Being transgender isn’t something that should take away from someone having the ability to serve in combat. The road to lifting the transgender military ban was a long one. All it took was a question during a town-hall meeting in Kandahar, Afghanistan when then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter was visiting. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jesse M. Ehrenfeld, a doctor, asked Carter his thoughts on transgender soldiers serving in an “austere environment.”
This question by Ehrenfeld is what ultimately led to the ban on transgender members serving openly getting lifted in 2016 and as such, 15,500 service members were finally allowed to serve openly in the military without having to hide who they truly are.
Co-directors Gabriel Silverman and Fiona Dawson chose a perfect project to make their feature film debut. “TransMilitary” is a follow up to the 2015 documentary short, “Transgender, at War and in Love” in which two subjects were profiled— Staff Sergeant Logan Ireland and Corporal Laila Ireland (ret.). “TransMilitary” also follows the stories of Captain Jennifer Peace and Captain El Cook. Some of these people are based stateside while others have seen deployment. In coming out before the ban was lifted, service members risked losing everything that they’ve worked their entire lives for.
Even though TransMilitary is a documentary and not a narrative feature, it is the importance of films such as these that can help to spread education and awareness when it comes to representation. Transgender people do not think of their lives as an experiment at all. They just want to live as anyone else does.
“Transmilitary” is a rational approach to the subject of transmen and women serving in US Armed Forces and it focuses on facts. Filming began back in November 2014 and the film focused on four individual stories of serving transmen and women, all with exemplary records. The same four who are nervously waiting to see if they will ever be officially recognized. The ban of them serving dates back to World War II medical regulations, but despite this there are an estimated 15500 trans in the Armed Forces that are actually making them the largest employer of trans people in the country.
Captain Jennifer Peace started transitioning just 6 months after she got married and a couple of years into her service. She has consistently been singled out for praise for her performance and promotion . Yet despite this, on occasion she has been outed by local commanders and has been discriminated against and been allocated mindless jobs beneath her rank.
Muscle-bound Staff Sergeant Logan Ireland was serving in Kandahar province facing dangerous missions daily. He revels in the fact that he is completely accepted in his Unit, so much so he confides to his fiance Laila in their weekly Skype video call, if it wasn’t for her, he’d much rather never come home. He knows that the moment he is redeployed back to the US, the local Commander there may insist he goes back to joining the female ranks again.
Laila understands this as she is a transwoman serving in the Army in Hawaii under Commanders who insists that she obey Army rules and present totally as a man. In the end it will be the reason she will accept an honorable discharge after 12 years of service.
The 4th subject is Captain El Cook, a black trans man from Houston whose mother is a church pastor. She, and his clique of bros accept him fully, but he still wears a ponytail just in case he is ever told by superiors that he has to present himself as a woman again.
All of them are members of SPARTA an association of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people who currently serve or have served in the U.S. armed forces . The documentary traces their involvement over the next few years, each of them knowing that they were ‘outing’ themselves and this could lead to them being dishonorably discharged.
The fear they experience at times is real, but nevertheless will not put any of them off. They helping to fight for their right to serve legally. They know that time may be running out for them. As one of their leaders comments no new President would want to make this issue a priority in their new term. That was of course before the unexpected Election result.
Their lobbying played off and on June 30th 2016 Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that as a result of the 6-month investigation he had decided that all qualified transgender men and women could serve with immediate effect. For once these men and women could relax secure in the knowledge that their commitments to serve and fight for their country was finally rightfully recognized.
That elation lasted for one year and on June 26th 2017 Trump blasted out a tweet announcing the ban would be re-introduced with immediate effect. He didn’t offer any facts at all to support his decision and in reality was just playing to the prejudices of his alt-right supporters.
The Heads of the Military stepped up to the plate and said that not only would the ban not be imposed immediately, they all insisted that everyone serving regardless of orientation of gender would always be treated with the respect they deserve.
With such an unstable Commander In Chief now no rationale would be of any use and it looks like the Courts are the only way f to get the Ban lifted once and for all.
What we really see here is that no matter how these men and women deal with their gender dysphoria they are also risking their lives by choosing to serve their country and their very future can be changed by prejudiced politicians.