3 min

Access to US military casts trans culture wars in new light

As more closets open, conservative institutions can’t be ignored

Careful what you wish for: as some trans people press for access to serve openly in the US military, others must cross conservative lines to consider supporting them.  Credit: MariaArefyeva/iStock/Thinkstock

When former US president Bill Clinton’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy finally fell, the US Armed Forces gave an awkward side-hug to the LBG, but left the T standing outside with a full bladder.

So you might be surprised to learn that the Pentagon is researching not only new ways to make war, but how to get trans soldiers to join in.

How did this happen when the major trans lobbies were focused on employment, prisons and health care?

A lot of trans vets busted ass while Jennifer Pritzker, the only out trans billionaire, sunk more than a million dollars into research to back them up. This collided with President Barack Obama’s desperation to leave a legacy, and paid off.

When military meets gender diversity, the culture war gets depolarized.

As Republican Kardashian Caitlyn Jenner proves, when closets open all over, it becomes possible to come out inside conservative organizations. And that means a big rethink for all progressive queers.

Many lefties reasonably view the US military as a trillion-dollar behemoth that will happily shred 27 bystanders just to kill one person mentioned in ramblings from a sleep-deprived waterboarded youth — as long as the bystanders live in a poor country. Why, they ask, fight for inclusion in such an institution? Should we also petition for ASL translators at CIA interrogations? Or facilitate cultural diversity within biker gangs?

Sure, trans teachers make education gender-friendlier, and trans doctors diversify medicine, and trans cops . . . might reduce widespread harassment and abuse. But trans soldiers? How they could humanize the next war against the rebels that the US armed in the last war — that’s hard to say.

The progressives that remembered the preceding usually forgot the following: GDP notwithstanding, America refuses to join the developed world in income equality, healthcare and access to education. Instead, they offer the able-bodied who’ve been impoverished by the system the chance to pick up a gun and defend that system, thus gaining some of what’s been denied to them, plus family benefits and a sense of purpose.

It’s deeply messed up, but for many it’s the best route to a better life. Out trans people are usually broke, and closeted ones often want to validate their existence while indirectly ending it. So even with the ban, an estimated 12,800 trans folk are serving in the US military now. And when the Armed Forces provides for someone and their family, they win their loyalty, leaving abstaining progressives to win, at best, their indifference returned.

If we don’t learn the language of a variety of queers, we will lose them, often to the other side. Look to Europe where rightist xenophobes won support by convincing white secular queers they could fight homophobia by deporting brown Muslims. Or, closer to home, consider the Vancouver school board’s 2014 fight to introduce trans-inclusive policy, which many people framed as a battle between white pro-policy queers and Chinese anti-policy straights.

Back in the US, the Log Cabin Republicans backed the John McCain-Sarah Palin presidential ticket in the 2008 election and Mitt Romney’s bid in 2012, despite economic policies that will shorten the lives of the poor. And we still feel the ripples of the alliance between cultural conservatives and lesbian academic circles over trans rights and sex work.

So what to do when US presidential candidate Mike Huckabee attacks the push to welcome trans people in the military?

Independent congressional hopeful Kristin Beck cited her own background as a 20-year trans military vet to paint Huckabee as irrational and unpatriotic, reaching across the political compass — and launching her career.

Between doomsday weapons, arms dealing and global imperialism, it’s easy not to like the US military. But many queers do. If we want to win those queers and the next struggle, our first words to them should not be “you’re on your own” — because when we leave them on their own, they win their struggles without us, then leave us on our own.

Instead, we should ask them what they like about the institutions that we don’t like. If we try to jointly meet our needs, starting with the need to be heard, we might just transcend this culture war.