Editors' note: Guest blogger Pam Daniels is a writer and activist with 23 years experience in broadcast news and media including the staff of a former Governor. She has previously written about her friend, Jenn, who is transitioning while serving in the military in Afghanistan.
Jennifer has a little more than a month to go for her deployment in Afghanistan and she's still transitioning. A military doctor in country renewed Jenn's hormone prescription just before they would have run out. Jenn came home for some well deserved R&R earlier this spring so we had time to visit her favorite "watering hole" one Saturday night with all of her friends there who were so happy to see her in good spirits.
Just getting home for R&R was an adventure in and of itself! When I asked her to describe her journey starting from the firebase she's posted to Jenn said her trip began as a "tactical trunk monkey!" Well I've heard lots of military jargon over my long years as a reporter but that one was new. Anyway, no helicopters were flying the day she was supposed to leave her base to catch a jet from Kabul and she didn't know how many days she'd have to wait for the next chopper so in true Jenn form she volunteered to ride down her hill in an armored personnel carrier as the "tail gunner!" Yes they took fire but she and all aboard made it down the hill fine.
Over the past several months Jenn came out to several female and male comrades she's serving with including the doctor who renewed her hormone prescription. Jenn's been on HRT now for more than a year and of course her chest has become noticeably more feminine.
The women Jenn serves with all chipped in and bought her a dozen or so sports bras to wear under her body armor. Above all that though Jenn is very happy to have supportive friends while she's serving. Jenn's status as a transitioning transgender woman has had absolutely no impact on her work whatsoever!
Back to our Saturday night at Jenn's favorite watering hole... Of course Jenn and I "closed" the bar we were at and she, several friends and myself walked a block to an all night diner for breakfast. On the drive home though I asked Jenn a tough question. "What guidelines would you (Jenn) recommend to the Department of Defense for inclusion of transgender people for open service in the military?"
Jenn is a kind, though tough, no nonsense woman so I wasn't surprised by her answer. Jenn says "transgender people shouldn't be allowed to join the military just so the government would pay for their transition" by hiding that fact from recruiters. Jenn says "if you join as a male or female and don't know you're transgender when you join then you should be obligated to finish the commitment, in the gender you signed up as."
Jenn adds that If during that first 4 years you realize your transgender and want to stay in the military then you must be "honest" and say so before you re-enlist and at that point the military should step up to the plate. There's obviously much more to discuss and I hope all of you comment.
Jenn is looking forward to her homecoming so she can finally retire from the military and go back to college to finish her degree and transition but I know she can't wait to reclaim her Saturday night perch on "Her" barstool at "Ina's."
Jenn will have a link to this post so please use the comments to say hello and thank her for her service?
I phoned Mara Keisling, Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality and asked her point blank, "Are there even any rumors about including transgender people for open service in the U.S. military?" Mara's answer, "No!" Mara indicates that there isn't even any discussion about transgender people in the U. S. Military right now.
At NCTE's recommendation I reached out to Zeke Stokes, the Director of Communications at the Service Members Legal Defense Network and he and SLDN's Grassroots Policy Advocate Elizabeth Shirey got back to me pronto. Elizabeth informs me that as of now Canada, the UK, Australia, Israel, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium and Sweden all allow trans-persons to serve openly. Canada and the UK both cover all transitioning medical costs including SRS but it's unclear to what if any degree the other nations do so.
We know that transgender persons have and still serve with honor, often distinction in our military, and there are easily tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands serving honorably right now. All LGBT people are born the way we are and therefore must have full enforcement of all birthrights, including open service in our military. There must be a way to get the U.S. military to at least begin a dialog about open transgender service in the U. S. Military.
img courtesy of Jen