President Trump’s tweet on transgender personnel serving in the military has generated enormous controversy, but – besides the incredibly idiotic way it was announced (I’m sure PACOM now has a staff duty officer whose sole function is to look at Trump’s twitter feed for “I’m going to war with North Korea”) – the actual issue is being buried in the weeds of emotion.
First off, even though I’ll be tarred and feathered with the following slurs, let me say upfront I’m not homophobic. I’m not transphobic. I don’t wish any ill will to the LGBT community at all, but I agree with a prohibition against transgender personnel enlisting in the military, and it’s solely based on the purpose for which the military is designed: To fight and win our nation’s wars, period.
Before I’m castigated as a bigot, my issue is a simple one: The transgender enlistee requires medical care after enlistment. Gender dysphoria is a medical condition. Plain and simple. It doesn’t make one any less of a human than someone diagnosed with high blood pressure or a curved spine, but it does require medical care. Beyond the hyperventilating about discrimination or hate, that fact – like the above-mentioned maladies – is a reason for disqualification.
In the past, the US military had one purpose: To defend our nation. The individual voluntarily succumbed to the greater national good. If the individual benefitted, it was secondary to the cause of the nation. Now, certain individuals have eclipsed the purpose for serving, and the military has assumed a secondary role of some cultural touchstone whereby serving is an individual right.
Why should someone be allowed to enlist, knowing that the enlistment will entail medical costs due to mental health management, hormone treatments, and other procedures up to and including gender reassignment surgery – not to mention the lost work productivity for all of the above? Why is that fair to the millions of others who wish to serve who also have a medical condition? Or even a non-medical condition, such as being a single parent or having a wrong tattoo? Why is it fair to allow a transgender to enlist – knowing the medical costs on the other side from the time of enlistment – when someone with high blood pressure cannot? That’s treatable. If he or she is otherwise fit to serve, why not enlist him or her, and begin treatment?
In an extreme example, why not let someone in with cancer? Why couldn’t John McCain, in an earlier life, have shown up to Annapolis with a brain tumor? After all, in hindsight, we know what he’s capable of. Why not treat it, and let him serve? Going further, as the military is looking for the best and the brightest, what if Lance Armstrong had enlisted right after winning the Tour de France? He takes his entrance physical and finds he has testicular cancer. Why should that be disqualifying? We know on the face that he’s capable of serving. Let him in, treat the cancer, and let him serve. That’s hyperbole, of course, but it makes my point. There is no overwhelming reason to incur the costs of medical care for any individual, and because of it, the military has a cut-line of medical restrictions for enlistment. In the words of Spock – the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Unless, of course, you have a vocal lobby in congress. Then the military mission becomes secondary an individual’s “right” to serve.
I hear a lot of talking heads saying “we need whoever can best serve. We’re cutting our recruitment base when we discriminate”, but that misses a banal truth: The military is built on medical discrimination, and that discrimination is based on its mission. There is a reason you don’t see any soldiers taking the oath of enlistment from a wheel chair, and it’s not because the military hates handicapped persons. It’s because the military is not a social construct. It is a war machine, and it is designed to close with and kill the enemy, period. There are hundreds of different medical conditions that prevent one from serving, and saying we’re losing out on recruits by banning transgender personnel is a red herring. Why not say the same about flat feet, like they did in 1941?
At the start of World War Two, the United States had a population of 133 million people. At the end of World War Two the Army was about eight million strong. Today, the US population is over 300 million, and the Army has fewer than 500 thousand soldiers. The recruitment argument holds no weight. The bottom line is that emotion has taken sway over common sense. It is not the military’s job to create a position for the individual to self-actualize – especially if that self-actualization entails medical treatment at taxpayer expense. I feel for the transgender community, but no more than I do for the person with a hyperthyroid disorder or asthma. Neither can enter the military, but one has a political lobby that treats this as a civil rights issue. It is not.
