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After DADT: Transgender Life In The United States Military

by Guest Author on August 5, 2013

in News,Politics,Transgender Life In The Military

Post image for After DADT: Transgender Life In The United States Military

Guest author Brynn Tannehill explains that despite the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, an outdated Department of Defense policy still prohibits transgender persons from military service

It has been nearly two years since the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT).  Most people, including many within the LGBT community (including some very prominent LGBT leaders), were or still are unaware that the end of DADT did not end the exclusion of transgender people from military service.  There is no law preventing transgender individuals from serving. However, being transgender is still grounds for “rejection for military service.”

A Department of Defense instruction document, DoDI 6130.03, which is as clinical as its title suggests, states that the following exclude one from military service:

14 Female Genetalia f: History of major abnormalities or defects of the genitalia including but not limited to change of sex (P64.5) (CPT 55970, 55980), hermaphroditism, pseudohermaphroditism, or pure gonadal dysgenesis (752.7).

15 Male Genetalia f: History of major abnormalities or defects of the genitalia including but not limited to change of sex (P64.5) (CPT 55970, 55980), hermaphroditism, pseudohermaphroditism, or pure gonadal dysgenesis (752.7).

29.r: Current or history of psychosexual conditions (302) including but not limited to transexualism (sic), exhibitionism, transvestitism, voyeurism, and other paraphilias.

The exclusion of transgender people from the military is three-fold. First is the basis of needing intact gonads on the basis that the service does not need the added burden of maintaining an individual’s endocrine system. The second is the psychiatric rationale that Gender Identity Disorder (GID), as defined by the DSM-IV, is a mental disorder. The last, unstated assumption is that having openly transgender people would be prejudicial to good order and discipline.

While each of these rationales is demonstrably false, overcoming them is extremely difficult due to public stigmatization of the transgender community.

Each branch of the service has their own guidelines for separating transgender service members administratively. Waivers for being transgender are not granted. This last part is somewhat ironic, because waivers for pedophilia, voyeurism, and bestiality are.

Military therapists are required to report anything that affects a service member’s fitness for duty. By the letter of the law in military regulations therapists have turn in anyone who is transgender. As a result, many transgender service members pay for counseling outside military health care system, which in itself is a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) Article 92, which is “Violating a standing order.” As a result, many transgender people in the military face a no win situation: suffer in silence, tell a military therapist and risk getting kicked out, or go see one out in town and risk military punishment.

(Note: the UCMJ is the military legal system, which operates under its own set of laws, some of which would not necessarily be constitutional if applied to members of the public.)

It is clear that the existing policy harms the service through the loss of otherwise qualified personnel and endangers the health and well being of transgender members. However, it has previously been difficult to form a convincing argument as to why the policies need to be re-evaluated due to the pathologization of transgender people by the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

This has changed significantly in the past few months.  This past May the APA recently released the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM-5).

The DSM-5 significantly de-pathologized being transgender. Gender Identity Disorder (GID) has been removed. The definition and placement of the diagnosis of gender dysphoria is significantly different than its predecessor. It is not considered a disorder, categorized with other disorders, or placed on one of the diagnostic axes. Indeed, the APA explicitly states that, “It is important to note that gender nonconformity is not in itself a mental disorder. The critical element of gender dys­phoria is the presence of clinically significant distress associated with the condition.”

In short, if a transgender person’s ability to function on a day to day basis isn’t being affected by their dysphoria, then there is nothing to diagnose, and hence nothing to report.

Many military psychologists and therapists are already viewing the issue this way.  Increasingly the active duty transgender people I know are telling me that therapists are following professional standards over military ones, reasoning that there is no reason to kick out someone who is consistently doing well at their jobs. It’s easy to see why.

Transgender people in the military have consistently demonstrated that they can function at the highest levels. Kristen Beck, a retired member of SEAL Team 6, demonstrated this for over 20 years.  I know over 100 active duty transgender individuals, and most of them are highly motivated individuals who are excelling in their careers.

Many of the trans men are in the fortunate position that the military actively encourages masculine traits, and are thus able to express their gender identity more freely than many of their civilian counterparts. Most of the stress their lives comes from things besides dysphoria. It comes from the fear of being kicked out if someone in their chain of command decides to go after them, or other things which mark them as being gender nonconforming rather than just “one of the guys.”

Some transgender service members have leadership willing to turn a blind eye to the situation because they don’t see a need to lose a top performing Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine. Others have found acceptance from their peers. Often the most disapproving people in the military are the people who are supposed to be the most accepting: Chaplains. Increasingly, the situation for transgender people in the military looks like it did for lesbians and gays during the final decade of DADT.

Over the next few weeks, The New Civil Rights Movement will be telling some of their stories anonymously.  These are real people, with real lives, who serve honorably and in silence. The least we can do is listen to them when they tell their stories.

We owe them that much, and more.


Editor’s note: Today The New Civil Rights Movement begins a week-long series of articles about transgender people who are serving or have served in the United States military despite the present ban. All week we will be sharing the stories of real people’s lives in a considerable effort to expose the unnecessary barriers that obstruct transgender open service in military, and show why the transgender medical exclusion is antiquated and must be removed.


