Politics, News, Interviews

What you actually need to know about Trump transgender military ban, from a trans woman who served

Does a tweet count as official policy? That's a question that we haven't received an answer to yet, but what effect will Trump's ban really be?

On Wednesday, our chaos-monger-in-chief woke up and tweeted:

via Twitter

…..this.

A sweeping ban on all transgender individuals in the military, with no indication it was attached to an official order. The Pentagon seems to have been surprised by the announcement, giving little credence to Trump’s claim that this decision was made after careful consultation with military leadership. Not only do these tweets reek of authoritarian fantasy, they play into layman’s notions of the military as an unwelcoming place where this kind of nonsense might actually work.

The whole thing felt off to me, so I set out to do what we do best at The Tempest and spoke to a woman who is intimately acquainted with the military, and actually transitioned while she was working with the US Army. 

Her name is Emily Crose, she’s an information security professional, specifically, a network threat hunter, which is possibly the most badass title I have ever heard. She is also an essayist and vocal advocate for trans women and women in tech.

Emily spent seven years in the US intelligence community and transitioned while she was placed with the US Army, a little over a year and a half ago, before the official guidance was released on the integration of trans people into the military. That guidance came out on September 30th, 2016  and formally determined that trans military personnel were permitted to openly serve.

Emily told me, “It’s a common sense guide from an HR and interpersonal standpoint on how to deal with trans people. It was very detailed and I had some good things to say about it when it came out, which isn’t always the case with military policies. That’s kind of why this is such a big issue. There was so much thought put into creating this guide, and it took years to get to this point, and now you have to deal with all of the details of how you get these people out if that’s really the intent.”

The real cost of trans-specific medical care

Considering the angle the president seems to be going with is the cost of transitional medications and surgeries I wanted to know whether Emily’s experience could shed some light on a topic that’s riled up Trump supporters and transphobes everywhere.

To start with, the existing guidance isn’t complete when it comes to the question of surgery. “There wasn’t anything, to my recollection in the guidance about trans medical care, at least when it came out in 2016. There were a lot of questions about how that would be implemented. They hadn’t laid down the guidance for actually getting surgeries. all there was at that time, was coverage for HRT.”

And while she served as a civilian and didn’t have Tri-Care, the military health insurance provider, she was able to share what the actual cost of medical transition is. 

“There’s a lot of misinformation going around about the actual cost of healthcare. The numbers don’t really wash,” she tells me, “HRT costs me out of pocket, maybe $10 a month to have all of the treatments I need in order to transition medically. Surgery then costs between 30-40k if you get it in the United States”

That, she says, is about what MtF bottom surgery costs. There’s recovery to be considered, but that’s not an extravagant expense on top of the medical procedure. “Top surgery is never mentioned, so that’s an added expense, but to say (the cost) is in the billions is just not true. It’s malicious to the point that it’s clearly having an effect on how some people think of trans people in the military and that’s particularly unfair. I admit the numbers are hard to come by, this is a community of people that are not always visible and that can be difficult when you talk about the real cost of something but I guarantee there are not hundreds of thousands of trans people in the military to the point that it would cost as much as it would buy five F-35s. So, a little bit of honesty there would be nice.”

Chaos in a military that requires order to function

Emily was clear that the primary result of this Twitter announcement for trans people who are currently serving would be chaos. The military, she emphasizes, is extremely routine oriented. It took years of work by trans advocates who were serving to even get to the integration guidelines that came out last year. The military is often characterized from the outside as homophobic and hypermasculine, but Emily’s perspective is that the priority for the military is their mission.

Mission readiness isn’t helped by people fussing over gender and sexuality and, as former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter expressed, making an issue of trans service people only serves to distract the military from their goals.

“There was no bullshit,” she tells me, “It didn’t matter if their commander was gay or lesbian. None of that matters when you have a job to do so you don’t really get push back, in terms of cohesion when it comes to identity issues because ultimately, everyone relies on somebody else. If I’m the person gathering intelligence on the battlefield, or pulling the cord on a piece of artillery; everybody’s life depends on me doing my job. It doesn’t matter if I wear a pink tutu, as long as it’s within military regulations (it wouldn’t be) who cares? That’s ultimately what the military is about. I hear this constant refrain that the military isn’t a place for social experimentation and that’s just flat bullshit. because social issues have long been dealt with in the military first, for example, racial integration is one that comes to mind immediately. So nobody should buy that. Because it’s not true.”

A dangerous precedent

It seems particularly unfortunate that the idea that trans identity is inherently divisive is one that is being imposed on an organization that’s been moving steadily forward towards being more inclusive. Emily says, ” You are ultimately dealing with a president who has tapped into something in this country and is able to manipulate people’s fears. In most other situations, the effects will be somewhat benign, the powers of the president are limited to some degree, but there are too many questions about how the military gets managed. Does a tweet count as official policy? That’s a question that we haven’t received an answer to yet, whats clear to me is that is usurps some authority that Congress has to provide oversight to their own organizations. So, am I afraid this policy gets implemented tomorrow? No. Because Congress ultimately still needs to sign off on it. So where do we go from here? Congress needs to take their place and insist on oversight. If they disagree, they should shut it down but we can’t operate in this country, especially when it comes to national security with tweet command and control.”

You can and should follow Emily on Twitter @emilymaxima and I highly recommend this essay on her experience of nerd culture before and after her transition. For more information, check out SPART*A, an organization which supports current and former LGBT service people and families.

This interview was edited for length and clarity