Why Would Trans Folk Serve in the U.S. Military Anyway?
A question posed by a South-East Asia activist, and my fumbling efforts at answering it
Hi Sangeetha, your views are valid, and they’re not just yours. Many queer Americans also repudiate the American military-industrial complex.
I am a South-American trans activist living in the United States. I grew up in a military dictatorship, so I despise the military based on my own journey.
And that’s what this ends up being about, in many cases. Our own journey. For many queer and trans folk in the United States, their journey included trying to “prove themselves worthy” — prove their ‘manliness,’ prove their bravery, prove their patriotism. For many others, it was simply a matter of lack of employment opportunities and therefore no opportunity for personal dignity.
I’m thinking that many Americans have the view that their military, while sometimes flawed, and sometimes complicit in dark designs, is largely a force of good in the world. I’m sure you would disagree. And so would I. But this is an understandable view. For many Catholics around the world, while they might disagree with some aspect of dogma or faith, they largely hold their Church as a force of good in the world. Steven Fry disagrees. And so do I.
I understand your frustration. I think you might not understand the massive insularity of the American experience. Americans are not exposed to the rest of the world, in the way that Europeans, Southeast Asians or Latin Americans are. America is tremendously self-contained — it consumes its own entertainment, its own products, its own culture. Growing up in Argentina, I watched Bonanza and The Brady Bunch. I watched movies from Spain, Italy, France, China, Korea, etc. We had Mexican telenovelas on TV, Brazilian fashion, American and Italian cars. People don’t get this variety.
I know it sounds like I’m trying to excuse them. I’m not. I’m trying to add to the conversation with my perspective.
On my Facebook page Empowered Trans Woman the topic comes up every now and then. Those who aspired to what they viewed as noble careers in the U.S. military are crushed by Trump’s concocted ban. Many others react differently.
One thing that you might miss though — and I believe this earnestly. The military ban for trans folk in the U.S. is not a single event, and it’s not about the military. It’s part of a large strategy to deligitimize, erase and displace trans folk from all walks of like in the United States. They want to do away with us. This has already evidenced itself with Trump’s many other anti-trans actions — from banning trans folk from positions in Federal agencies to a Supreme Court case that would see us fired just for being trans.
Sangeeta, you do amazing work in the fight against racism, and you’re a strong voice for women of color in the Global South. But you’re not trans, and so I think you’re missing that piece of the puzzle. We are constantly fighting for an opportunity to belong to mainstream society. And sadly, in the United States, a military career is seen as a position of virtue.
I don’t know what else to add. I don’t have the solutions. The current state of American politics is heartbreaking.
I admire your work and I hope your voice stays strong.