Guest Blogger

Men in Dresses? In the Military? I don't think so!

Filed By Guest Blogger | March 25, 2009 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: gender expression, gender identity, LGBT, military, transgender, transition, transsexual, troops, uniforms

Editors' note: Monica Helms is the president of the Transgender American Veterans Association.

newnavyuniforms.jpgThe impending repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell hangs over Bigot Americans like a specter of doom that will reach Biblical proportions.

In other words, they lack a strong grip on reality. They will do anything it takes to instill fear on the unknowing masses, stopping short of predicting the coming of The Rapture. Well, maybe they won't stop short of that.

In this endless process of misinformation and out-and-out lies, the one part of the LGBT community that they like pointing to in order to generate the most fear is transgender people. They will always gravitate to the worn-out, standard line from the Bigot's Handbook (Volume 17, 5th Edition, page 963) "Men in dresses." If all else fails, they can always throw out "Men in dresses," even if it has nothing to do with transgender people. To Bigot Americans, ALL gay men wear dresses. That's BS to the max. Hell, I know several trans women and lesbians who wouldn't be caught dead in a dress.

Let me show the important points in this latest round of lies that the BAs like to gloss over or don't wish people to know about.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell does not cover gender identity or expression

It should have, but sadly it doesn't. No one thought that transgender people actually served in the military. The possibility was too outrageous to everyone, including gays and lesbians. They forgot about Christine Jorgensen. We were nothing more than an after thought once again.

The military thinks that anyone who wishes to change their sex is automatically gay. However, transsexuals will still be subjected to discharge under different rules after DADT becomes history. Also, any man caught crossdressing off duty will be subjected to these same rules.

I'm wondering if anyone could dodge the bullet on this by saying they were gay and pointed out that DADT has been repealed. Some may get away with it if they have a stupid commander, but I wouldn't recommend this path. It could catch up to them later. The best bet would be to have the Department of Defense address this issue separately so transgender people can also serve openly, like they can in six other countries.

Military people wear standard uniforms

All I can say to this is "DUH!" We have an all-volunteer military, so everyone serving asked for that job. If a person takes a job, then they follow the rules set down in the workplace. Plane and simple. Besides the military, many other jobs require a person to wear a uniform. If you do the work, then you dress the part. Men will NOT be wearing dresses while on duty. Reality is not a Korean War sitcom.

In all the state and local jurisdictions where laws have been passed to protect transgender people in employment - some going back to the early 1990s - there has not been one case where a man came to work wearing a dress and got fired. Workplaces have dress codes that are gender specific, so if a person wants to keep their job, then they will follow these guidelines. However, dress codes should not be used as a weapon to prevent transsexuals from transitioning. It would be the same in the military.

The area where Bigot Americans seem to have a problem pertains to a transsexual who begins living full time in their target gender. The BAs insist that no one can change their sex, so transsexuals should be considered "men in dresses." What about "women in pants" when it comes to FtMs? I don't seem to hear that bantered around much.

Luckily, a good portion of large corporations and many smaller companies now understand the process and allow their transsexual employees to wear the gender specific clothing or uniforms appropriate for their new gender. So, that means that if a male-to-female transsexual is allowed to transition in the military, they would not be considered "men in dresses." Corporations already have a handle on that and so would the military.

Army Uniforms.jpg

Some gays and lesbians refuse to discuss transgender people in the military

The Transgender American Veterans Association has heard over and over and over that when DADT gets brought up, transgender people have to be left out. When this first came up, the excuse we heard was, "DADT only covers sexual orientation." TAVA knew that transgender people had been targeted and discharged under DADT, but without any proof, the ones protecting the integrity of the wording in the Military Readiness Enhancement Act could easily blow us off. The specter of "men in dresses" scares them as much as it does the Bigot Americans.

But, the excuse given to keep us from being covered has now been proven to be nothing more than smoke and mirrors. I have to keep bringing up the TAVA Survey, because the facts can no longer be ignored. We have the proof of what we have been saying all along, but the guardians of the bill still will not listen. Their "baby" has grown up to a whole new world and it needs to reflect that new world.

