Saturday, July 29, 2017

A Few Thoughts on Transgender Individuals in the Military

President Trump's blanket ban on transgender individuals shocked virtually everyone this week, as it was reportedly a decision made completely on the fly and without consultation with virtually anyone in the military community or elsewhere.

As a constitutional conservative, I don't see how this ban isn't flatly illegal. The 14th Amendment's equal protection clause expressly prohibits the federal or state governments from offering any sort of legal protections to some individuals while denying them to others. While admission into the United States Armed Forces is not a right, the government would need to have a specific reason for denying one admission (i.e. physical or mental unfitness) rather than broadly discriminating against an entire "class" of people, in this case people who identify as transgender.

On philosophical grounds, I find the ban to be odiously cruel and unjust. What happened to the days when the right stood for individual rights and promulgated the seemingly obvious principle that people should be judged on their individual merits rather than broad labels that divide people into groups based on things that are largely beyond their control? Quite frankly, I'd expect such a policy from the so-called "social justice warriors" on the left. Isn't the idea that we're inherently defined by the societal "groups" we belong to a core principle of the Hillary Clinton style "identity politics?"

I've seen a lot of conservative pundits congratulate President Trump for reversing Obama-era policies and returning our military to the common sense guidelines that existed before Obama's presidency. However, the U.S. policy has never been to ban all transgender individuals from the military. Transgender individuals have been allowed to serve under the assumption of "don't ask, don't tell," and transgender troops have even been given access to hormone therapy and other cosmetic benefits by the Department of Veterans Affairs after their time in the forces. Trump's vague, broad trio of tweets seemingly bans all transgender individuals unconditionally, regardless of whether they conceal their true gender identity. Even if Trump clarifies that such is not the case and that transgender troops may continue to serve "in the closet," confusion will surely be created by the question of what to do with troops who were openly serving as transgender individuals before the ban was enacted and would now be barred from service by the new policy.

The ridiculous rhetoric from conservative commentators I usually respect and admire, from calling Obama's decision to allow transgender people to serve openly a "social experiment" to thanking Trump for deciding to stop "accommodating transgenderism," has shaken my confidence in the conservative punditry. These talking points are patently ludicrous. All these transgender people are asking for, ironically, is to serve their country just like everyone else. This isn't a debate on offering hormone treatment to transgender troops. This isn't a debate on whether one can truly change his/her gender. This isn't even a debate on which bathroom they should use. All this is really about is equal rights. I'm astounded by the mental gymnastics it must take to justify labeling equal protections under the law as some sort of left-wing social engineering scheme. Honestly, the reactions I've seen from many on the right seem like instances of conservatives staking out a position and then searching for the rationale to justify it.

Some have simply said "we shouldn't be allowing mentally ill people into the military." The problem with this broad idea is that "mentally ill" is arbitrarily defined. Who determines what a mental illness is? The medical community? The scientific community? We already know that medicine and science are (sadly) often corrupted by people with a political agenda. People have all sorts of beliefs one could find outlandish, whether that's the belief that one's gender does not match his/her biological sex, the belief that Santa Claus sneaks into your house through your chimney once a year to give you Christmas gifts, or the belief that there's a magical god in the sky waiting for you when you die with 72 virgins. Are all people who believe these sorts of things mentally ill? That's not really a question that can be objectively answered, and there's no need to answer such a question. There is a need for an objective assessment of one's mental fitness to be a part of the military admission process, but it should not be based on how closely one conforms to the social norms of the time. Given population trends that show the American people shifting away from religious beliefs, one hundred years from now, religion could be seen as a mental illness and transgenderism could be completely normalized. Will the standards for military acceptance suddenly shift to accommodate the new cultural attitudes of the time? Will belief in a higher power be grounds for exclusion from the military, while the belief that boys can be girls and girls can be boys is entirely normal? A truly objective mental health assessment does not need to be adjusted to reflect the social context of its generation; it will withstand the test of time and shall always reveal one's mental fitness.

The bottom line is this: We should have rigorous tests anyone - man or woman - must pass in order to serve in the military. These should include assessments for both physical and mental health. If one passes these tests, they should be allowed to serve. If one passes these tests but is denied the opportunity to serve because of his or her "gender identity," I don't see how that's anything other than blatant, single-minded discrimination. Do I agree with the idea that gender is a social construct or that we should cater to the whims of anyone who wakes up one morning and claims to be "non-binary?" Not necessarily, but no one's asking us to approve of "transgenderism" as a concept, or hormone therapy as a medicine. This is about allowing qualified individuals to serve our country and be judged on their individual merits.

The debate on whether we should offer hormone therapy to transgender troops is a separate animal. In an ideal world, healthcare would not be tied to the workplace at all. Everyone would receive the appropriate pay for the service they provide, and how they choose to spend that money would be their business. However, no one can sanely justify creating a false binary choice between offering unlimited cosmetic operations to self-proclaimed "transgender" troops on the taxpayer dime and banning anyone who publicly or privately experiences gender identity issues from serving altogether.

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