By Meredith Bower (’18)
Over the past few years, the military has experienced substantial media attention for scandals such as its “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy or the exposed rape epidemic. Now, it’s currently under fire for a ban on transgender people. According to Dan Lamothe, there are about 15,000 transgender personnel currently serving that are forced to keep their true identity hidden. Transgender people can be banned on the basis of both “medical and psychological regulations” (Ross 185), perpetuating an illusion that transgender people are inherently “sick.” The transgender ban poses two very real problems. The first obviously being that the military is denying free people a right to serve their country openly. The second issue at hand is that the military, a generally well-respected institution, is perpetuating the gender-binary structure of society that ostracizes so many.
The regulations behind the transgender ban are incredibly outdated. Psychological and physical evaluations are required before approval of entry into the military, and Allison Ross explains that “the Army’s Standards of Medical Fitness, which is representative of the other branches’ standards, lists numerous ways in which a current or prospective service member may be medically disqualified, including sex-reassignment surgery and identification as a transgender person” (189). Someone with sex-reassignment surgery can be denied the right to serve based on “major abnormalities or defects of the genitalia,” but even a transgender person without surgery can be excluded for “a long list of disorders, including transvestism, transsexualism, psychosexualism, and Gender Identity Disorder” (Ross 190). This exclusion assumes that transgendering is a psychological or physical abnormality. In Gender Inequality: Feminist Theories and Politics, Judith Lorber explains postmodern feminism’s stance that gender is merely a performance—that sex is biological, and gender is not. Instead, gender is “shaped and manipulated by individuals and can be used to transgress the social order” (285). In respect to this viewpoint, the military’s ban plays a massive role in “shaping and manipulating” gender roles. Such a large institution has the power to shape societal norms such as how people view transgendered people.
Furthermore, most active military personnel reject the military’s official stance. According to Army Maj. Gen. Gale S. Polluck, active troops today “have been around people who are open about their personality and sexuality. It’s normal for them to be accepting of one another, whereas 20, 30 years ago we didn’t share it because it wasn’t considered normal” (Lamothe). When “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was revoked, “some senior officers questioned the decision, fearing it would cost lives” (Lamothe). However, this was not the case, and as officers raise similar concerns in regards to lifting the transgender ban, it is important to keep this in mind.
In “Gender, Sex, and Sexual Performativity,” Judith Butler argues that those outside of the “normal” gender structure are viewed as “abjected beings who do not appear properly gendered” and as a result “it is their very humannesss that comes into question” (286). It should be an implied obligation for an institution as large and powerful as the military to reject this notion that those who display their gender “wrongly” are subhuman. But without lifting the transgender ban, the military will continue to play a role in the exclusion and degradation of transgendered people.