Written Nov. 1, 2020 (This law has since been updated. Read about it here.)

Imagine going through high school and having a dream of being in the military as an enlisted member, or even join an ROTC program to become an officer. 

Now imagine that dream being crushed, or rather, ripped away, because you’re transgender and navigating the transition process – meaning hormone replacement therapy, a name change and perhaps even surgery. 

I’ve heard myself that  transgender individuals aren’t mentally, emotionally or physically fit to serve in the military, but is that true or is it a myth? This brings us to explore the possibly detrimental effects of having transgender individuals serve in the U.S. Military and how other countries who do not have a ban of this sort are accommodating transgender folks in the military.

It is also important to look at studies and perspectives of military psychologists to see how they assess the implications of transgender individuals serving in the military, as well as what happens after someone who is transgender has surgery and returns to their assigned duty or job. 

There are some considerations to keep in mind, such as:

  • The effects that transgender individuals have on morale and productivity 
  • What it could take from a financial, procedural and legal standing for the United States to lift the ban
  • The implications behind previous concerns.

Strength, readiness and lethality

To be in the military you need to be fit — both mentally and physically — and able to perform many tasks while under extreme amounts of stress. 

In basic training, or bootcamp, your drill sergeants, or for the Navy RDC’s will break you down mentally and build you up to be what the military needs you to be in an eight to fourteen week process depending on the branch of service. 

With all of that said, there is an underlying fear that the military will be weaker with transgender individuals serving. However, as Goodwin and Chemerinsky stated, “further, the government has failed to show military vulnerability during the past three years, despite transgender individuals who have openly served in the military under Obama-era policies. 

“What remains then, are unjustified stereotypes and biases, which violate the rights of transgender individuals and ultimately undermine a stronger and more cohesive military,” according to Goodwin and Chemerinsky

Transgender individuals were serving openly for three years under the Obama Administration without issue. However, under the Trump Administration, there’s issues now?

There has yet to be a and valid study done to find any negative implications of a transgender military ban. Instead, it’s all rather conjecture focused around the fears of the possible discrimination, breakdown of morale and, ironically enough, funding transgender services at the dime of the American taxpayer. 

Comparing militaries

When asking the question of what impact there is, there has been nothing but great things to be said… for the most part. 

All countries who do not have a transgender military ban have encountered no hurdles aside from some very minor disruptions. If one were to look at the United Kingdom for inspiration, considering they are one of our closest allies and incredibly similar in military procedure and doctrine you will see absolutely no issue with having transgender military members. 

In fact, you may see that there is perhaps even a great benefit. 

As stated inAssessing the Implications of Allowing Transgender Personnel to Serve Openly,” “Some commanders had reported that increases in diversity had led to increases in readiness and performance. 

“Interviews with the same commanders also found no effect on cohesion, though there was some resistance to the policy change within the general military population, which led to a less-than-welcoming environment for transgender personnel. However, this resistance was apparently short-lived.”

The United Kingdom does, however, encourage individuals to start and finish their transition before enlistment. 

Because of the possible hardships one might endure while transitioning from one gender to another, or even perhaps the need to see a psychiatrist on a regular basis to monitor emotional or mental fitness and readiness, it is not a disqualifier when enlisting and the individual may be on a sort of reserve or light duty. 

Someone who has fully transitioned into the targeted gender will be fully deployable in the UK without issue, aside from routine lab work for hormone levels and the occasional psychological evaluation. 

The UK also provides protections for these members when it comes to administrative, medical and military personnel files.   

What would need to change in the military for transgender individuals to serve? 

Semantics, yes, that is it, it is all a fuss over semantics really. The main concern is the vernacular in the Department of Defense policy not matching with what is stated in the DSM-5. 

“We recommend that the DoD review and revise the language to match that of the DSM-5 for conditions related to mental fitness,” said Shaefer and co.

The rest is simply a stay on physical fitness testing until the individual has acquired the correct gender, which is understandable considering the amount of change that is going on as well as a possible surgery or two. 

Not having a handful of troops because of their surgery is not even a minor hiccup in the military considering how many troops we have deployed (over 1 million) and on reserve (1.1 million or 45% of the military), or perhaps even twiddling their thumbs in a barracks as they’re permanently assigned somewhere (200,000 troops). 

Not all situations are the same

It is also important to take into consideration that not every transgender military member is going to have surgery at the same time and at most rendering them unable to work for two to three months. 

