells their soldiers, airmen, sailors, marines, and guardsmen how proud they should be to be a part of their branch. Rightfully so, because it takes a hell of a lot to commit to a life in the military.
Words like bravery, gumption, leadership, and heroism don’t just apply to a certain type of service member — it applies to all of them, including transgender service members.
Transgender military members join despite possible backlash and harassment, because they are proud to serve their country. Freedom comes at a price, and transgender soldiers fight for their country’s right to hate them. They fight for their right to be who they are.
What is it like being a trans soldier? Trans soldiers fight for your country, just like any other soldier.
A ban on transgender military service men and women is an attack against all people who fight for this country.
Being a trans soldier is just being a soldier, because they are a soldier, pilot, sailor, and a marine before they are anything else.
The military is a group of siblings. They protect each other, they are a unit, and they sacrifice everything for our country. When the president, or anyone else, separates transgender service members from the rest of their community, they are promoting a dangerous dialogue. Backlash against transgender service men and women isn’t solely backlash against someone who’s trans, which is in itself horrific. It’s backlash against a soldier, the same soldier we celebrate and the same soldier we mourn.
What is it like to be a trans soldier? It’s a lot like being a soldier.