What is wrong with creating a whole new bill that allows all LGB AND T people to serve openly, instead of just repealing the existing law? The new bill covering all of us would not only trump the existing law, thus repealing it, but allow for transgender people to serve openly in the military. When the legislators originally wrote the bill, we had a Republican-controlled government, so they went for the bare bone. We now have a government who will pass a more comprehensive bill, so why are the gay and lesbians working on this issue still running scared? I'll tell you why. "Men in dresses."

As I stated above, six countries allow transgender people to serve openly. Canada, UK, Israel, and Thailand allow all of their transgender people to serve, whereas Australia and Spain allow FtM transsexuals to serve openly. If they have figured it out, then I would hope that America is smart enough to also figure it out. But, the truth of the matter has nothing to do with "figuring it out." The legislators sponsoring this bill and the gays and lesbians pushing for it lack the will power to do the right thing. Because other countries have figured this out without any problems, then we won't be inventing the wheel. Too bad some people feel scared of doing the right thing.

Reality check on transgender people in the military

Who are the idiots out there who think that just because a person identifies as being trans, they can't control themselves and have to dress in women's clothes on duty, as if they had some form of "fashion terrett syndrome?" From personal experience and from knowing hundreds of other transgender veterans, they have far more control over their gender issues then the hundreds of men who can't control their urge to commit rape.
Some, not all, transgender military people (specifically MtF) will crossdress off duty, off base, when on liberty or leave. They shouldn't be penalized for this. When they go back to duty, they will make sure no evidence, regardless of how small it could be, will be left on their bodies. They would not shave their legs or body hair, but would never grow a beard unless being at sea for many months, or in a war zone. Their clothes would be tucked away at a civilian friend's house, a bus station locker, in the trunk of their car, or any other place where no one in the military would find them. Conversely, FtM military people could get away with looking as butch as possible, both on and off duty. Still, that doesn't protect them from the DADT wolves.

Up until the 1990s and the extensive use of the Internet, transgender people in the military did not have a lot to go on when it came to the feelings they had. Most thought that no one else in the world felt like them. They knew of Renee Richards, Wendy Carlos and Christine Jorgensen, but could not be sure if their life needed to go in that direction. Many joined the military so it could "make a man out of them," but that didn't work. During the Vietnam Era, some join to have the Viet Cong "take care of their problem," but instead, they came home with the same "problem' and new ones to boot. No matter why they joined, their secret would be one they would take to their grave. The "men in dresses" BS that Bigot Americans like tossing out would be the last thing they would ever think of.

Looking back on my time in the military, I remember one thing that makes me still smile today when I think about it. When out on patrol on a submarine, we knew the very day we would return, like clockwork. In the middle of the patrol, we would have what we called, "Halfway Night." During the celebration, we would have contests, some would sing or play guitars, I played a kazoo and others would do skits. Inevitably, there was always one person who just so happened to have all the necessary items to dress as a woman for a skit. Looking back at that, I now understand why.

The subject of gays in the military will not be put to rest, even after DADT is repealed. There will always be Americans who will never accept this, even if a decade passes without incident. A transgender person serving openly is another subject all together, yet we can serve just as well as gay, lesbian, bisexual and straight people can. The military has set rules for uniforms, so even a transitioning transsexual will be required to dress appropriately for their new gender. And, if six other countries can do this, then so can we.

Transgender people have enough problems bucking the system on this issue without having our gay and lesbian friends make fun of us or intentionally hold us back because of being afraid that we would upset the delicate senses of the legislators. We see yet another situation where transgender people are being told, "We'll come back for you later." Too bad, but "later" is NOW, and we have all the proof to show why. Take your heads out of the sand and let's do the right thing for once. And, don't let me ever hear a gay man or lesbian use "men in dresses" when talking about transgender people in the military, even if it's in a joking manner.

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No skirts?
The Brits would miss their Highlander regiments...

Great primer on this issue, Monica. Thanks!

Amanda in the South Bay | March 25, 2009 8:00 PM

Ok, I'll bite...
I'm a trans vet myself, though I actually started transitioning while in, and came out specifically as trans.

I'll admit, I think there is a bit of of some kind here. I think someone like myself doesn't have a lot in common with a lot of the older trans vet crowd-typically those who put in their 20 years before coming out.