If thought out properly, all parties (the individual, their superior and the medical professional) would space out the operations. The other fears were lab testing for hormone levels, which can be done out in the Forward Operating Base by a medical corpsman, or the fear of needing refrigerated medication. However, there are non-refrigerated alternatives that are perfectly viable. 

The last and final fear is the possible financial woe of covering a transgender service member costs. 

The statistics that have been found and researched were based out of areas or demographics with an incredibly high cost of living as well as a rather high cost of insurance premiums and services rendered, so to get a decent or accurate baseline cost would be difficult considering the inflated numbers projected. 

There is a window of $2.5-$5.8 million cost to American taxpayers, but when we look at how much America spends on a daily basis, that is simply a small or microscopic blip in the continuous plunge into debt. 

Overall, it is about the semantics and the DoD policy not matching with the DSM-5, the rest of the “issues” that one may have thought would be detrimental are simply just over thought fears. 

Looking at the following quote substantiates the fact that a transgender individual can report to duty after Sexual Reassignment Surgery (SRS) and still surpass expectations put in place by the military such as uniform, conduct, ability to perform ones duty effectively and efficiently despite the narrative that transgender individuals are unfit for military duty. 

“Four months after her surgery, S.C. was evaluated “to ascertain aeromedical fitness to return to flying duties.” At this evaluation, S.C. reported that from the time of childhood and adolescence she dressed as and fantasized about being a female. Clements and Wick note that she “possessed above-average intelligence and was neither flamboyant nor hysterical” and that she was “restrained in dress and behavior.” Her physical examination was largely “unremarkable,” with the exception of a non-problematic heart murmur, and her genitals, which had been surgically corrected to female genitals to reflect her gender identity.” (p.194)

I also want to use the following quote as an example of what a military psychiatrist thinks about the ban from a broad perspective as they utilize an isolated incident to illustrate the frustrations in diagnosing individuals with gender dysphoria (GID) as it’s now known in the DSM-5. 

I feel it’s incredibly important to have a military psychiatrist’s perspective and input considering they have a vast knowledge of the military and what is needed to be not only successful but what’s needed to be exceptional when it comes to one’s mental health. Being evaluated with a psychiatric lens in conjunction with a military lens will add strength or weight to the argument that transgender individuals are fit for duty.  

“Sadly, in one instance, I was involved in kicking out a good soldier. This was in 2012, when troops could be separated for what was known then as Gender Identity Disorder (later updated to Gender Dysphoria in DSM-5). Eventually, I was ordered to give my full diagnosis: Gender Identity Disorder; then, proceedings began to remove this solder. What a loss, what an abuse of power; how humiliating! We cannot let this happen again.” (Wise p.115

Additionally, the following quote to supplements the fact that there is no scientific evidence to prove that transgender individuals are less capable or not capable of serving in the military in any fashion especially from a strategic stand point and that were all just hung up on fears and most of these fears are irrational but fears none-the-less.

“No scientific evidence has been produced to suggest that homosexual, bisexual, and transgender individuals are necessarily less capable of providing the skills and attributes that militaries require. Many countries actively reach out to LGBT communities as part of their recruitment strategy because they believe that LGBT individuals may have skills required by the military.” (p.26)


So, what are the detrimental effects of having transgender military members in the American Military but have other countries with transgender service members flourishing? 

It is clear to see that aside from some minor semantics and a small hiccup in the economy the American Military will be just fine if they have transgender military members. They did rather well for three years under the Obama Administration. Looking at the UK, they seem to be doing fine as well. 

What is the issue then? 

One may have thought there would be vast amounts of abuse or issues in command breakdown, readiness, morale, lethality or effectiveness, but there seems to be the opposite effect when we allow transgender individuals serve in the military. 

Transgender individuals who have served or are currently serving based on waivers or exceptions seem to outperform their peers, and there seems to be no issue aside from minor murmurs within the ranks that eventually settle down. 

Once we are able to allow transgender individuals into the military, educate personnel and society about what it means to be transgender and the fact that they can live normal and productive lives like the rest of society, the rest will then sort itself out. 

Who knows, after all of that maybe taxpayers won’t be too concerned with how much it costs to have someone transition. Perhaps it’s fear of the unknown, or the fear of having to learn and affirm that transgender individuals can still contribute and serve in the military with minimal issue just like their cisgender counterparts.

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