Yes, there are transgender personnel who have served honorably while hiding their condition, just as there are thousands of soldiers who hide other medical conditions to serve, but that is not an argument to alter the enlistment standards. I know of a soldier who wanted to be a pilot, but found out he was color blind, which was a disqualifying condition for pilot training. He joined the Army instead of the Air Force, and then, after joining Special Forces, he learned that color blindness was also disqualifying for becoming a free-fall parachutist. He decided to hide it, ripping out any reference to colorblindness from his medical records and going to extraordinary lengths to pass the color vision tests over and over again. He succeeded for over a twenty-five year military career, but he would be the first to tell you that we shouldn’t drop color vision as a discriminator for HALO status. It’s there for a reason, as he discovered on a harrowing night jump.
The fact remains that gender dysphoria is a medical condition, and that diagnosis requires medical treatment the same as a host of other disqualifying medical ailments. A recent RAND study is routinely held up as showing that the medical costs incurred by transgender enlistments is negligible – a veritable drop in the bucket to the overall defense budget – and that may be true, but it’s also irrelevant. The same could be said of the majority of ailments currently proscribing one from serving. (Which also begs the question, if it’s so negligible, it’s proof that so few transgender are serving that the recruitment argument is meaningless. Why are we pole-vaulting over mouse turds for such a small minority?) Should we now simply drop all medical discriminators? Or is it just the LGBT community that gets the benefit? Why can’t someone with high cholesterol get in? Sure, they’re at risk for heart disease, but it’s treatable – and the cost would be negligible when compared to the overall defense budget. What about vision tests? A person disqualified from serving due to poor eyesight that could be fixed simply by a Lasik procedure? Why don’t we let all of them in, and give them the procedure – something that’s a hell of a lot cheaper than gender reassignment surgery? That, too, would be a drop in the bucket when compared to the overall defense budget, but do we really want the military to be in the business of fixing every problematic medical condition so that every single person who wishes to serve gets the ability to do so? Sooner or later, it’s no longer a drop in the bucket, and it’s a Pandora’s box that doesn’t need to be opened for the simple fact that it is unnecessary. A single day lost or a single dollar spent due to gender dysphoria is one too many, and it’s patently unfair to others who wish to serve but are denied that ability due to a medical condition outside of their control.
At the end of the day, we need to remember the mission of the military. The LGBT community has turned this into a crusade, but it doesn’t alter the facts. The military is not built to serve the individual, but the other way around. The individual serves the military – and by extension, the nation. It is a shame that an accident of genetics caused someone to be transgender, and thus disqualified, but no more so than my friend’s genetic abnormality with color vision. His desire to be a pilot in no way translates to our nation’s obligation to let him become one.
The transgender community is estimated at 0.6 percent of the US population. The rate of disqualifying high blood pressure in the typical age for enlistment, per the American Heart Association, is 9 percent. Where is the outrage over the nine percent with hypertension? A completely treatable condition? Why does the fraction of a percentage of the transgender community have a cudgel to pound, as if that population somehow holds greater sway than the millions of others with treatable medical conditions?
Take away the emotion, take away the tweets, take away the hyperbole on both sides of the aisle, and you’re still left with one immutable fact: A transgender individual has a medical condition that requires treatment, and that, in and of itself, is disqualifying. It has nothing to do with gender, bigotry, or intolerance, and everything to do with the mission of the US Armed Forces. The mission is what it is, and bending the security of the nation’s defense to placate a vocal minority is not enhancing our ability to prosecute it.
Before I get the question: If transgender personnel are currently serving in good standing based on a prior decision by the Secretary of Defense, then they remain, getting whatever medical treatment was promised by that decision. It is not their fault they came out based on a promise by the SECDEF, and a promise is a promise. This blog is solely focused on future enlistments for the reasons I described. For the uninitiated – In 2016, Secretary of Defense Carter stated that transgender personnel could now openly serve, but future enlistments would be on hold until a study could determine the impact. That study is currently underway, and this blog is solely input into the future enlistment question, not retroactively rescinding a decision – and thus punishing – those already serving.