What does it mean to wear the uniform and serve in the United States Military? What makes a good Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine? Ask most anyone, and chances are you'll hear nothing about what's between a person's legs and everything about what's between their ears. Ask a transgender member of the service these questions, and you'll hear the same answers you'd get from a non-transgender member.
Militaries define their values, and those in uniform do their best to embody them. These values come to shape the core of one's being. Yet transgender service members are confronted with a unique conflict. We are forced to choose between a life built on an illusion of who we are in order to serve the country we love, or living by those values and ensuring we are labeled unfit to serve and ejected by the very service we hold dear. Army values do not require explanation, interpretation or justification, and I hope one might see the contrast between statement and application: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage.
While deployed to the Middle East as a white, male officer, I lived and worked as a member of the privileged majority. However, after acknowledging my female identity, I suddenly found myself in one of the most exclusive and marginalized clubs in the U.S. I was a transgender member of the military, and I quickly discovered that all the rights, privileges and benefits that I had worked so hard to earn could, and would, be taken away if I dared to address this gender conflict.
As a soldier and a leader, I'm accustomed to taking action. So in an effort to address this issue, I recently attached my name and face to an AP article discussing a new and controversial study known as The Elders Report. The story went international before being buried amid current events and more digestible news. Thousands of comments ensued. Many stayed on topic and discussed the issue. Some were openly hostile: slandering and misgendering me. A few even called me an "it" in attempts to ridicule, deride and de-humanize. Positive commentators were largely active military or veterans. They understand. This is simply the next logical step towards a truly integrated military.
Readiness is always a critical military concern. Do we have the best fighting force that can be mustered and trained? A common belief, which I hold as well, is that we should evaluate service members based on character of service, expectations of future performance, physical and mental aptitude, and embodiment of traits such as honor, integrity and personal courage. This ensures we have the best possible members within our active and reserve forces. All service members, transgender or otherwise, should be considered for recruitment or retention based on these criteria, and not those which have no bearing on their capabilities.
Transgender people are as human and fallible as the next person. We are also equally capable of striving for and reaching excellence. Performance evaluations of transgender service members often show high marks, an abundance of praise, and noteworthy accomplishments. Additionally, current medical and psychological criteria show that gender conflicts should not be a factor in continued military service. Yet current policy excludes these members arbitrarily. Open inclusion strengthens our military. A simple policy change allows us to retain top performers and aligns our standards with a dozen other allied nations.
Too often we get lost in semantics and rhetoric and forget what we're fighting for. Wearing the uniform is more than saluting the flag and talking about duty, honor and country. What matters is living those ideals, embodying them, and setting an example for others to follow. The seemingly elusive point of this movement, our fight for open transgender military service, is that we wish to serve without compromising out values and integrity by lying about who we are. Transgender soldiers have sacrificed lives and livelihoods in foreign wars and national service, protecting the "American Way of Life," for as long as we've stood as a nation. The reality that we are not afforded the same freedoms we fight to protect has been somehow overlooked.
I'm a transgender woman and an Army Officer. I want what everyone who cares about our military and our country should want: The freedom to live our lives in peace, raise our children in safety, and live according to our personal and collective ideals. Without these, what ARE we fighting for?