Tag Archives: transgender

Lifting the U.S. Military Transgender Service Ban: Lessons from the IDF

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In September 2011, U.S. military policy finally caught up to current scientific views and repealed its military policy of banning LGBT members from service. Despite these forward strides, the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) did not end the prohibition on transgender service in the U.S. military. This is because the military medical code still labels “transsexualism” and “transvestism” as disqualifying “psychosexual” conditions for military service, although finally that will be changing with the Pentagon’s announcement that it will be lifting its ban on transgender military service. For those with any doubts that this was a good decision they have only to look to Israel.

Chris in Afghanistan in gear

(Kristin Beck serving in Afghanistan as Chris Beck in the U.S. Navy SEALs)

Israel is one of the United States’ closest allies and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is considered by many as one of the fiercest and best-prepared militaries in the world. The IDF has faced decades of serious threat from neighboring countries, fought in numerous wars and border skirmishes, and routinely runs security operations in the Palestinian occupied territories. Because of the constant threat to Israeli security, the IDF is required to be in a constant state of readiness.

Yet, the IDF has for more than a decade allowed transgender service with no apparent loss of military readiness. In 2014, my Israeli colleague, Reuven Paz and I, with funding from the Palm Center, conducted interviews to examine the practice of allowing transgender individuals to serve in the Israeli military and compare how the IDF’s stance toward transgender service is nearly the polar opposite of the U.S. military’s stance.

Our report, based on six in-depth interviews of experts on the subject both inside and outside the IDF: two in the IDF leadership—including the spokesman’s office; two transgender individuals who served in the IDF, and two professionals who serve transgender clientele—before, during and after their IDF service gave insights into how the IDF deals successfully with transgender individuals. In our interviews we found that the effects of allowing transgender service in the IDF had no negative effects upon military unit cohesion, morale and military readiness and we made recommendations for how the U.S. military may be able to benefit, as Israel has, from accepting transgender service.

We found that the IDF’s policy reflects a much more accepting cultural norm toward gender identity differences, demonstrating both the willingness and successful accommodation of transgender individuals. Since 1998 transgender individuals have been successfully serving in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Up until recently transgender persons could opt out of enlisting or be discharged simply on the basis of being transgender, with the excuse of psychological distress. Now however, being transgender has become such a non-issue in the Israel Defense Forces that everyone who is drafted—no matter what their gender identity issues are—is expected to serve.

Transgender issues and the need to transition are accommodated inside the IDF sensitively and without compromise to military readiness, morale or unit cohesiveness. Clearly the IDF, one of the fiercest and most capable militaries in the world, has found solutions to the transgender service issue that the U.S. military might also want to consider. Therefore we were pleased to learn this week that the U.S. military will soon also lift its ban on transgender service. It’s about time.

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. is Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University in the School of Medicine and of Security Studies in the School of Foreign Service. She is author of Talking to Terrorists and Bride of ISIS and coauthor of Undercover Jihadi and Warrior Princess: A U.S. Navy SEAL’s Journey to Coming out Transgender. Website: http://www.AnneSpeckhard.com

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Psychological Health for All—Throwing off the Beauty Queen Routine

Beauty pageants have dominated the news this past week. The French Senate banned them for girls under 16, threatening a two-year prison sentence and stiff fines of thirty thousand Euros for organizers–or parents–who enter their children into illegally organized contests. The French bill referenced the spate of advertising already occurring in France with hypersexualized images of prepubescent girls showing up in advertising and the potential negative mental health effects to girls of sexualizing them at a young age by requiring them to wear heavy makeup and provocative attire.

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In the same week many in the U.S. were surprised to learn that we still hold the Miss America contest and that it was won by an American of Indian heritage. Derogatory comments on Twitter erupted about why an Arab and Muslim had won the American contest despite the fact the new Indian descent Miss America was neither Arab nor Muslim and we already had an Arab Miss America two years ago (Rima Fakih). It seems some forget the beauty of the American dream– in myth at least–is its ability to assimilate and offer opportunity to all. Even our beauty contests allow American contestants of any ethnicity or religion to potentially win–despite prejudices held by these few on Twitter.

Next, a Marina High School in Huntington, CA elected sixteen-year-old Cassidy Campbell, a male to female transgender who is still in the process of transition, to be its homecoming queen.

Cassidy Campbell

It turns out that Campbell is not the first transgender girl to win the homecoming queen title. Jessee Vasold, a male to female transgender became homecoming queen in 2009 at William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA and a nineteen-year-old named Devon, also a male to female transgender student still undergoing transition was voted her school’s Junior Homecoming Princess. In the last case Devon was elected to the queen’s role without letting on about her status and prior to having sex reassignment surgery.

So what does all this news amount to? Are women of any background now able to break the sexist stereotypes of beauty pageants these days? Or, are the stereotypes still breaking the women and girls they crown? Is crowning any girl—a still transitioning or fully transitioned transgender woman, an Arab, a Muslim, or none of these categories—to become a high school or college homecoming queen, or beauty pageant winner a good thing? Is it healthy for any group of females to be submitting themselves to the organized judgment of others—to determine who is most worthy according to external standards?

