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Identity

Banning Trans Military Members Like Me Will Harm Our Armed Forces

My name is Katherine. I have served in the armed forces for more than a decade, but now my career is at risk.

by Katherine; as told to Diana Tourjée
Aug 28 2017, 8:45pm

Photo Courtesy of Katherine

Katherine is a trans woman who has served in the US military for over a decade. She has asked us not to include her last name in order to protect her privacy.

In the worst case scenario, they start to discharge us all in March. If that happens, some 15,000 Americans and their families will be thrown into a state of emergency.

My name is Katherine, and I am a staff sergeant in the United States Army. I am also a parent, a spouse, and a transgender woman in my late thirties. Unlike most transgender people, I am politically conservative. I am speaking out now because I want the public to know what is at stake with Trump's transgender military ban.

It is important for people to realize that, if the trans ban goes into effect, the military itself will be damaged by an abrupt loss of service members, and the exorbitant costs that went into training us will be thrown down the drain as the administration races to replace us, spending all that money all over again. I work as a recruiter for the Army National Guard, but am also a senior medical specialist who was once deployed in Afghanistan. At least $700,000 was spent by the military on my training, and that's a low projection.

I've been in for almost 12 years, deployed twice, with 25 months of total time overseas. For six years, I was in a combat support hospital. During that time I probably medically served roughly 5,000 service members. The amount of training that I have gotten is immense. If I were to be kicked out, the military would be losing a valuable asset—and, obviously, I wouldn't be the only one. The last number I saw showed that over 15,000 service members are trans. That's a lot of wasted resources.

The military is hyper-focused on something we call "unit readiness," which essentially means that any unit needs to be ever-ready to deploy anytime, anywhere, whether it's for a natural disaster like in Texas or if we need to go to the Middle East. Hypothetically, my unit could be readying for deployment in the midst of the transgender ban. If the ban were to happen during that time, it would be a serious problem. I am the second ranking senior medic in my unit, running operations in our treatment facility for injured or sick service members—whether we're talking about a patrol unit that hits an IED and can't get a helicopter out, or if I am managing triage when a large amount of people get injured and need immediate medical attention. People in my position help to save the lives of other service members.

If I were to be discharged, my position would be empty, and someone else would need to be quickly trained to replace me before the unit deploys. Our unit would not be prepared or ready in that scenario. And if my replacement were not correctly trained, or able to run triage correctly, it's possibly people's lives that would be hanging in the balance.

Many people think that this issue is only about new recruits, the young generation, or "millennials." But that's not true. Transgender service members are represented across every age, race, department, and enlistment time across the military. I know trans officers who work in the Pentagon. I know soldiers that have completely transitioned and just got back from their deployments. We are literally everywhere.

My military career began in 2006, when I was 26 years old. I wanted to help people. But for years, I didn't know how to accept myself; I didn't realize that I was transgender, or that I could physically and socially transition. I spent eleven years in military service before finally speaking out. In March of this year I began my gender transition. I am happy to say that my family and my command have been supportive of this part of my identity. Until Donald Trump tweeted against trans service members on July 26, I wasn't concerned about my future. But now, the possibility of losing my career eight years before retirement has become a terrifying possibility.

I only began taking hormones for gender transition a few months ago; I still appear to be male. But I know that, as time passes, my ability to pass as a cisgender man is going to fade. When that line starts being blended, I'm still the representation of the Texas Army National Guard, trying to recruit people into the military. Are they going to want me to be the face of the army once I am visibly transgender? The sad, ironic reality is that I am a transgender recruiter who is not allowed to recruit transgender men and women into the military.

"I am a transgender recruiter who is not allowed to recruit transgender men and women into the military."

I worry about future generations of transgender service members. Years from now, once we have been discharged or retired or excised in one way or another from the US military, the ban will go away. And when that happens, young trans service members will have no senior staff to lead them. A generational gap like that is almost certain to cause bias to form within the military ranks, causing trans service members to be subjected to increased harassment and limiting the cohesion of our armed forces.

When I told my commander than I am transgender, he told me that I am one of the best non-commissioned officers that he has. "As long as you can do your job," he said, "I don't give a shit what you do." I think that the country needs to realize that transgender people can be and often are just as qualified to serve this country as anyone else. And if you doubt our ability to serve, I would ask you: Do you know anyone who is trans? If you don't really know someone who is trans, then you're no position to make a judgement about our capability.

Personally, the ban would devastate my family and the lives and families of other transgender service members. Like all Americans, we have careers and finances, children and mortgages to consider. My family just relocated to another state. My wife and I are still trying to work down the debt we incurred from that move. What are we going to do if I lose my job? Right now, I pay about $210 a month for insurance through the military—and that covers myself, my wife, and both of my young children. If I get discharged, that number would triple at least.

I'm very much the optimist in my family. I've tried to calm my wife's concerns by reminding her that a tweet is not policy, that General Mattis is levelheaded and will do the right thing for us and this nation by retaining transgender service members in the military. I don't know why Trump did this, but I trust General Mattis.

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Banning transgender people from the US military is not in the best interest of our country. If you suddenly reduce the military overnight, the military will be strained as those holes will be raced to be filled by qualified service members. Addressing the commander-in-chief, I want Trump to trust the decisions of our military leaders. Many people in the government today have never served. We need to listen to the people who've actually taken that oath.

We're being looked at as a sub-class of people—and it's a slippery slope. If transgender people are deemed unfit for service due to our gender identity, what will stop gay and lesbian men and women from being discriminated against, again, as well? Where would it stop? Will our rights be stripped away? The future of thousands of American families is at risk. Let us serve this nation, and practice values like duty, which this country's military reveres. We have a job, we have an obligation, and if we don't do it, who will?