TRANSGENDER VET LEXICOGRAPHY
by Denny Meyer
This brief instruction is intended to assist you in properly and respectfully writing about transgender veterans and service members, whose lives and identity matter as much as your own.
What is a Transgender Veteran
Transgender veterans are patriotic volunteers who have served in America’s armed forces, putting themselves in harm’s way because of a committed belief that it is their individual duty to defend freedom; who also happen to experience and identify themselves as a gender variant from which they were assigned at birth.
Our Right, Our Duty, Our Honor:
Transgender Americans are twice as likely to volunteer to serve in our American armed forces as any other group of Americans (NCTE). There are roughly 134,000 transgender veterans and 15,500 actively serving transgender military members, according to the Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law.
They do not make this life changing and challenging choice easily, giving up their freedom and risking sacrificing their lives. They do it, mainly, because they want to serve their country.
Serving in America’s armed forces has been a choice since 1972. It is not an obligation, as such; it is voluntary; but for many who volunteer, it is a personal moral obligation that they feel more strongly even than their gender, racial, religious, ethnic or other personal identity. It is our identity as a patriotic American, plain and simple.
TRANSGENDER IDENTIFYING TERMINOLOGY
Being transgender is Not a choice, any more than being black or white or Chinese or anything else is. One does not ‘choose’ to become a member of the world’s most misunderstood and discriminated against minority on Earth. It is simply who you are.
A ‘Transgender Woman’ is Not a person who was “born a male, who chose to become a woman.” A Transgender Woman is a person who was born a female, in a male body with male genitalia. A recent TV dramatization of this concept portrayed an older transgender woman telling her female partner that she was now going to be female full time. The partner asked something like, “So, you’re going to dress as a woman full time now?” The transwoman responded in the following vein, “I’ve been dressing as a man all my life, now I’m going to dress as who I am.”
A Transgender Man, or 'Transman,' is a person who was born male, in a female body with female genitalia. Interestingly, transmen were accepted in the Australian Defence Forces (ADF) before transwomen were, perhaps due to the mistaken norms of a masculine military environment. Our own American armed forces seem determined to avoid such erroneous cultural assumptions, learning from other nations that previously paved the way towards equality.
There is no such word as Transgendered. A lot of pseudo intellectuals use it; but it sounds like an affliction rather than who you are. If you were an ordinary cisgender person who was abducted by maniacal space alien fiends in a flying saucer who forcibly changed your gender against your will, then you might have been rendered ‘transgendered.’ Other than describing that highly unlikely possibility, there’s no use for such a word. One is born transgender and when your body undergoes transition, your true gender is affirmed.
Transgender veterans, in nearly all cases, served in our American armed forces in the gender which they were assigned at birth. During their service, in uniform, in training, in combat, in all situations, they had to suffer suppressing who they were, at the risk of extreme discrimination, dishonorable discharge, or potentially fatal violence against them for who they are. Their courage, therefore, has been extraordinary in their determination to serve. Following completion of their patriotic service, many finally found their way to fulfilling who they are by transitioning.
Respecting the identity of patriotic veterans
As individuals and as organizational activists, we strive to be respectful of people’s identity as minorities, and as veterans; doing the same for transgender veterans should be no more difficult. Its quite simple. If a transgender veteran identifies as a woman, she is referred to as ‘she.’ If he identifies as a man, he’s referred to as ‘he.’ They are Not “formerly members of the opposite sex.” If you need to qualify and clarify what you want to say, be sure to ask yourself if that is relevant; be sure to avoid stereotyping and disrespectful misstatements. So, if absolutely necessary to the clarity, you could say something like, “She served in the armed forces in the gender assigned to her at birth, but was able to transition to her actual gender after her service.”
important in talking about a transgender
It’s pretty easy to hack out a sensationalist piece about a soldier who served as a male and then changed gender, delving into private details about medical procedures and psychological stress, attracting reader attention with gripping anxiety inducing gross descriptions of sex reassignment surgery and such. It is far more challenging and interesting to craft a story about the heroic decision to serve as a patriotic member of our armed forces, listing combat experiences, leadership roles, medals and awards, the challenges faced, and that soldier’s success in doing all that. What is important is ‘who this person is and what they have accomplished,’ rather than what’s between their legs. What is important is identifying the person with the name they prefer, rather than a salacious reference to the name they do not prefer. If you are writing about a hero, why disparage who he or she is? Respect for the individual and for service to our nation is the guiding principal in what you should include in your story about a transgender veteran.
Civil War service
Patriotic transgender Americans have served this nation throughout our history. During the Civil War / War Between the States, there were many women who cross dressed as men in order to be able to serve, on both the Confederate and Union sides. It is important to realize their courage. Considering the primitive crude conditions, lack of privacy, lack of sanitary facilities, and lack of sanitary products, imagine the daily struggle simply to continue hiding their physical gender! After the war, some of those who survived found it convenient to continue living as men due to the difference in privileges and freedom in the late 1800s. Most of those Civil War veterans were not ‘transgender’ as the term is understood today; and yet, gender identity did not then and does not now have anything to do with sexual orientation. Hence, those who fought as men and later lived their lives as male veterans were in fact actualizing an identity that felt right for them. It was not a matter of choice any more than it is today, it was who they were. The word may not have existed, but these were among America’s first and bravest transgender veterans.
Just imagine your own innocent ordinary identity being stereotyped and or misunderstood. If, for example, you’re proudly Irish but all your life you have had to listen to those who assume you are English because you happen to have a UK passport and a regional British accent because you grew up in Manchester. Or worse, you had to be polite to people who give you Corned Beef and Cabbage anytime you visit, even though you can’t stand the smell of boiled cabbage. Or maybe you’ve had to cope with a lifetime of folks who assume you are “Eye-Talian” because your last name ends in ‘itti,’ even though you happen to be Jewish of Georgian ancestry. Or maybe you are a perfectly ordinary American Catholic but all your life you’ve had to listen to those who tell you, as if they know better, that ‘you ARE really Jewish because your name ‘sounds’ Jewish. It’s enough, after a while, to make you bug your eyes out and scream! Does any of this have any relevance to anyone besides closet bigots?
Not all terminology and not all issues relating to transgender identity are discussed here as this is not intended to be a thorough discussion. Rather it is an introductory overview intended to enhance understanding of our heroic patriotic veterans who happen to be transgender Americans. Essentially, its all just a matter of common sense in the current era of increased awareness and respect for who we are. The President of our nation, Barack Obama, has by example led the way towards evolving our culture to recognize and respect every American's proud identity without judgment, stereotyping, or presumptions.
Transgender American Veterans Association (TAVA) is the nation's first leading source of advocacy and information regarding transgender service members and veterans, providing research, support, and active consultation with the Pentagon and Veterans Administration to improve the rights and benefits of our patriotic warriors.