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“Trans Troops Disrupt Military Readiness” and Other Busted Myths about Transgender People

By Laura A. Jacobs

Protest Trans Military Ban, White House, Washington, DC, USA
Protest Trans Military Ban, White House, Washington, DC, USA, July 26, 2017. Photo credit: Ted Eytan

I am trans. And apparently a threat to the social order and defense of our nation.

I awoke to read that the nonsensical ban on transgender individuals serving in the military is being forced through.

I saw Texas’s efforts to restrict bathroom use for transgender people.

I followed the Secretary of Education’s refusal to protect transgender students.

And I’ve long been aware that many states still limit transgender people’s ability to obtain proper identification documents and have no protections against discrimination in housing, employment, law, healthcare, or much else.  

It’s as though many in public office are afraid and feel the need to legislate us—by overt acts of law or by intentional acts of omission—out of existence, despite the data.

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MYTH: Transgender people are a threat to others in public restrooms. It is imperative that women and children be safeguarded from our perversions.

REALITY: There have been no documented cases of transgender people victimizing others in public restrooms. None. Ever. Actually, our community has been a victim of high rates of physical and sexual abuse in such spaces. And laws criminalizing misconduct in public restrooms have long existed and cover acts committed by anyone, trans or otherwise. The proposed laws only put additional burden on an already stigmatized community.

 

MYTH: Transgender students are a risk to the development of other students, and insisting trans youth live and use the bathrooms matching the gender of their chromosomes causes minimal harm.

REALITY: According to articles in The Atlantic and elsewhere, countless schools have integrated trans youth without incident. Even the American Psychological Association advocates inclusion, not merely for the trans students themselves, but to demonstrate tolerance and to promote better mental health to all students. And again, no sexual violence upon others has ever been found.  

But most convincing is that national surveys1 detail transgender youth have high rates of depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and do poorly in school as a result of intolerance. To cope, trans students ‘hold it in’, ‘grit their teeth’ and withdraw inward, even avoid school altogether—inhibiting these youth from living joyful and successful lives as adults. But numerous studies also show poor outcomes are not because these youth are trans: a 2016 analysis, and many others since, make clear that when supported by their families, schools, peers, and others, these youth do just as well as everyone else.

 

MYTH: Laws exist to protect transgender people, so additional protections constitute “special treatment”.

REALITY: Many legislatures (New York, California, recently New Jersey, and even many of the ‘flyover’ states) recognize our basic humanity. But as Jenny Boylan clearly outlined in the New York Times, we demand the passing of such regulations, not to be placed above others, but because our absence in current law positions us beneath everyone else. 

 

MYTH: Incorporating transgender people into the armed forces will cause upheaval, inhibit camaraderie, and be a financial burden.

REALITY: This would be interesting to study if it did not rely on outdated, narrow-minded rhetoric. Identical arguments were made against inclusion of gay, lesbian, and bisexual soldiers, but the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ has not decayed our troops. Nor did the integration of people of color generations before.  

Transgender troops serve in the militaries of at least eighteen other world powers, according to a 2014 paper coauthored by Jocelyn Elders, former US Surgeon General, and overwhelmingly without incident, disruption in force effectiveness, or cost. The paper wrote that there is “no compelling medical reason for the ban”, and that removal of the ban “…would improve health outcomes, enable commanders to better care for their troops, and reflect the military’s commitment to providing outstanding medical care for all military personnel.”2

Additionally, even now our own military leaders do not support the ban, stating in August that trans people in the armed forces are serving with distinction and not affecting unit cohesion or military readiness, and just two weeks ago Navy researchers found that the full cost of the ban, including replacing and training new personnel would actually cost $960 million. “American taxpayers should ask the president, who is proud of his business savvy, why he’s spending a dollar to buy a dime.” said Aaron Belkin, a co-author of the above report.

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But these policies are not about the military, any more than this pattern of exclusion has been about bathrooms, schools or anything else. And is it clearly not about data.

So what are the ultimate goals?  

First, these are efforts to erode the advances made by the LGBTQ+ community, and to coerce us into lives that are more traditional. Many are uncomfortable with LGBTQ+ visibility and would rather have our society return to an ideal that was rigidly ordered and where all lived in accord. Sadly, that never truly existed.  

But mostly, these represent attempts to restrict our ability to exist in the public sphere. If we cannot use the bathroom in public without fear of violence, or attend school, or serve our country openly, or obtain proper identification, or have stable housing, or be treated fairly under the law, or have access to healthcare, then we cannot exist in public. These are attempts to constrain us back to the shadows. To marginalize us into oblivion. To make us cease to be.

But we will not be legislated into nonexistence. We will not accept faulty logic, or discriminatory speechifying, or even the violence used against us. We’ve been there, we’ve done that. We’ve seen the harm.

Falling victim to bombast and falsehoods are what weakens our society, not diversity. And the trans community refuses to be the next scapegoat.

 

Notes

  1. Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Bartkiewicz, M. J., Boesen, M. J., & Palmer, N. A. (2012). The 2011 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth in our nation’s schools. New York: GLSEN. GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education.
  2. Elders, M.J.  Brown, G. R., Coleman, E., Kodlits, T. A., Steinman, A.M. Medical Aspects of Transgender Military Service. Armed Forces and Society.  (2014).

 

About the Author 

Laura A. JacobsLaura A. Jacobs, LCSW-R is a psychotherapist, activist, author, and public speaker in the NYC area.  She is co-author of “You’re In The Wrong Bathroom!” and 20 Other Myths and Misconceptions about Transgender and Gender-Nonconforming People, and Chair of the Board of Directors of the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, one of the largest LGBTQ+ health centers in the nation. Follow her on Twitter at @LauraAJacobsNYC and visit her website.

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