Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Families on the Frontlines: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell . . . and Don’t be Transgender Either

Our 'Families on the Frontlines' series continues with a guest blog by Monica F. Helms, president of the Transgender American Veterans Association.

For years, "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" has been the official witch-hunt policy that gave the U.S. military open-ended permission to ruin the careers of any person they suspected were “homosexuals.” It never had anything to do with whether the person actually acted upon their sexual orientation, or even if the person was really gay or not. It mostly stems from the Department of Defense’s archaic and narrow view of what they think should be gender-normative behavior for men and women, including sexual activities. Basically, you don’t have to be gay, or act gay, or be sexually active with a same-sex partner, as long as they think you’re gay. They hold all the cards.

It’s the famous oxymoron of “Military Intelligence” in play here. This is why transgender-identifying service members also find themselves snared in the DA, DT trolling nets that commanding officers like to throw out every so often. Maybe they have to “catch their limit” to get promoted. Who knows? But, we do know for sure that transgender service members need to be factored into the DA, DT mix when the discussion comes up.

Over 12,000 gay, lesbian and bisexual service men and women have been discharged under DA, DT. We may never know how many of those discharged were really transgender-identified people. We also don’t know how many transgender people who were discharged under DADT that did not get counted in the above number. We do know that some have been sent packing and DA, DT was the excuse the military used.

We have recently heard the words “gender non-conforming” in the DA, DT discussions. This should not be used as an absolute definition to describe transgender service members. Gender non-conforming indicates that the person acts or expresses themselves in a manner not stereotypical to their birth gender. This means a male who exhibits some stereotypical expressions or mannerisms of females, or visa versa.

A person does not have to be trans to appear gender non-conforming. In many cases, transgender people will exhibit hyper-masculinity or femininity to mask how they really identify. In this case, it would be better if we let the military person self-identify themselves as being transgender rather then saying that those who do not conform to stereotypical mannerisms are also transgender-identified.

In a recent article by Steve Ralls called, “Turning Point for Troops & Their Families,” he mentioned some survey statistics that come from my recent article called, “Transgender Military People and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” posted on June 25, 2008. I will repost those figures and elaborate on them.

“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 DA, DT.”

The figures come from the raw data of the Transgender American Veterans Association’s Transgender Veterans Survey, conducted from 12/13/07 to 5/1/0/8. From the time the survey ended, until today, the Palm Center in California has been helping to provide the appropriate people to analyze the results and to help in putting together the final report, which should be out sometimes next week, at the earliest.

It is very important to note that even though the figures look impressive, we have to adjust them for those who actually served since DA, DT went into affect. Over the years before "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," others have also been asked if they were gay. Making those adjustments, we see that 237 people who took our survey spent either all or part of their military service from July 1993 to today. Out of those, 95 answered “Yes” to the question, “Did anyone ever suspect you were gay or asked if you were gay?” On the other one, “Have you ever been questioned by your commanding officer or any other officer because someone said they thought you were gay,” 34 of them said “Yes” to that.

All of this shows that transgender-identified service members have always been asked about being gay. It goes back to what I said in my other article:

“The military cannot distinguish between sexual orientation and gender identity. As far as they are concerned, if a male likes to wear women’s clothes or a woman wants to change her sex, then those people are gay. They don’t know any better and most refuse to be educated about it.”

Plain and simple, we are equally at risk. There maybe far less of us and we may not have added to the overall total by that much, but we can no longer be ignored in this discussion. The mindset has always been that since the law was written to cover sexual orientation only, then we would confuse people by including transgender people. My question has become, “How can we confuse people who already think transgender people are just gay?” Regardless of what our sexual orientation really is, we have been targeted and kicked out for being gay.

I say we just let them go on thinking we are gay. It means our numbers are included in the total, our people’s stories are told and our voices are heard in this fight. Whenever DA, DT is mentioned or written about, I would love to see people start saying, “This law affects gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender service members.” This was one fight we didn’t asked to be included in, but it appears we didn’t have a choice. If they want to throw us into the mix, then they better be prepared to hear us on the Hill. We will be there, proudly standing beside our LGB brothers and sisters.


meg said...

Check out BuzzFlash's coverage of the "don't ask, don't tell" congressional hearing yesterday: http://www.buzzflash.com/articles/alerts/434

Anonymous said...

Respond to DADT proudly with "Ask. I'll tell." go to askilltell.org for more