Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Regarding Trump's "No Transgender People in the Military" Announcement

We interrupt this blog to comment upon President Trump reinstating the ban on transgender people within the US military.

Short version: This is disappointing but not terribly surprising. Give it a generation, though, and the situation will sort itself out.

Longer version: Get comfortable, as this will take a while.

The military's job is to kill enemies and break things. 
That's the only purpose of the military, killing enemies and wrecking their stuff. (Please note that "stuff" can be as simple as tanks and aircraft, or as broad as cities and nations.) Most people think that's what war is, but war is only the active version of that mission statement. The passive version, defense, is "Don't attack us, or we will kill you and wreck your stuff." In between is peacekeeping, which is "You all better simmer down, or we will kill you and wreck your stuff."

How well the military kills the enemy and wrecks their stuff is based upon a metric known as Combat Effectiveness, which falls under Logistics. The best way to explain logistics is "It's economics and accounting applied to the military." A great explanation of how logistics affects combat effectiveness is via Real-Time Strategy Games. For example, if you've ever played Starcraft and wondered if you should spend 50 minerals and 1 supply unit to build a Terran Marine now, or if you should spend 150 minerals, 125 gas, and 3 supply units to build a more powerful Siege Tank, you have just considered logistics (how much time it takes to build and how many resources it requires) in terms of combat effectiveness (marine cost less and are faster to make, but they aren't as tough and don't hit as hard).

Everything the military does, it does in terms of combat effectiveness. The Reagan days of Defense Spending are over, and this means that there is a fixed amount of funding for a fixed amount of military personnel. It makes sense to spend this funding on personnel who are combat effective, and not spend funds on those who are not. This is known as being responsible with money and it's something we should all applaud.

The military cannot afford to accept everyone.
There are many, many medical conditions which disqualify you from military service, Some of these are:
  • Active ulcers
  • Anemia
  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Diabetes
  • Poor eyesight
  • Being too tall
  • Being too short
  • Being overweight
And so forth and so on. Looking at these, the disqualification comes down to a few simple questions:
  1. Does this person require regular medication to function?  Example: If you need insulin daily or you will die, and you're out in the field caught in a firefight and you need your insulin, you have to stop fighting in order to inject yourself. (This assumes you'll be able to carry insulin with you, and last I heard it needed to be refrigerated.) And what happens when you run out? You stop being able to fight. You stop being combat effective
  2. Is this person unable to do the tasks required for service? If you can't operate your gun because you have arthritis in your hands, you aren't combat effective. If you can't walk long distances because your knees are bad, you aren't combat effective. 
  3. Can this person use standardized gear? If you are too tall to fit inside an armored personnel carrier, or you are too short to reach the pedals, or none of the clothing fits you, then the military will not make specialized gear for you because that isn't cost effective. Instead, they will deny you service so that your spot can be filled by someone who can use the standardized gear and therefore be combat effective.
Now, some of you may be thinking "But I know someone who was in the military and they developed a medical condition and they weren't kicked out." And you are partially correct about this, but also partially incorrect. The partially correct part is that the military sinks a lot of money into training its personnel, and if that person develops a condition (let's say diabetes) after many years of service and a lot of expensive training, then the military will likely keep them on for a while longer*, whereas a new recruit with less experience and much less training is far more likely to be medically discharged.

However, the pesky asterisk * up there is where you're partially incorrect. You see, the military has a culture of "promote or perish", which means that you aren't allowed to stay in one position for the rest of your career. You either prove yourself competent and are promoted upwards, both in rank and responsibility, or you are discharged (the process is different between enlisted and officers, but the end result is roughly the same). When it comes time for promotion, one of the many things that these review boards will take into consideration is medical fitness, so that diabetic Captain had better be awesome or else he will be asked to retire so that a non-diabetic First Lieutenant can take his place.

The military is not for everyone.
Given that the military's job is to kill enemies and break things, it logically follows that anything which gets in the way of killing people and wrecking their stuff is contrary to their purpose. After all, it is expensive to kill people and wreck their stuff, so when you need it done, you need it done in the most cost-effective way possible. It should come then as no surprise to anyone with a brain that if our country is still losing its collective mind over such entry-level concepts as "Should transgender people be allowed to bathroom that matches their appearance", then -- duh! -- having transgender people in the military, where they would live in close proximity to non-trans people is going to cause some conflict.

