Transgender Military People and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

June 25th, 2008

by Monica F. Helms Monica’s Picture

In about a week, we will once again celebrate one of our country’s patriotic holidays, Independence Day, also known as the 4th of July.  The other two major patriotic holidays are Memorial Day and Veterans Day, whereas Flag Day is a minor one that people seem to miss.  Inevitably, on the three major patriotic holidays, LGB people have a desire to write articles about the need to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  I am fully supportive of the need to repeal this stupid law.  What I’m not happy about is that in these discussions and articles, transgender veterans are always left out.


I’m writing this article a week before the 4th of July to point out why it is time that transgender people should be included in the DADT discussion and included in the upcoming articles written about it.  Transgender people are at just as much risk of being kicked out under DADT as LGB people are and we now have proof of that.  There should be no excuse for any upcoming articles to leave us on the cutting room floor.




The Transgender Veterans Survey, which is being analyzed at this very moment by the Palm Center in California, has some rather interesting numbers in regards to transgender veterans and DADT.  A total of 827 transgender veterans took the survey, but not all of them answered every question.  One of the questions in the survey was what type of discharge a person received and out of the 797 people who answered this question, seven said they were discharged under DADT.  We must keep in mind that some people were still serving when they took this survey.


Notice that the number is not “Zero.”  This alone should be proof that we should be included in the discussions.


One of the other things to keep in mind on why the number is so low is that there are not nearly as many military people who identify as being trans than there are those who identify as being gay, lesbian or bisexual.  Plus, most of the people who took the survey didn’t serve while DADT has been in affect.  We had four WWII veterans take the survey and many Vietnam Era veterans who also took it.


Two other factors need to be considered in why the number is so low.  One is that many trans people are not really sure about the feelings they have and so their gender identity has not been fully realized while they were in the military.  Many LGB people are fully aware of their sexual orientation in their early teen years.


Also, trans people are very good at hiding their situation.  It’s not that LGB people cannot hide as well, but the fear of getting caught can lead to worse situations than just being discharged.  Some trans veterans have stories of being thrown into the brig for being trans.  The great ability to hide it is shown by the fact that 86.2% of the people who answered the type of discharge question got out with an Honorable.


The military cannot distinguish between sexual orientation and gender identity.  As far as they are concern, if a male likes to wear women’s clothes or someone wants to change their sex, then those people are gay.  They don’t know any better and most refuse to be educated about it.  Based on two other questions we asked, many transgender veterans had been questioned about their sexual orientation.


One of the questions we asked was, “Did anyone ever suspect you were gay or asked if you were gay?”  Out of the 801 people who answered that question, 302 said, “Yes.”  We also asked, “Have you ever been questioned by your commanding officer or any other officer because someone said they thought you were gay?”  799 people answered that question and 109 of them said “Yes.”  It seems that by these questions, transgender people are very much at risk for being targeted for being discharged under DADT.


The time has come that whenever Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell pops up as a topic of discussion, we have to start saying that this policy affects gay, lesbian, bisexual AND transgender military people.  We will surely come across a knowledgeable person who knows the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity and asks why trans people are included.  All we have to say is that we have proof that they have been affected by DADT because the military cannot tell the difference.  The law still says “sexual orientation,” but it is made to include transgender people simply because of how the commanding officers interpret the law.


For those who plan on writing about DADT for this up coming patriotic holiday, they need to be fully aware that if you leave out the “T,” then there will be plenty of us who will be “T’ed off.”

5 Responses to “Transgender Military People and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

  1. Paula Says:

    Not sure how I missed out on this survey. Sure would have taken it if asked. I have communicated with TAVA in the past. I’m retired military and get my HRT and other trans-specific medical treatment using military health insurance. Not sure how that works at it’s not allowed? I knew at age seven that I was transgendered (transsexual as it was called back then).
    I’ve expressed my gender identity since age seven, albeit mostly in private up until a few years ago when I came out and soon afterward transitioned.
    I knew I was TG the entire 22 years I was in the military.
    What a hard way to serve. My miliatary service was exemplary and my awards include the good conduct ribbon with four oak leaf clusters. If it would have been discovered during my military career that I was a transgendered person, my good record would not have prevented my being discharged.

