The summer after my senior year of high school, I boarded a bus that took me to a plane that took me to the Recruit In-Processing Facility Orlando, otherwise known as Navy World, otherwise known as the now-closed Navy boot camp. The first step in my planned career in the US Navy was filled with excitement and trepidation. I was sure I would rise through the ranks as a nuclear technician serving on an aircraft carrier and become a commissioned officer one day.
Three weeks later, I left the Recruit Out-Processing Facility on my way back home. I suffered an asthma attack in my first PT test, my first ever asthma attack, which deemed me unfit for duty. Basically, they shaved my head and sent me home.
It was crushing. After my wheezing run around the track, a single medical exam derailed everything I had planned for my life. No military career. No training in a lucrative industry. No college after serving. Instead, I returned to West Virginia, where I grew up, and tried to pick up the pieces — living with my mom, working in retail and foodservice while saving up the money to go to school. I don’t think I can adequately describe the financial and emotional toll that event took on me. It took me five long years, but eventually, I made it to college and established myself in the community.
I share that experience with many people who were also told that they could not serve their country, not because of a debilitating medical issue, but because they are transgender. In my case, it did make sense to send me home, especially because the asthma was just a sign of an underlying issue that would have made serving impossible. For trans people who wish to serve or have been serving for years, though, it never made any sense at all.
We have known for years, decades really, that being trans is not a mental disorder. Being trans is just a possible outcome of human development having to do with neurology and endocrinology. It took a while to get it out of the diagnostic books, but the research showing that being trans isn’t a psychological problem began in the 1990s. Therefore, there is no reason to bar trans people from serving due to psychological issues.
Trans people also have no problem passing the military’s fitness requirements, so no one can argue that they can’t do the job.
A combat readiness study conducted by the RAND Corporation found that having trans people serving openly would have little effect on military units’ readiness, so one can’t make the argument that that would be an issue.
Despite there being no good reason to keep trans people from serving their country, President Joe Biden’s predecessor surprised the Joint Chiefs and the Pentagon by banning trans people from the military in 2017. The military was against the move, but as he was their boss, they had to enact the ban. President Biden’s predecessor didn’t do it for the military; he often showed that he didn’t care about the military or people who serve. Instead, he was playing to the transphobes in his base, showing them that he would punish trans people for them. Unfortunately for them, he missed his target because the transgender ban’s effect was that it actually hurt readiness and recruitment efforts, even with people who are not trans.
On Monday, Jan. 25, 2021, President Biden reversed his predecessor’s ban. No longer will people be subject to the financial and emotional disaster I faced when Navy doctors sent me home simply because they are different from the majority. Yes, that is the reason. President Biden’s predecessor didn’t have a real reason to disqualify trans people. Like many of his adherents, he simply does not understand what being trans is, so they make up reasons to marginalize trans people. To them, different is evil. No, really, trans people are called evil by some for no reason other than they’re different.
Hopefully, one day, the understanding and support President Biden and the military leadership have shown trans soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines will spread to more of our culture. Currently, trans people are more likely to live in poverty and be unemployed than the general population, not because of their ability but because of prejudice.
Thanks to President Biden’s order, all those who wish to and are able to serve may. As time goes, it will be up to business leaders to ensure that the same can be said in the private sector.