In a stunning move, President Trump announced on Twitter that transgender individuals will not serve in the U.S. military. Despite Congress voting in late July to fund gender-reassignment surgery for military service members, Trump tweeted Wednesday: “After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.”
It’s unclear the mechanisms Trump plans to use to put this policy into effect, however. Activist groups announced plans to sue immediately if Trump codifies this policy in an executive order, and Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, issued a statement defending the Department of Defense’s decision under President Obama to allow transgender soldiers to remain in the armed forces. He says there’s not enough evidence that transgender people will reduce combat effectiveness or that transgender soldiers’ elective gender-change surgeries are too steep a price for taxpayers to pay.
McCain is wrong. Iraq combat veteran J.R. Salzman pointed out on Twitter the day of Trump’s announcement that in combat all emotional vulnerabilities matter and threaten soldiers’ lives and units: “War is no place for people who are mentally, emotionally, or physically confused or in turmoil. You have your sh-t together, or you don’t. And if you don’t, you’ll just get people needlessly killed. Political correctness has absolutely no place in the military.”
As a male who had gender reassignment surgery and lived the transgender life, I can also testify that Trump is correct to block taxpayers from assisting, affirming, or paying for hormone therapies and gender reassignment surgeries because it will not in any way strengthen our military nor provide the long-term help individuals diagnosed with gender dysphoria are seeking.
I felt distress at being a boy and longed to be a girl starting at the age of 4. I underwent full gender reassignment at age 43 and lived as a woman for eight years. Now I have more than 70 years of first-hand life experience and 20 years of researching the topic.
For the past 12 years, I’ve made myself available to others who, like me, found that transitioning and reassignment surgery failed to relieve the gender dysphoria. People from all walks of life—teaching, medicine, law enforcement, aviation—have contacted me for advice for restoring their lives to their birth gender. They are not okay, treatments that pretend they can be the opposite sex are often ineffective, and we have ample evidence to show that.
The Science Isn’t Settled
The science is not settled on the effectiveness of gender transitioning, which is a good reason to resist forcing taxpayers to pay for what is quite likely to turn out to harm rather than help gender dysphoric people. Peer-reviewed studies have demonstrated a need for caution. After reassignment surgery, people still have excessive high rates of suicide attempts and unresolved mental disorders, indicating that changing genders is not effective in improving the lives of individuals who suffer with gender dysphoria.
In 2004, an article in The Guardian reported that a review of more than 100 international medical studies of post-operative transsexuals found gender reassignment was not effective and in fact, many patients remain traumatized and suicidal afterwards. Chris Hyde, the director of the research facility, said: “There is a huge uncertainty over whether changing someone’s sex is a good or a bad thing. While no doubt great care is taken to ensure that appropriate patients undergo gender reassignment, there’s still a large number of people who have the surgery but remain traumatized – often to the point of committing suicide.”
In 2009, researchers found that 90 percent of the last 10 patients at their gender clinic had at least one other significant form of psychopathology, a key factor in a person’s fitness for military service. They said, “This finding seems to be in marked contrast to the public, forensic, and professional rhetoric of many who care for transgendered adults.” The researchers also said that “Such clinical certainty would have to be based on carefully established sophisticated follow-up findings. These are lacking.”
Transgender People Have High Rates of Mental Illness
An endocrinologist in the early days of the sex change movement, Dr. Charles Ihlenfeld, administered cross-gender hormones to some 500 gender changers over six years. Based on his observations, Ihlenfeld sounded a warning in 1979 about hormone therapy and reassignment surgery: “There is too much unhappiness among people who have had the surgery,” he said. “Too many of them end as suicides.” Ihlenfeld retrained as a psychiatrist to be better equipped to treat the transgender population.
A 2011 long-term follow-up of transsexual persons undergoing sex reassignment surgery found that “Persons with transsexualism, after sex reassignment, have considerably higher risks for mortality, suicidal behavior.” The results of a survey in the Netherlands published in 2003 found that major mood disorders, dissociative disorders, and psychotic disorders are present in 79 percent of transgenders. A 2014 study found that more than 60 percent of this population suffer from co-existing mental disorders.
This population attempts suicide at a rate of 40 percent. Even after the full surgical change, they still attempt to end their lives. All of this indicates that the vast majority of gender dysphoric people are not mentally capable of the high-stress conditions of military life. Indeed, it suggests it’s cruel to put people like this into the pressure cooker that is war.
The compassionate thing to do for a transgender soldier would be to keep him or her from the military then provide expert care to help resolve the underlying psychological issues that often give rise to gender distress. The cruel thing, both to the soldier and his or her unit, would be to put other people’s lives into the hands of such a tender, distressed person.
Gender-Change Surgeries Are Not a Good Solution
The cause of gender dysphoria, the common diagnosis for one who feels at odds with his or her birth gender, is not known. Research has ruled out that people are born that way. To make a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, a medical professional interviews the patient to determine if he or she has strongly held feelings, and whether the feelings have persisted over time.
But the problem is that feelings can, and often do, change over time. Ihlenfeld called gender transition “a temporary reprieve.” Eventually, to put the gender dysphoria to rest, the person will need to confront and treat the anxiety and depression.
Not only is it often ineffective long-term, but transitioning can be expensive, up to $130,000 per person, for numerous cosmetic procedures over many months (or years) to fashion the body to appear as the opposite sex. Yet no matter how skilled the surgeon or how much money is spent, the person’s biology hasn’t been affected. The gender change is only cosmetic.
The Military Is Not the Place for Confused People
Military recruits with gender doubts should be told to settle their gender identity before enlisting or, if actively serving, should leave the military to undergo gender change at their own expense. To do otherwise has the effect of attracting people who are not so much interested in serving, but in having the hefty expense of transition covered.
Beyond the financial cost, there’s the question of military readiness of transgender service members during their transition or detransition because of the anxiety and emotional instability that accompanies the process of changing genders. I know of many who struggle to adapt to the new gender role for years after reassignment surgery.
I hear constantly from people who experienced first-hand how damaging and unnecessary their reassignment surgeries were. For them, the gender change failed to resolve the emotional and psychological disorders that drove the desire to change gender. Many write to me after living the transgender life for many years. They write for advice on how to reverse the original surgical change and restore their lives to the original birth gender like I did, a process called detransition.
The military is not the place to settle gender issues. Civilian life is. Military readiness demands the absolute highest standards with no compromise, with a full focus on protecting the nation, not personal concerns.