As much as I would like to see a trans inclusive American military...the practical problems with coming out as a trans woman, and continuing to serve through transition aren't going to be pretty. There are inevitable issues of showering (depends of course on branch and MOS), the government covering medical costs, whether or not vaginoplasty would be required, how non-passing individuals would fare, and especially for trans women, probably having to invest in several wigs (I don't know if I'd go out in the field or do PT with a wig).

Call me pessimistic, but I just don't see this as practical, given my own experience.

You are not alone. Others have began their transition before getting out. I know of a Navy officer who transitioned while in Active reserves and was called back during the first Gulf War and was allowed to serve because of her special skills. Others were able to go as far as getting their name changed before getting out, so their DD-214 reflects the new name. The thing is, though, the military don't want these stories to get out there. They need to in order to prove we have already faced this issue and "survived."

As far as going out in the field in wigs, its not an issue to the multitude other jobs in the military that are not out in the field. The practicality has long been proven by the four countries who allow MtFs to serve. The "wheel" has long since been invented in other countries and has a lot of miles on it. Why be pessimistic on something that has a proven track record?

A kilt is not a skirt rolls eyes :)The Black Watch still wears its kilts as do other regiments that have permission to wear one:). Yes is is just a idiot excuse to prevent Trans folks in the military.BTW the UK dose allow Transfolk to stay in uniform even after they change to there proper sex!

Hi Monica, I'm a little confused by what argument you're trying to make. Specifically, the long detour into talking about how MtF folks would hide any trace of being trans or cross-dressing doesn't seem to add to the that people should favor allowing trans folks to serve openly. After all, if we're trying to allow folks to serve openly, then we're trying to prevent them from having to hide signs that they cross-dress or identify as trans or of trans experience.

Personally, aside from the fact that, to my knowledge, there's no such thing as uniform dresses (just skirts and blouses), I don't see what would be wrong with "men in dresses" in the military. The whole idea of gendered uniforms, whether in the military or other workplaces, seems absurd and offensive to me. Why don't we just have one uniform for everyone, or at least allow everyone to pick which uniform style they prefer wearing?

I can understand you confusion this because I was trying to cover two points in one article. I should know better than that.

The first point was the admonishment of the people who use the transgender people as a scare tactic to fight DADT. The stuff about the uniform requirements was to point out that the military has set standards and people have to follow those standards. They call them "uniforms" for a reason.

The second part is the way gays and lesbians sometimes buy into the same "men in dresses" scare tactic to keep transgender people out of the DADT discussion. I was admonishing them for the narrow thinking when we have an admistration that would sign a mor comprehensive law that would also allow transgender people to serve.

The skirts are considered "optional" for women, but not optional for men. And, when a male transtions to female, then they would no longer be considered men, so they would not be "men in dresses" if they wore a skirt.

TRANS WHAT? What about the transvestites, where are they to play a role?? They are not Trangenderd people unless they have completed their transition. THAT ASPECT is what is really at issue. I think something could be worked out for Trans Sexuals but what about tranvestites wanting to dress in female uniforms? Is this right? To me adding the TRANS element to the agenda is like pouring gasoline onto the fire. Gay and Lesbian rights IMO should be addressed FIRST, sorry but thats how I feel as a gay man

First of all, the term "transvestite" is a highly derogatory word. The proper term is "crossdresser." It's be the proper term for about 3 decades now, maybe more.

Second of all, crossdressers will NOT be dressing in female uniforms because the issue IS NOT giving someone the opportunity to circumvent the military uniform requirements. Transsexuals (one word, not two) will be allowed to transition if the policy changes, so MtF transsexuals will be allowed to wear women's uniforms and FtMs will wear men's uniforms.

In the current policy, a crossdresser can be kicked out if the military finds out they crossdress off duty and away from any military base, such as finding pictures, internet entries or letters. If a gay person should be allowed to have a same-sex relationship, then a crossdresser should be allowed to crossdress off duty. Not ON DUTY.

Cristophe, I think you need to do some research into transgender issues, specifically the role of transition.

The fact that you prioritise gay issues over trans issues is rather telling. I can see why you might consider it valid (more gay people than trans people, easier to get through legislation that does not cover trans people), but I reject those reasons.

Since you pointed out your own orientation you might like to know that I am a pansexual (bisexual without the assumption of gender binary) cis (i.e. not trans) woman.