Brynn at work cropped adjusted (1)Brynn Tannehill is originally from Phoenix, Ariz. She graduated from the Naval Academy with a B.S. in computer science in 1997. She earned her Naval Aviator wings in 1999 and flew SH-60B helicopters and P-3C maritime patrol aircraft during three deployments between 2000 and 2004. She served as a campaign analyst while deployed overseas to 5th Fleet Headquarters in Bahrain from 2005 to 2006. In 2008 Brynn earned a M.S. in Operations Research from the Air Force Institute of Technology and transferred from active duty to the Naval Reserves. In 2008 Brynn began working as a senior defense research scientist in private industry. She left the drilling reserves and began transition in 2010. Since then she has written for OutServe magazine, The Huffington Post, and Queer Mental Health as a blogger and featured columnist. Currently, she is on the board at SPART*A.  Brynn and her partner currently live in Xenia, Ohio, with their three children.

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Pamela1947 August 5, 2013 at 5:34 pm

Thank you Brynn this is a story that needs to be told!! We are still being discriminated on by the military!!

Gina9223 August 6, 2013 at 6:13 pm

And reading the DoDI you can tell just how dated and ignorant it is. The terms ‘hermaphroditisim’
and ‘pseudeo-hermaphroditism’ are archaic relics from the 50’s and 60’s. The most current terminology is ‘Intersex’ and ‘Divergent Sexual Development’. The science behind those who have a sex/gender that doesn’t conform to the ‘normal’ criteria for male/female has been growing in volume and the population appears to be growing as well. This is either due environmental pressures [certain types of plastic pollution have been theorized to be a contributor] or a greater ability to discern these conditions. And pure gonadal dysgenesis? From my experience your average military doctor is at best a general practitioner with no experience with anyone that has an IS or DSD condition. When I was in we HAD people who were IS or had a DSD issue but the doctors didn’t do anything to force anyone out except those with Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome where someone who’s 46XY appears to be female and usually quite beautiful female.

Gina9223 August 6, 2013 at 6:14 pm

And me? The way I know a good deal about this is because I am …different from everyone else. I was allowed to stay in because I’m an intelligent, experienced, hard worker who comes from a long line of US Navy Sailors. This regulation is not applied or enforced equally and for those who are IS and have DSD’s it can’t be because quite often the individual doesn’t know. Surgeries take place at a very young age and parents and doctors typically lie to their kids about their issue. Of the 2 women I knew who had CAIS in the military only one was told, the other was totally ignorant about the condition. I didn’t know I had an IS condition until I was 28 and it was discovered by a fluke, and I still did a full 20 years without any major issues. Part of this problem is where a very old regulation ages out due to scientific discovery and no one has the balls to take charge and enact a sane logical change based on medical facts. …or we can keep the regulation and acknowledge that 1 in 250 have some form of IS/DSD condition that prohibits military service and start tossing bodies.

elliott78 August 6, 2013 at 11:02 pm

"[for trans men] Most of the stress their lives comes from things besides dysphoria. "

you're joking, right? while i'm sure it's true that trans men serving as women in the military are more able to express masculinity than trans women are to express femininity, this is only one part of dysphoria. as many trans men will tell you, expressing masculinity is not enough to allay dysphoria. being addressed using female signifiers causes dysphoria. living in a body with breasts and a vagina causes dysphoria. having a voice that's too high, hands that are too small, hips that are to prominent– all these things can cause dysphoria as well. this is true regardless of whether a person is in the military and regardless of whether a person is able to express some modicum of masculinity. it is a sweeping generalization and a gross oversimplification to say that men who are serving as women have reduced their dysphoria to being a secondary issue because they sometimes allowed to express some masculinity.

Lisajain August 8, 2013 at 8:56 pm

If I understand what Secretary Gates told me:

1) You cannot remain in the Service and have Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS) while in the Service. You have to leave the Service for SRS. DoD will not pay for it.

2) However, once you have undergone SRS and transitioned to your life as male or female as the case may be, you are no longer considered transsexual and can re-up with the Service (assuming you meet the physical standards). You are male or female.

3.. A non-operative transgender service member must wear the appropriate uniform for their physical sex (i.e., their unchanged natal sex) when on duty. Off duty, you can do whatever they may want provided they don't

a) Do it in uniform or on the post or ship.

b) Do anything that would impugn the reputation of the Service or DoD (e.g., don't get arrested wearing clothing of the sex opposite your unchanged natal sex; don't appear in the media). .

Bottom Line:

1) If you are physically male or female, you can enlist or re-enlist in the Services.

2) If you want SRS, you have to do on your own dime outside any of the Services.. No one can enlist in a Service and then announce they need SRS.

3) If you want to cross-dress, you have to do it on your own time and not attract undo attention to yourself.,

4) No one has a legal right to enlist or remain in a Service. You can apply, but it's up to the individual Service to accept you.. If you screw up, you are out.

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