Guest Blogger

Trans in Afghanistan: Update on Jenn & Transgender Military Service

Filed By Guest Blogger | June 18, 2011 1:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: active duty military, serving in Afghanistan, transgender soldier

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.

JennBoth.jpgJennifer 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

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Amanda587 | June 18, 2011 1:48 PM

I came out to the Army as trans in the late summer of 2007, and was finally discharged in November. So, speaking as someone who knows what she's talking happy story about a trans woman who is out and transitioning doesn't mean that the military as a whole will be open to trans people. I'm not even going to pretend I'm a patriotic type who is so enthusiastic about LGBT folk serving openly; at best count me as a dirty fucking hippie who is deeply ambivalent about the military.

Will regulations ever be changed to allow us trans women who *don't* want a vagina to serve in the military? I have a feeling that's where transgender acceptance is headed-towards an old fashioned, HBS influenced mode of thought where "finishing your transition" means vaginoplasty.

"This photo is not of Jenn. It's a stock photo."

So this female US Soldier is being used why?

My guess would be that, looking at how the front page is formatted, there needs to be an image of some sort as a placeholder if this article goes into the rotation of the images at the top or bottom sections. It would have been better to crop this one below the soldier's eyes, though, I think.

Pam Daniels Pam Daniels | June 19, 2011 11:02 AM

It was an honest mistake Dieks, the photo displayed now is Jenn.

Hi Jenn! Be safe and be you.

I agree with Jenn, the military shouldn't be thought of as a transitioning funding source. However, if someone wants to make the military a career they should be allowed to do so with the DoD picking up the tab for the medical costs of transition for career-minded members.

So what do you think about kids from low income families joining the military so they can finally get dental work done?

Amanda587 | June 18, 2011 2:04 PM

"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."

I'm not even sure what this means. How is the government paying for anyone's treatment now? I'd argue that, as long as you are in the military, you have the same right to be able to use TRICARE for off post, private medical treatment as much as the next person. I seriously don't think there's any trans vet who joined just to have the government pay for anything. At best, its more like "I get TRICARE, I'm transitioning, I might as well use it before I get discharged."

If Jenn is being allowed to finish her service honorably that is a great start. Transsexuals should be allowed to serve period I know I did and finished my obligation. I think for the rights of Transsexuals to move forward in the military they must not be confused by the use of the word Transgender. The word is fast going out of fashion and I believe Mara Kiesling and NCTE are going to soon find out it won't be tolerated as an Umbrella term written into federal policy for very long. The very use of the word in blanket terms is a form of discrimination one I plan to fight.

Her stance on transition medicine in the military makes about at much sense as not giving someone insulin if they 'realize' they're diabetic after joining.

Medical needs are medical needs and not subject to whether someone finally stops putting off important treatment. never said if your friend is US military. I made that mistake once, was upbraided by a northern friend.
Of the dozen allied countries who are in Afghanistan and Iraq serving along side us, really about the only one who doesn't allow or have Trans people deployed there (officially) is the US military. If you include civilian contractors who are working for the military then easily US contractor numbers of Trans people out number all of the combined allied forces active duty Trans people.
You glossed over really how Medical renewed your friends HRT. Renewing a prescription in country...well, all meds are dispensed by military tech's who will ask and will talk about the meds they've dispensed.
But, she isn't alone when it does come to ...well... Ive seen it a few times now where the doctors are acting fully within the standards of care according to the WPATH guidelines. But, all of those instances were within a year of discharge and the person(s) involved made it clear that they were leaving the military.

As to speaking of Transgender people serving the US military, it has been addressed by me, Monica Helms of TAVA, Meghan Stabler (who's in multiple org's) and others. I've given a white paper outlining several options.
>Allow a service member to finish the contractual obligation while undergoing therapy and the start of HRT and be discharged with an Honorable Discharge upon completion of contract.
>Allow a service member to follow the above, but upon discharge receive either assistance or full coverage to obtain SRS/GRS.
>If the US military decides to implement full acceptance, to follow WPATH guide lines and obligate service of 4 to 6 years for SRS/GRS.
>If full acceptance becomes SOP, sadly FFS that includes in depth boney work would would not be viable. FFS that shaves the brow boss often includes remodeling of the skull in such a way that a blast wave from an explosion could blow in a person's face with ease.
The white paper sent up line was a bit longer but thats the meat of it.
Currently, the US DoD is not looking to include Transgender or Intersex in their ranks. at least thats what they keep telling me.

