On June 30, hours before the policy took effect, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis postponedthe opening of military enlistments to transgender people for an additional six months. The delay does not prevent currently serving soldiers from transitioning, however. It is intended to give the joint chiefs more time to review and mitigate the Obama-era rule’s impact on the “readiness and lethality of our [armed] forces.”
Late into President Obama’s last term, his military officials allowed transgender soldiers to serve openly, even funding gender-change surgeries with taxpayer dollars. Former Defense Secretary Ash Carter set a July 1 deadline for all four military branches to write policies for accepting openly transgender enlistments. Formerly, soldiers exhibiting gender dysphoria were automatically discharged.
While the Pentagon’s review takes place behind closed doors and the inevitable culture-war volleys spill into the public square, it is critical to understand the real-life implications of the policy shift. I recently received a copy of the new “Tier Three Transgender Training” materials—a PowerPoint and accompanying lesson plan excerpted below, with full documents at these links—that the Army is now using in mandatory training for all soldiers. The active-duty officer who sent the materials completed the training with 40 other soldiers last week instead of conducting their morning physical training as usual.
The force-wide presentation sheds quite a bit of light on the implications of the rule change on transgender service members. The policy prioritizes subjective feelings over combat-readiness and inverts military order by placing the needs of individuals over the well-being of their units.
The policy allows transgender soldiers to switch their “gender marker” in the Army’s personnel database without undergoing sex reassignment surgery or any other physical changes.
For a soldier to officially change gender requires only some paperwork. A military doctor or civilian medical professional must certify that the transgender person has achieved “stability in the preferred gender” and the soldier must change the gender designation on the soldier’s passport or birth certificate. From that point on, the transgender soldier is “expected to adhere to all military standards associated with their gender,” and “use the billeting, bathroom and shower facilities” of their new gender.
For example, “Vignette Four” of the training module presents the following scenario: “following her transition from male to female (which did not include sex reassignment surgery) and gender marker change in DEERS [DEERS is the military’s personnel database], a transgender Soldier begins using female barracks, bathroom and shower facilities. Because she did not undergo a surgical change, the Soldier still has male genitalia.”
How should troops respond? “Soldiers must accept living and working conditions that are often austere, primitive, and characterized by little or no privacy.”
The slide tells soldiers to “understand that you may encounter individuals in barracks, bathrooms, or shower facilities with physical characteristics of the opposite sex despite having the same gender marker in DEERS.” The next bullet point adds, “all Soldiers should be respectful of the privacy and modesty concerns of others. However, transgender Soldiers are not required or expected to modify or adjust their behavior based on the fact that they do not ‘match’ other Soldiers.” This is a first. The military is normally in the business of telling soldiers to “modify or adjust their behavior” all the time.
Consider what these policies mean in real life: Most Army showers look like a prison cell with several showerheads on the wall. Anyone who has dealt with the practical challenges of funneling 30 people through them in ten minutes understands that “privacy” will be incompatible with reality. Female soldiers who feel uncomfortable sharing facilities with individuals who still have “physical characteristics of the opposite sex” will just have to put up with it.
The adjustments to “billeting” are equally intrusive. Modern barracks resemble college dorms, with two soldiers of the same sex — now “gender marker” — sharing rooms just large enough to accommodate the basic necessities of military life. The training forbids any commander from ordering a transgender soldier to use a facility that is inconsistent with his “gender marker,” and rejects the idea of separate facilities for transgender soldiers. If separate facilities of any kind are created, they must be for soldiers who feel uncomfortable sharing facilities with a member of the opposite biological sex. In short, the rest of the unit must adjust, not the individual transgender soldier.
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