Category Archives: News

How the Military Became the Country’s Largest Employer of Transgender Americans

By Ben Christopher

Why did Lily Kidd join the Marines?

Ask her about it now and she offers a variety of answers. She needed to escape an unaccepting family. She wanted to experience life outside of Alabama. She was eager for a physical challenge (“I don’t go half in on anything,” she says).

But she also joined the United States Marine Corps because, as a twenty-year-old living in the Deep South with a fiancé, Lily Kidd was still presenting herself to the world as a man.

“When you’re growing up as a boy, feminine traits are pushed away,” explains Kidd, a transgender woman who is now 28 and lives in San Diego. “The Marine Corps—that’s the ultimate way to say, ‘hey, you know what, I’ve got nothing to do with that stuff.’”

Last June, the Department of Defense announced that transgender men and women could no longer be discharged from the military on the basis of their gender identity. While the reform arrived too late for Kidd, who was kicked out of the Marines in 2014 after coming out as trans in her seventh year of service, the shift in policy has brought new public attention to the singular challenges (and for many, the very existence) of transgender service members.

But Kidd’s experience is not unique, nor even particularly rare. While media coverage of high profile trans service members like Chelsea Manning and Kristin Beck often presents the stories of transgender troops as novel—a singular juxtaposition of gender nonconformity within institutions that prize conformity above all else—they are anything but.

In fact, the available evidence suggests that transgender Americans serve at rates well above the national average. Though the data is sparse, studies estimate that trans men and women are anywhere from two- to five-times more likely to join the military as their cisgender (nontrans) counterparts. For all its perceived conservatism and raging heteronormativity, the United States Armed Forces is almost certainly the largest employer of transgender people in this country.

Trans service members and veterans offer a variety of explanations for this disparity. For some, the military uniform functions as gender camouflage—a way to forestall uncomfortable questions from friends, family, or spouses. For others, joining the armed forces offers financial security and community to a group that is disproportionately denied both. For Lily Kidd, both aspects motivated her decision to serve.

As both a hiding place and a safety net, the military has become an unlikely refuge for thousands of transgender Americans.

Rough Estimates 

You can tell a lot about a society based on the data it collects.

No branch of the United States military gathers statistics about its transgender service members because, up until June of this year, they did not officially exist.

Likewise, estimates of the American transgender population are notoriously unreliable. The U.S. Census Bureau doesn’t ask about transgender identity, though as Mona Chalabi writes at FiveThirtyEight, the results probably wouldn’t be reliable if they did. “Transgender” has no universally agreed upon definition, and many respondents might be reluctant to honestly answer a question about it from a federal agency. The surveys that do exist tend to focus on particular geographic areas or only target the LGBT population.

Still, what rough estimates there are suggest that transgender people are overrepresented in the military. Perhaps dramatically so.

The most prominent of these estimates comes from the Williams Institute, an LGBT-focused think tank based out of UCLA. In a report from 2014, authors Gary Gates and Jody Herman estimate that approximately 15,500 transgender men and women are serving and that an additional 134,300 trans Americans are veterans. Given a national population of 700,000 (another rough estimate), this suggests that over 1-in-5 (or 21.4%) of all openly transgender Americans are in the military or have served at one point.

Compare this to the average adult American service rate of 10.4%. Transgender Americans, in other words, are estimated to be twice as likely to join the military.

ScreenShot2016-09-28at4.10.05PM

 

 

“Assigned Male at Birth” refers to trans women along with all gender nonconforming people whose assigned gender at birth was male. Data source: Williams Institute. Chart: Priceonomics

According to the Gates and Herman, the disparity is true of both transgender men and women. Trans people assigned female at birth were estimated to be nearly three times as likely to serve as the average adult woman, while trans people assigned male at birth were 1.6 times as likely to serve as the average man.

The Williams report estimates have been criticized on methodological grounds, so the figures should be taken with a grain of salt. But it does provide one piece of evidence about a larger trend. And there are others.

In 2013, a team of epidemiologists at the Veterans Health Administration published a study on the prevalence of “gender identity disorder” (a classification since abandoned by the American Psychiatric Association) among the millions of veterans within the VHA system.

After poring over hundreds of thousands of health records from between 2000 and 2011, the researchers found that roughly 23 out of every 100,000 patients in the VHA were diagnosed with GID. That is over five times higher than the total population rate of 4.3 per 100,000.

John Blosnich, the lead author on the paper, acknowledges that using GID diagnosis codes is a “very flawed way” to identify transgender vets.

“If you can imagine, a trans person comes into the V.A. or any sort of medical center with a broken arm, there would be a [record] for a broken arm, but there wouldn’t be an ID code for Gender Identity Disorder,” he explains. “So it’s probably an underestimate, if anything.”

Like the estimates provided in the the Williams Institute, the VHA report provides an imprecise statistic. But taken together, they point to the same broader conclusion.

“I think it’s pretty apparent that, yes, trans people are more likely to serve,” says Jake Eleazer, a doctoral student at the University of Louisville who is writing his counseling psychology dissertation on the experience of transgender service members. Eleazer is also a captain in the Kentucky Army National Guard, a board member with the LGBT service member advocacy group, SPART*A, and a transgender man.

