THE BUZZ: Trans-Military

By on August 30, 2017

A queer veteran weighs in on Trump’s military ban.

People taking to the streets in Washington D.C. in protest of Trump’s transgender military ban. (Photo: Ted Eytan)

JACKSON, WY – Peyton Davis completed their four years of military service in June. They were deployed to Afghanistan for six months. Davis comes from “a military family.”

“Army has always been a part of my life,” Davis said.

Davis also had to largely hide their identity during their four years of service. Davis is queer, and uses the non-gendered pronouns they and them. They have bound their chest for almost eight years now. Their aesthetic is “androgynous,” and out in public, Davis’s gender is indistinguishable. But being openly queer in the army was almost impossible, they said.

“I was very aware of when I could be myself, and when I could not be myself,” Davis said.   

So when the President tweeted on July 26, “the United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military,” Davis was equal parts enraged and understanding. It’s a complicated issue, Davis said. Not because trans people cannot, or should not, serve in the military. But the military isn’t always the safest place for trans people.

“My concern is for the safety of trans soldiers, for their own safety,” Davis said. “I wish the military was different, but it’s not. It would be amazing to have the ability that just everyone could join the military. I just don’t think that’s where we’re at.”

The White House solidified its transgender military ban on Friday with the stroke of President Donald Trump’s pen. The signed directive bans new transgender military enlistments and cuts off funding for sexual reassignment surgery and other medical treatments for people already serving. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has six months to begin enforcing the ban.

The ban undoes Barack Obama’s year-old policy that allowed transgender people to openly serve in the military. Trump’s original tweet cited “tremendous medical costs” associated with transitioning: surgery, hormone supplements and gender therapy.

But Davis says medical costs of transitioning are “not even like, the smallest dent in military health care.” Indeed, the military spends between $2.4-8.4 million a year on gender transition medical expenses, according to a study published by Rand Corporation last year.

According to Agnes Gereben Schaefer of the Rand Corp. that represents one-tenth to four-tenths of a percent of the active component [active duty] health care budget. Meanwhile, the military spends $84 million on drugs for erectile dysfunction, like Viagra, according to a Military Times analysis.

“I could have gotten free eye surgery if I wanted to,” Davis said. “Those are things that people don’t complain about. But when you’re talking about a surgery that is life-altering for someone…” Davis trailed off. “To see people focus on such a minute number that shouldn’t matter, but also say, ‘I support troops in every way, I want resources for veterans, except ‘those’ veterans.”

Healthcare is already limited for trans people in the military. Davis tried to see a gender therapist, but was denied by military health insurance. The therapist on base, Davis said, “admitted they didn’t know a lot, and tried to get me something else.” But Davis’s insurance still didn’t allow it.

Besides, Davis says, transitioning or being transgender is not an illness. Even when the Obama administration allowed for open service, Davis said the policy “read like a really terrible disease to be transgender.” To boil the conversation down to numbers on a budget, Davis said, is to forget the human beings behind those figures. “This is someone’s life experience. It shouldn’t be roped in with disease. For that to be so disregarded gets me the most frustrated.”

But Davis also has concerns about the safety of transgender military recruits. Davis had never really experienced being treated differently before joining the army. Then they kept their identity secret: stopped binding, let bosses and comrades assume their gender and sexuality. “I knew the minute they found out, I’d be treated differently,” Davis said. “My queer identity wasn’t part of my identity at all. I got really lost.”

Davis is not trans, by military understanding. They identify as queer, or non-binary, as in they do not identity neatly as a woman or man. There is no room for such an identity in the military, Davis said.

“It’s the strictest binary I’ve ever seen in a job,” they said. “There’s men, women in binaries, that’s how things are, and you have to exist as them.” Military policy only recognizes physical transitions, as in through surgery, from one sex to another. But Davis no longer identifies with such labels.

Existing in uniform as a queer, non-binary person was “very ostracizing,” Davis said. But for fellow people in combat, Davis put a face to an identity they might not have seen before. “I met a lot of people who had never met anyone queer, or gay, or nonconforming. I got to know them in uniform,” Davis said. Those relationships sometimes led to discussions about gender identity—some of the first conversations Davis’s coworkers ever had. “The military actually really opened that empathetic part of me.”

Still, their time in the army took its toll. “That’s four years of identity I’m still trying to get back,” Davis said. “I spent my first month [of deployment] really angry, of how people were talking about women—and [about] the environment in general. I had to let things slip for the rest of deployment. Otherwise I’d just spend the whole day angry.”

And that, Davis says, is what makes military transgender policy so complicated. Identities are complicated. Trump himself admitted as much at a press briefing: “It’s been a very complicated issue for the military. It’s been a very confusing issue for the military.”

But people who serve in the military face challenges every day. They don’t quit because things are hard or confusing, Davis said. Saying “Let’s just give up ‘cause it’s kinda hard” is not the military Davis knows. PJH

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