The French are perhaps the first to officially recognize that it is not healthy for young girls organized by adults–to try to fit stereotyped gender roles and compete in popularity contest in large or whole part based on sexualized ideals of beauty that have nothing to do with innocence or childhood–and that these pageants are detrimental to the psychological health of all young girls.

Transgender individuals now entering into homecoming contests may perhaps begin to cause some of us to ask ourselves what is both gender and beauty anyway–and how much of it is culturally defined versus intrinsically known? And why would we want any developing young person under the age of eighteen–male or female, transgender or not, to submit themselves to the scrutiny of others to decide if they measure up? For a country that got rid of royalty on its road to independence it seems Americans could also now grasp the wisdom of doing away with the hierarchal idea of beauty queens. Can’t we recognize and bring out the beauty in everyone and celebrate real beauty without any king or queen being crowned among us?

Bradley Manning’s Transgender Dilemma in the U.S. Military—A Secret that Needed to be Told?

Bradley Manning, was recently given a thirty-five prison sentence for leaking secret documents that he claimed were distributed in order to expose wrongdoing and prompt debate of government policies among the American public.  It appears now that Bradley Manning had already been living for years under another military imposed prison sentence—feeling trapped as a female in a male body and unable during his military service to openly acknowledge that angst. 

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 Manning, now renaming herself Chelsea, has come out as transgender—provoking yet another public debate over mental health and LGBT issues as they relate to U.S. military service.  Indeed this is a debate that needs to occur.

This past June, Kristin Beck, former U.S. Navy SEAL also came out transgender, chronicling her story in the book Warrior Princess: A U.S. Navy SEAL’s Journey to Coming out Transgender.  Beck gender identified female as a preschooler but only found the courage and support to express herself as a female following twenty years of service as a U.S. Navy SEAL.  At the time when she entered the Navy and won a place in the SEALs, Beck found little public support for coming out and she certainly knew that once in the U.S. military she had to keep her gender identity secret—as to reveal it would result in an immediate discharge from service.

Beck found her SEAL’s duties a good means of hiding and suppressing her internal conflict as she was constantly engaged in “masculine” pursuits.  Likewise, when the “war on terror” started she volunteered for nearly constant deployments, sometimes risking her life as she despaired of living in constant painful hiding.

George Brown, M.D. a former military psychiatrist who has probably studied U.S. transgender military individuals more thoroughly that any other, theorizes that male to female transgenders—who are overrepresented in the military and gravitate to the Special Forces—do so in order to suppress their female gender identities.  They in his words, join the Special Forces in order to take a “flight into hypermasculinity”. 

 Whether the so called “masculine” character and physical traits demanded by the SEALs, Rangers, and other SOFs—fortitude, courage, teamwork, determination and extreme athleticism—all necessary to building a warrior—are indeed masculine traits could also be a whole other cultural debate about what is indeed “masculine” or “feminine”.  It may be that if Beck had come out female early on, and gone through transition, that she still would have wanted to prove herself—and if allowed into the SEALs may have also performed in a superior manner in a hormonally and surgically transitioned female body.

But our military does not value the service of its transgender members enough to allow them to serve openly.  And this causes a great deal of pain to those who having found their careers in the military as they must also hide their true identities while serving—as Bradley Manning did.

And we see even today, as the Army responded to Manning’s request to transition, publicly stating that it “does not provide hormone therapy or sex-reassignment surgery for gender identity disorder” that the Army is even behind in its terminology.  Gender identity disorder has been removed from the DSM-V and is now referred to as gender dysphoria.  

 Australia, New Zealand, UK, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Israel all allow transgender service and provide medical support to their service members including treatment for gender dysphoria when applicable.  It is interesting that in this cultural climate of acceptance that our military does not provide the same support to its transgender service members.  U.S. transgender service members may be willing to take a bullet for their country—but the country is not willing to meet their medical needs.  It should also be noted that not all transgender individuals desire to change their bodies, and for those that do, the time off for surgery may require the same recovery period as a hysterectomy or C-section birth—medical procedures that are also performed for active duty service members.

 One wonders if Chelsea Manning had been free to declare herself female and had been given the support to stay openly in the military and transition (if she wished to), if she would have shown different judgment on how she handled state secrets.  Likely she was bursting with her own secret and at the time she leaked government documents was yearning for an honest debate.  Perhaps now is the time to have that debate. 

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. is Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry in the Georgetown University Medical School and author of Talking to Terrorists: Understanding the Psycho-Social Motivations of Militant Jihadi Terrorists, Mass Hostage Takers, Suicide Bombers & “Martyrs”Fetal Abduction: The True Story of Multiple Personalities and Murder and coauthor of Warrior Princess: A U.S. Navy SEALs Journey to Coming out Transgender.