“But then it does lead to the question,” says Eleazer. “Why are trans people more likely to serve?”

Read the full article here

 

Being Transgender in a Binary World 

By:  Loree Cook‐Daniels – Director, FORGE Transgender Aging Network, USA

Abstract: This essay discusses ways in which people attempt to reconcile or resolve their own cognitive dissonance engendered by transgender people in a society in which gender is perceived as both binary (male OR female) and immutable (an unalterable state or condition).  The author suggests these cognitive dissonance reduction methods may be utilized in other situations where an adult is exposed to information that “doesn’t fit” what they already know.  Much, if not most, of the time we seek to teach someone something new, they already have the cognitive scaffolding for it. It’s possible to teach someone a new recipe because they’ve followed recipes before; this is a simple add‐on, a logical expansion, to what they already know. Or take a new software program: if someone has already used a computer keyboard and function keys or pull‐down menus, it isn’t too hard to learn additional ways those can be used.  What’s much harder to do is teach someone something that seems to contradict what they already know. When your organization is courting an age discrimination suit because one of your managers is certain that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” how do you budge that certainty to make room for other possibilities?

Continue reading Being Transgender in a Binary World 

How Gender Reassignment affects the mind

This is a very interesting article on how gender reassignment affects the mind.

Rewire Me has run dozens of articles on people’s conscious journeys toward healthier, deeper, more spiritually attuned ways of living. I’ve written about religious experiences that are so powerful they seem to spontaneously rewire the whole person, transforming him or her into not just a better person but a completely new one. Such rebirths, I’ve noted, are often marked with name changes: from Jacob to Israel or Saul to Paul. But religious conversion isn’t the only reason people change their names. Some of the best-known name changes of our era have involved changes in gender, from George Jorgensen to Christine Jorgensen, from Tracy Langondino to Thomas Beatie (who gained tabloid attention a few years ago when he became the world’s first pregnant man). What happens in the brain and the mind when gender presentation is aligned with how a person has always felt?

The animal kingdom is one place to look for insight into this question. For some species, sex changes are part of the ordinary cycle of life. Justin Rhodes, Ph.D., a neuroscientist and professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, has been conducting a long-term study of clownfish (also called anemonefish), the colorful fish that live in symbiotic partnerships with sea anemones in the warm shallows of the Indian and Pacific oceans. (Nemo of Pixar fame was an Ocellaris Clownfish, or Amphiprion ocellaris. Some 30 other species have been identified.)

Read More on Rewire Me

Texas school officials don’t understand transgender athletes

Source: Washington Post

By Katelyn Burns May 4 at 6:00 AM – Katelyn Burns is an essayist and a trans woman. She lives in Maine with her two young children.

Misguided, overzealous rules wind up not being fair to anyone.

Last week, a Texas court dismissed a lawsuit that sought to ban Texas transgender high school wrestler Mack Beggs from wrestling in the girls division. Beggs was assigned female at birth and has been taking testosterone to raise his hormone levels to that of any other teenage boy as part of his medical transition. Since the University Interscholastic League has explicitly stated that Texas athletes must only compete in the gender divisions of their birth certificates, Beggs wrestles against girls and dominates his competitions.

The policy in Texas is unfair to cisgender (non-trans) female athletes, who are forced to wrestle against boys like Beggs, as well as to transgender girls who were assigned male at birth but are on hormone replacement therapy.

Texas’s policy, along with the six other states that define high school athletic gender divisions according to the gender on birth certificates, has no basis in scientific reality when it comes to how hormones work. The difference in musculature between men and women comes entirely from the difference in how efficiently our sex hormones build muscle. Testosterone, the primary sex hormone in cisgender males, is better at building muscle more quickly, which is why men have larger muscles than women, on average. Having more muscle also helps burn fat faster, which is evident when you hear the common lament from women how “it’s unfair that men lose weight faster.”

When transgender boys like Beggs medically transition, they get testosterone injections to bring their hormone levels in line with cisgender boys and reap the athletic rewards of doing so along the way. You can see this very clearly by examining Beggs’s dominance against female competition, as well as just looking at his muscular development. The lawsuit that was dismissed claimed that by taking testosterone, the boy was effectively taking a performance-enhancing banned substance.

When those assigned male at birth take additional testosterone, the resulting increase in muscular development also comes with significantly dangerous side effects, including liver, kidney and heart damage, impotence and suffering from “‘roid rages.” This is why taking testosterone to raise T levels above the normal range for cisgender boys and men is banned, both legally and in sporting contexts. It should be noted that cis men who have been diagnosed with low T are also prescribed the same testosterone injections as trans men. By taking just enough of the hormone to move his levels into the normal boy range, Beggs is not seeking a performance enhancer; he’s just trying to live a normal life as the boy he really is. So why would Texas go to the lengths that they do just to ensure that Beggs plays in his birth-assigned gender category? The true answer lies on the other side of the gender spectrum.