  2. Joney Says:

    I wish the military considered dressing in woman’s clothing, gay. Unfortunately, they do not include transgender in DADT. If found out in the military, the lucky ones are considered gay. The military by case law, is considered cross dressing a sexual perversion. Some are just asked to resign, some are punished in other ways to include military prison.

    Still they should be included in the discussion, despite not beling included in DADT.

  3. Shari Miller Says:

    I recall back in the early to mid 1970′s, there was a trans-woman in the program at Stanford who transitioned while in the army. It happened.

    The VA hospitals have helped transgender persons in some cases, but I don’t know if they still are. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard of that.

    You would be much more aware of current policies than am I, but as you recall it was a bit of a surprise to me to hear that the military is so transphobic. Why would the VA be sympathetic if the military forces were so opposed?

    My years in the Air Force weren’t good ones, but that’s another story….

  4. Deanna Deville Says:

    Shari, hello,

    I would be very interested in learning more about the person that transitioned in the program at Stanford. By ‘at Stanford,’ I assume they were in the Reserve Officer Training Corps at Stanford, and not yet on active duty. But I Would like to know more about it.

    May I respond to a couple of things that often get lost in the discussion, imho. Shari, I hope you won’t think I’m picking a fight or slamming you. I’m not, and I apologize in advance if it comes across that way.

    The Army’s medical regulation is AR 40-501, if memory serves. Regardless of the specific number, it’s a joint reg applying to all services, and it disqualifies anyone and everyone who has had genital surgery of any kind. That could be changed, of course, but for now, that’s the way it is.

    Before we all raise our fists in outrage, let’s take a peek at reality. DoD has a business logic for this. GRS either way is a complex, unique surgery. It’s not a combat injury, it’s expensive, and as a niche specialty, the military doesn’t need it. If a person genitals are wounded, I’m sure the cosmetic ‘repair’ surgery would be referred to the civilian sector or the VA, as is the case for the many, many specialties that the services do not routinely recruit for. Let’s say, for example, the Army recruited or drafted Dr. Marci Bowers. How many GRS surgeries would she perform? Several a year, perhaps, as opposed to the 500 or so she does now? What a waste of talent. Do we really want her to be in the service? We most certainly do not.

    As an aside, my brother-in-law wanted to rejoin the Air Force, but was refused because he had an ingrown toenail. Which he may have had before he left the first time he was in. Why” They would have had to ‘fix’ him before they could deploy him. Petty? Perhaps, but it was a readiness issue. It was legitimate for the Air force to do that. It doesn’t make sense to recruit the “sick, lame and lazy” when you can recruit people who are healthy. It’s business, that’s all.

    The mission of the Army Medical Department is to conserve fighting strength, not treat patients. There is a subtle but distinct difference. Military medicine cannot provide all services to everyone. They plainly and simply cannot afford it.

    If a person has a unique medical situation, and there’s a problem, DoD just doesn’t have the resources to deal with it. GRS imho falls in this category. It affects readiness and fighting strength, and that’s what DoD is for. I may not like it, but as a 26 year veteran and senior Army warrant officer retiree, I understand it. It is a reasonable attitude on their part. Should it be changed? Well, as we used to say, that kind of decision is way above my pay grade. Our activism may eventually change it, yes.

    Why would the VA be sympathetic if the military forces were so opposed? I’m sure you mean the VA health care system, and the military in general. The missions, motivations and funding of the military are far different than the missions, motivations and funding of VA health care. Therein lies the differences in attitude.

    Again, Shari and all commentors, your opinions and concerns are just as valid as mine. I hope I’m not out of line, and apologize if I’ve offended anyone. Thank you all for your service to the country. It was important to the nation, whether the nation cares to recognize that or not.

  5. Debra Martin Says:

    I was out offorced to resign the Washington National Guard in mid 1980s, when my in-laws stole an album of me in feminine attire and sent it to my unit. I as forced to leave despite six years of service. I told the Guard that I was not pulling a “Klinger” to get out. I said I would defend my state and country dressed as a woman if it became necessary.

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