Last week, the New York Times released "Transgender, at War and in Love," a documentary short following Senior Airman Logan Ireland and Corporal Laila Villanueva — an engaged couple navigating the military as transgender people.
Their stories are a tiny window to the experiences of the estimated 15,500 trans people in the military who are unsure what will happen to their careers if they reveal their gender identity. Like gay servicemen before the repeal of the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy, they must often hide who they are because of the military's ban on formally allowing trans people to serve.
The film is brief, but highlights some really important points.
First, the experience of being trans in the military can be very different for men and women. Ireland, who identifies as male and is seen serving in Afghanistan, appears to get by more easily than Villanueva, who identifies as a woman and serves at a base in Hawaii. Perhaps this has to do with how hyper-masculine the U.S. military is.
Second, the film highlights the tradition of tacitly allowing gay officers to remain in the military, even when it was prohibited. Gay and trans people have always been in the military, and while they may have had to keep a low-key profile, they certainly haven't been invisible.
At one point, a superior informs Ireland he will be expected to wear the traditional male uniform, basically acknowledging Ireland's identity as a man as formally as one could, given the situation. This unexpected, heartwarming moment serves as a reminder that there are people who will go around the system to make it reflect their values. But while it's nice to see such loopholes being used for good, unofficial channels shouldn't be seen as an alternative to an actual repeal of the trans ban.
Third, it shows there's a long way to go before the military acknowledges people who consider themselves non-binary. The military is divided along strict gender lines, and getting to a point where people who don't identify as male or female is going to take some time.
Check out the incredibly important documentary below:
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