There’s a common societal perception that trans women and girls are really men, and with athletes, this perception translates into an assumption that trans girls and women have a permanent advantage from birth. That’s wrong. When trans girls medically transition, they need two separate hormone treatments, one to block testosterone production, and then an estrogen regimen, which brings their levels in line with those assigned female at birth. Because trans girls hormonally become indistinguishable from any other female athletes, requiring them to compete in the boys’ division would be unfair. Opponents of trans girls’ participation in female athletics often point to other advantageous physical traits such as height as reason enough for a wholesale ban. But that ignores the natural variance that cis women have in height and dismisses the fact that height is not an advantage in sports such as gymnastics.

The larger debate surrounding trans rights makes clear what’s really going on in the disputes over school sports. If those who seek to keep trans women out of women’s rooms are forced to admit that trans women are hormonally woman enough to compete in women’s athletics, then their scaremongering tactics around the bathroom and public accommodations debate begin to crumble. It’s a harder argument to force some female athletes to use a locker room that’s separate from the teammates who they already play with.

By overzealously and erroneously attempting to ban so-called “boys” (trans girls) from taking over girls’ sports, Texas officials have managed to create a situation where an actual boy (Beggs) has taken over a girls’ sport. If it really wants to be fair, Texas should look to other states, the NCAA, the International Olympic Committee and the many other sport governing bodies that make accommodations for trans teens going through medical transitions to bring its policy into alignment with science.

Source: Washington Post

Caitlyn Jenner Opens Up To Diane Sawyer About Her Life 2 Years After Coming Out

The wide-ranging interview hit on everything from Donald Trump to her Vanity Fair cover.

There is “peace” in Caitlyn Jenner’s soul.

That’s the message she had for Diane Sawyer ― and the millions of people who tuned in for her second in-depth interview on ABC’s “20/20” to celebrate the anniversary of coming out as transgender in April 2015.

Continue reading Caitlyn Jenner Opens Up To Diane Sawyer About Her Life 2 Years After Coming Out

Katie Couric Explores Gender Diversity in ‘Gender Revolution’

Prior to filming ‘Gender Revolution’, her new documentary for National Geographic, Katie Couric thought she understood gender. People are born either boys or girls, and they grow up to be either men or women, respectively. But as transgender people become more visible in the media, our national dialogue surrounding gender has evolved, as well. Noticing a cultural shift, Couric set out to explore, dissect, and understand this phenomenon—dubbed the “gender revolution.”

While filming the documentary, Couric travelled across America, interviewing a diverse group of transgender children, adolescents, and adults. In Washington, D.C., she met Ellie, a young transgender girl who at the age of four told her parents “I’m a girl in my heart and my brain”. In Phoenix, Couric visited Camp Outdoors, a summer camp for LGBT teenagers. There, she spoke with several transgender teens about their experiences using puberty-blocking and hormonal medications, and what it’s like growing up trans. In San Francisco, she met with Dr. Marci Bowers, a gynecologist who performs hundreds of gender-affirming surgeries each year, and happens to be transgender herself. Couric also interviewed several older transgender people about the radical changes they’ve seen in society over the years, including tennis star Renee Richards.

Although gender diversity might seem like a relatively new concept from a Western perspective, Couric learned that it’s actually quite mainstream in many cultures. Ancient Jewish texts refer to six distinct genders. And in places like Samoa, India, and Oaxaca, Mexico, transgender people are recognized and honored as an integral part of society.

In Virginia, Couric met with Gavin Grimm, a young man who has become the newest symbol of transgender rights in America. At the age of 15, Gavin began the process of transitioning from his assigned to his experienced gender. Initially, Gavin’s high school was supportive. Classmates and faculty members utilized appropriate pronouns when referring to Gavin, and he was able to use the restroom facilities he felt most comfortable in. However, following a parent complaint, the local school board voted to deny Gavin access to the boy’s restroom, instead offering him the use of a separate “unisex” bathroom. Recognizing this as a clear violation of his constitutional rights, Gavin and his mother vowed to fight the school board’s decision. The case is now slated to be heard in front of the supreme court, where Gavin will be represented by the ACLU.

Couric travelled to Yale University, as well. The Ivy League school in New Haven, Connecticut, considers itself to be at the forefront of transgender student rights. Last year, Yale added more than 330 “all gender” bathrooms across campus, and it also allows transgender students to use their preferred names on ID cards and diplomas. Additionally, costs related to gender confirmation surgeries are covered under the school’s student health plan.

During her time at Yale, Couric met with a group of transgender students from the university’s LGBTQ affinity group. In chatting with the students, Couric was struck by the major generational divide she noticed in attitudes towards gender. While baby-boomers tend to view gender as fixed and binary, their millennial counterparts are much more likely to perceive gender as something that is fluid and occurring on a continuum or spectrum. Thanks in part to exposure to gender issues on websites like Tumblr, Facebook, and Tinder, gender diversity is likely to be recognized, accepted, and celebrated among this younger generation. It’s true that transgender rights may be one of the newest battlegrounds in the civil rights movement, but it certainly seems that the world is moving towards acceptance. Make way for the gender revolution.

Watch the episodes here.