Despite the repeal of the homophobic ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ policy three years ago, trans US military personnel are still suffering from persecution, says Rob Buchanan.
A trans man, who was a sailor in the US Navy, claims that his discharge last year was due to transphobia surrounding his gender identity. Landon Wilson, who is a veteran of Afghanistan, served as a cryptologic technician. Although he joined the Navy as a woman, like most trans people he had known his true gender identity from very early childhood.
Wilson says that it was his experiences and personal growth during his time in his beloved Navy that gave him the strength to finally begin to go through his transition. He was formally diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder and began his transition by undergoing hormone therapy.
His body began to rapidly change, and both in South Carolina where he did combat training, and in Afghanistan, Wilson was assigned to male barracks. On the many sporadic occasions when any discrepancy between his birth gender and his true identity would have been expected to come to light it didn’t. Wilson, a trans man, lived, trained and fought among his fellow men and the sky didn’t fall in.
Yet it seemed having a trans man in their midst represents an existential risk to the US Navy. While the ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ (DADT) policy was repealed for the US military in 2013, and the rights of gay and lesbian soldiers have been recognised, no such recognition or protection has been given to trans US military personnel.
According to a report led by former US Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders, with the San Francisco State University Department of Political Science, there is “no compelling medical reason” for the military to continue its ban on transgender service members. Medical experts are also in agreement that the repeal of DADT should be extended to trans people.
Colleagues described Wilson as a rising star in his field. He had earned several prestigious awards. Out of 10,000 sailors in his unit, Wilson won a Performer Of The Quarter award in 2012 and the Enlisted Sailor Of The Quarter in 2013. It is estimated that half a million US dollars were spent on obtaining him the highest-level security training, due to the nature of his top secret intelligence job, which involved intercepting communications from enemy and foreign governments as well as Afghani extremists.
Could the fact that his clearance was so high have made the top brass frightened? Might the powers that be have been nervous that as a trans person, Wilson could be “compromised”? (The way they once believed lesbian and gay soldiers could be compromised.)
The University of California’s Williams Institute estimates that there are 15,500 transgender individuals currently serving in the US military. This is possibly a gross underestimation, considering the reluctance of trans US military personnel to serve openly. The attraction the military holds for trans people is complex. It’s likely that on one hand, the militaristic assertion of a strong male identity is as important to trans men seeking to fulfill their innate masculinity, as it also may be for pre-transition trans women who are trying desperately to suppress or hide their feminine identity beneath the smokescreen of ‘traditional’ expressions of manliness. There are of course many trans men and women want to join the army, just like their cisgendered colleagues, to serve their country.
I can only imagine how heartbreaking it was for Landon Wilson, this dedicated officer, to have to make the devastating choice presented to him by a military lawyer. You can either transition and leave, or you can choose not to fulfill your gender identity and continue to serve. The truth is when you are a trans person, there is no choice. None of this is about choice; it’s about nature.
There is a deep irony to the fact that the US military bases so much of its pride in taking good people and making them great. In following antiquated dogma that bans trans US military personnel they have foolishly deprived a man of his career and a nation of an expensively trained and demonstrably capable military asset. Landon Wilson expressed all the most desirable qualities of any soldier – bravery, determination and loyalty, but ultimately, when faced with choosing between a glittering military career and his own identity, he gave up all the glory and showed loyalty to that greatest of truths – his own heart.
Watch Landon’s Story Below
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