by Julie Compton
Apr 5 2017
When Israel’s first out transgender soldier was making plans to enlist in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) — mandatory for all Israeli citizens — in 2012, all he wanted was to wear a men’s uniform. The soldier, who was assigned female at birth, asked a military psychologist for assistance. What he got instead was a “mental mark” on his record, an indication that he had a mental health issue.
While the Israeli military had allowed gays and lesbians to serve openly since 1993, it did not have a written policy on how to deal with transgender personnel, who were “frequently discharged — voluntarily or involuntarily — under the guise of mental health issues,” according to a report from the Palm Center, a U.S.-based think tank focused on issues surrounding gender and sexuality in the armed forces.
“I don’t need to explain how frustrated and even mad I was at that time, but after I cooled down I decided I’m going to prove [the psychologist] wrong. And I’m going to succeed, and I’m not going to let her or any of this nonsense affect my service,” the soldier, who asked to be identified only as Captain Shachar, told NBC Out.
Shachar entered the military as a female. He wore the women’s uniform his first day of service. It was almost identical to the men’s, but to the soldier it was like wearing a dress.
“For me it was unacceptable in any way,” the 23 year-old explained. He decided to confide in his commander for help.
“I told her everything, and of course, I was the first person she ever met who identified as transgender,” he said. “The first question [she asked] was, ‘How can I help? What do you need?’ I was shocked actually, and I told her, ‘[a] men’s uniform.'”
Regulations at the time prevented her from providing a men’s uniform, he said, but she was able to get him a unisex one. “From that moment on, I never wore a woman’s uniform again,” Shachar said.
Though there were no policies at the time on how to deal with transgender soldiers, Shachar’s commanders treated him with respect, according to the captain. He said they even encouraged him to come out to his peers during officer training. After one of his fellow cadets gave a talk about the LGBTQ community, Shachar’s commander asked him to tell his own story.
“I was super nervous and changed my mind about it like eight times,” he said. “I just remember how I opened it by saying that I want to tell them my personal story, but not in order for them to better know me, but in order for them to be better officers in the future.”
Shachar said his fellow cadets respected his gender identity and asked him a lot of questions.