Internal conflict is known as Friction, and it interferes with crucial military concepts like Readiness and Combat Effectiveness. Friction affects everyone, even manly cisgender heterosexual dudes who have served honorably in combat:

Let's do some basic causality math here: Even "regular soldiers" have trouble getting along + our nation loses its mind over "transgendered bathrooms" = a hostile if not outright dangerous culture for transgender troops.

Now I foresee two objections to this point. The first is "But Erin, that's during WAR! Surely this wouldn't happen during peacetime!" The answer to that is to repeat that the military's job is to kill enemies and break things. It must be tuned to operate to that specification. If it is not, then what you have is not a military; you have at best a militarized police force.

The military is not a social experiment.
The other objection is "But the military was desegregated before the rest of our country was!" This is a lovely point which, unfortunately, has no relevance. I say it has no relevance because Executive Order 9981 came in 1948, two years after the United States military had demobilized from World War 2 and three years after the end of the war. In other words, the military did not try to integrate during the largest armed conflict the world had ever seen; no, it concentrated on killing enemies and wrecking their stuff.

It was only after the war was well and truly over did the armed forces integrate, and that was only accomplished because we'd had segregated units fighting in the military since at least the Civil War. Desegregation did not happen overnight; it took about 80 years of segregation for the armed forces to say "Well, it looks like black people can fight as well as white people, and they've fought well together during these past two World Wars. I think we can trust them to continue to operate well without enforced segregation."

Compared to that, the speed at which homosexuals have been accepted into the modern US military is staggering. Back in the 80s, it was unthinkable. In the 90s, it was the benevolent neglect of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Today, you can be openly gay in the armed forces of the USA.

The military is even more complicated than this. 
As you may have guessed by now, this is an incredibly complicated situation. I'm approaching 2,000 words and there are still subjects to be addressed, such as:
  • Transgender troops are permanently non-deployable, meaning they're going to be second-class citizens their entire military careers, because why spend precious funding someone you can't field?
  • The inherent sexism within the military and how we're already having trouble with the concept of "Women in combat." Do you think that "Transwomen in combat" is going to make anything easier? No, it will just make matters worse. 
  • The way that carving out exceptions for people just makes those people vulnerable to abuse. For example, if a Female to Male transman joins an infantry unit, then if he's held to female physical fitness standards then the rest of his unit is going to resent him for having it easy; but if he's held to the male standards, he's going to have a much harder time meeting physical fitness standards, and if he washes out there's going to be an immediate outcry of "The military doesn't wants transgender people in it! They set him up to fail!" This is a no-win situation for the brass and blatantly unfair to the transgender soldier. 
At this point, I'm exhausted and I'd be surprised if anyone even makes it this far. So I'm going to conclude with...

TL;DR  aka "My opinion and my advice"
Don't push this. If you do, you will get pushback and it will be twice as bad. Instead, wait another generation. The kids who grew up around transgender people will see it as no big deal in the same way that the current generation doesn't see being gay as a big deal, and we'll have had another 20 years to study the long-term effects of transgender people in society (and hopefully well have sorted out the freaking bathroom issue), so the military will have a roadmap for how to handle it.

In the future, I think that transgender people in the military will be accepted in non-battlefield positions. This means you won't see them in infantry, armor, cavalry or special forces, but you will probably see them in rear element positions like headquarters, military intelligence, medical, military police, etc (I'm using Army terms because it's what I'm most familiar with them; my apologies to the sailors and airmen out there.) Perhaps one day, gender transition within the military will be met with the same attitude as pregnancy -- namely, a lot of grumbling about paperwork and adjusting the duty schedule around recovery times, but not much else.

Because really, if your fellow soldiers/ sailors/ airmen/ marines think of you as "dependable, but a pain in the ass due to paperwork", then you've achieved an amazing level of acceptance within the military.


  1. Well spoken, and well thought out. Hopefully in the next generation or two people will chill out, and we can move forward.

  2. Honestly I have to ask why there nondeployable. Let's just simplify everything and make it that you are deployable or your out. Maybe give a waiver for the end of your tour but when it's up, it's up and your out.

    1. in 2 words... hormone replacement therapy.
      you gonna risk a h elecopter crew to fly estrogen to a pinned down unit?

  3. I don't think God will let us get used to "being around gays or transgenders". Never get used to sin!!!

    1. I can't speak for magical fairy sky daddy, but I think if all the killing has been cool with him, I think he'll let this slide.