This is very interesting. From one Vet to another Jenn thank you for your service. I can recall joining the US Navy in the early 70's. Many of us joined to prove our machismo to friends and family. We had suppressed our feelings. I was hoping to make a career but that was not meant to be. While I was serving I was sexually assaulted at gunpoint by a Civilian. I had feared reporting the incident because back in those days I would have been scrutinized since in those days it was tough enough for females to report these incidences. I knew most certainly I would have been given a undesirable or a dishonorable discharge had I notified the military of the incident. Psychologically it had taken its toll on me let alone being confused by my gender issues. Fortunately, I got medically discharged and received a Honorable Discharge. I was able to do this without disclosing what happened. I had kept this a deep dark secret for over 30 years until I started seeing my therapist at the VA 7 years ago. Jenn a thing to remember once you finish your service sign up right away for eligiblity with the VA to get all the treatment you need for your Gender issues. Some VA's have a Trans Support Group. We have had one in Phoenix AZ for the past 3 years and I know they also have a active group in Anchorage AK. I work for the VA and am involved with GLBT issues within the VA framework and have been working on a panel with both EEO and ODI. Once again thank you for your service Jenn.

Allison since you have been working with the VA have you been doing anything to help the VETS that don't want the Transgender label slapped on them ? If not why not?

CassandraToday | June 19, 2011 1:08 PM

I don't the the military will "get there" on trans* issues until they "get there" on women's issues. As long as women are treated as less than fully equal service members, the military's thinking about gender issues in general will remain muddled.

CassandraToday | June 19, 2011 1:09 PM

*I don't think the military...

I hate typos that I don't see until the post has already been submitted.

I want to take a moment to thank Jenn and all the soldiers who have served, I no longer support a war that we should not be in, but I will never stop supporting our soldiers. I remember when soldiers came home from Viet Nam and they were spit on. That was a travesty. Never again.

I see no reason that Transpeople can not serve if they wish too. But the higher up jerks will not allow it.

Jenn and all those still serving, Please stay safe and come home. Thank You and you remember you are still love here, at least by one grateful Transwoman. Me.

No returning U.S. Vets were spit on. It is an urban myth.

Oh, I'm sure that given the amount of veterans and the amount of people who get spit on that it happens... it just might not have been related to the operation of free-fire zones or the Mai Lai massacre.

jami_bantry jami_bantry | June 19, 2011 2:56 PM

From a proud Trans American Vet (US Army 66-68), I am proud of your amazing courage and I salute you. You are an inspirational trail blazer.

When I was serving, I could not truly be me (besides not really knowing "what" was going on inside me), so I kept my feelings hidden; as I am sure, a LOT of others did.

Maybe, just maybe... things ARE really getting better -- optimistic. :-)

Please come home safely and continue on with your joy filled Life.

You are truly an amazing Human Being.


@Lisa. I have been talking with the US Dept of Veterans Office of Diversity and Inclusion and have given some input. I am only a small fish in the sea. I can speak of the improvements that we have had at our facility. Any Trans Vet at our facility has their medical record marked sensitive. You can conceal some information but it is theoretically impossible. The reason being is any treatment or diagnosis has to be coded properly to the ICD. So if a person is going for therapy based on gender identity you are not going to hide it. It has to be coded accordingly for insurance purposes. Even in the public sector you will not be able to conceal any diagnosis. It has to be diagnosed accordingly. It would be great if everyone could be under the radar so to speak but it is highly unlikely. There is always a paper trail. Don't forget when enrolling at the VA you must provide a copy of your DD214 and lo and behold what will show up is your past name. The military branches will give you a duplicate discharge paper with your new name but the original discharge paper will always have your original name and cannot be changed because it is a National Archive. Myself personally at the Hospital I did not care who knew about me. I am still a Veteran and am treated with respect when I require medical treatment. As a matter of fact I have a mammogram appointment tomorrow. I have gained so much respect from medical staff, administrators and my fellow Vetrans there. We were all in the same boat and the atmosphere has begun to change. If a Trans Vet has any problem as far as respect and treatment they have the opportunity to see the Patient Advocate. More than one would receive in the public sector.

