Your Fight. Not Mine. I am anti-war and have other causes.
Last week Professor Dean Spade, a former teaching fellow at Harvard and transgender activist, attacked efforts to raise awareness of the exclusion of transgender people from U.S. military service. Spade claims that fighting for open transgender military service distracts us from other issues facing transgender persons, such as unemployment, imprisonment, and violence. He also argues that this is not a fight that the trans community has chosen.
While the scholar’s work on behalf of trans persons in poverty is to be commended, it seems that he has not done his research on this issue.
Professor Spade asks, supposedly rhetorically, “Is military service a job we want?” while pointing out many things about the military that he dislikes, including that it exists. The numbers speak for themselves, though. The National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that 20 percent of all transgender people are veterans. We also estimate that there are between 5,000 and 10,000 transgender people serving right now. It’s not just transgender people who see the military as a desirable job; being a military officer is seen as one of the most ethical and respected professions in America.
Beyond just being respected, military service is one of the most time-honored ways to better yourself in America. For many LGBT folks, the military is a pipeline out of poverty, violent homes, homelessness, and hostile communities. Service gives people access to a livable wage and education. Right now these are paths that privilege white, straight, cisgender males. Working on equality issues in the military does not harm civilian movements for equality; it provides greater options for trans persons. I would not have received the education I did if it weren’t for the service, and my transition would have been far more perilous.
Professor Spade also notes the issues the military has with sexual assault, and with the risks that transgender people face in military prison. What Spade fails to take into account is that the current policy on transgender military service facilitates rape.
Many of the transgender people in our organization have been assaulted. Sometimes it is “corrective rape” because the individual is seen as a lesbian. Sometimes the person was perceived as gay or insufficiently masculine. Either way, if they report the assault, the investigation will usually reveal that they are transgender, and they will be kicked out as a result. If they are relatively senior, they will lose out on retirement. If junior, they will lose their G.I. Bill college benefits. There is even heavier pressure on our transgender service members than on most others. Given the issue that the military has with unreported rapes, why would we want to add one more reason not to report them?