Category Archives: Transmen

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.

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“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

 

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