Allison thanks for responding hope your mammogram goes well for you. My Va system sends you outside of their system for them but the caregiver they use was excellent in my experience.As for my original Discharge from the Army I'll always be proud of it regardless of my past name being on it.That is who I was to the world at that time in my life even though I knew that wasn't who I am. I think anyone who goes into transition believing all their past history will mysteriously disappear hasn't thought it through enough.I think our medical records should be private but I'm not ashamed that I transitioned to be who I am or that I was born in a mostly male body. I say mostly male body because in the one place that counts the most to me I've always been female.

Several organizations put current estimates of TOTAL LGBT folks in the military at about 67,000.

"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."

If there are only 67,000 LGBT TOTAL in service, how could there possibly be hundreds of thousands of transgender folks serving? I'm sure there are probably 100-200K transgender VETERANS, but there are 27M veterans compared to 2M troops serving right now.

Exaggerations like this make it more difficult for those of us actually fighting over email, telephone calls, constituent visits, etc. when we try to present ACTUAL numbers to persuade the "people with the power". If the reported numbers are all over the place, anti-LGBT legislators use [all over the place numbers] as an excuse to reject ALL of the numbers, and thereby - *ANY* argument paired with numbers, even if it can stand on its own feet WITHOUT the numbers.

Mind you -- I totally agree with "Jenn" about serving how you sign up. When there's only so much room for battlefield medications in the super cargo - antibiotics, morphine and prozac/et al. with *ALWAYS* trump hormones. MTF SRS can easily require 8 weeks of medical leave, plus another 4-6 months of light duty only. Post-op medical complications can also sometimes render a troop non-deployable long-term. The military views SRS as (1) elective in the short-term, and (2) potentially disabling in the long-term. It's going to be a long haul to overcome those points.

If a service member wants to seek counseling for GID through a military mental hygiene, I don't see that as being any different than some other troop seeking counseling for a non-service-connected mental condition such as addressing residual trauma from childhood abuse. This sort of thing happens at plenty of CONUS bases, but not so much at OCONUS bases because offering treatment for NON-service-connected conditions is FULLY dependent on available resources. If resources aren't available - it doesn't happen.

If a transgender troop wants to use their TRICARE for counseling or hormone therapy, I don't see that as any different than any other troop using their TRICARE for non-service-connected issues.

If a troop with GD/GID feels that their only option to SRS is SIB or suicide, well, the military doesn't have a habit of retaining *ANYONE* who is suicidal or self-injurious, no matter what the root of such ideation or behavior happens to be. Anyone who knows the Benjamin standards of care, concerning who is a CANDIDATE for surgery, understands why I mention this.

Oh standards of care, how many women in crisis have deaths attributable to your license to practitioners to be arbitrary?

So yeah, I know the standards, and I understand why you mention this, and I think your empirical experiences are suffering from selection bias.

Katherine | July 17, 2011 7:55 PM

As a currently serving active-duty trans woman I am very happy for Jenn and I salute her courage. It isn't easy, I am sure, but she is a heroic trailblazer. While I don't necessarily agree with her recommendation on funding of surgeries, I think she presents one hell of an example for the rest of us. She embodies "Personal Courage," to say the least. Keep it up Jenn and thank you!

Please follow up with her to see how things are going as I would love to read more about her experiences as a serving trans person.

Not to trivialize the story... but to understand the "trunk monkey" comment (which made me smile) you need to see what that comment was built on...

She has an amazing sense of humor...

Om Kalthoum | July 22, 2011 8:17 PM

Thanks! Without a TV, I had no idea about that reference. Despite my feeling uneasy about using chimps in trained animal acts, I think those are all hilarious ads.

As an US Army contractor, I transitioned in Iraq, and Afghanistan. It was somewhat harrowing showering with guys toward the end, after FFS and HRT had really set in. I had some verbal harassment, but overall the process went smoothly. After completing SRS, I've returned to Afghanistan, serving at Kandahar Air Field. Its 100% possible to transition out here. Hopefully soon, the US military will catch up with the Commonwealth Countries and allow TS folk medical care as well as an opportunity to stay on with their careers.