By Ethan Hoffman
I grew up with love for my country. My father served in the Air-force for 20 years so I knew the power of patriotism and the sacrifice of service.
In 2013, I turned 18. My father gave me an ultimatum, serve our country proudly like he did, or go to college. In the moments leading up to deciding, I thought I should explore my interests before enlisting.
I entered a small Jesuit college in Wheeling, West Virginia. It was quiet and accepting. I started my freshman year as a psychology student and loved it.
I finished two years before my funds ran out, and despite my best efforts, I dropped out the Monday of my fifth semester. It was a blow to my self esteem and sense of purpose.
Those two years in college were big for me because it was where I discovered I was transgender.
Discovering your authentic gender identity isn’t part everyone’s college experience, but it was a part of mine.
I can remember drinking wine with some friends, and crying to a close friend of mine “Libby, why can’t I just be a girl, it would be so much easier.”
I remember Libby looking at me and asking a question -“Easier for you, or easier for everyone else?”
I then realized that I knew I was transgender, but I was more afraid of what my gender transition would do to those around me rather than what it would do for me.
I knew that I needed to be honest with myself. I was a trans man and there was nothing I could do to change it.
Fast forward a few years, I have completed my surgical transition and am happier than ever, ready for the next chapter of my life.
After college, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do anymore since my time there was cut so short. After taking a couple years to think about it, being in a more stable place than I was at 18, I decided it was time for me to enlist.
But, now, as a trans person, the enlistment landscape felt much different.
I had never considered being banned from serving my country. Not in my wildest dreams.
After the rescinding of DADT (Don’t ask Don’t tell), the Clinton era policy stating that LGBTQ Americans could serve their country so long as they told no-one about their sexual orientation, and the passage of marriage equality in 2015, I thought the country was on the track of inclusivity and acceptance
I was wrong.
When I heard the news that the Trump administration was calling for an all out complete ban on transgender people serving in the U.S military in ANY capacity, I was speechless.
I felt less than human.
Citing that, if we allowed transgender people to serve, it would be at the cost of “unit cohesion”. A term used to describe bonding, commitment, and trust between soldiers.
The administration continued to describe trans people as a burden on the system.
They failed to mention how the upwards of 15,000 transgender men and women currently serving in the U.S military are disrupting unit cohesion. They don’t mention it because trans people add to cohesion not take away from it.
I couldn’t help but feel these words and ideas were coated in the history of another era of discrimination.
If we have learned anything from history, it is clear that “unit cohesion” is a term used to oppress and prevent vulnerable populations from becoming equal.
Only since 1948 have African American soldiers been permitted to serve in the U.S military with white soldiers. The biggest argument against desegregation was, you guessed it – unit cohesion.
A confidential war department memo from January, 1944 stated:
“The policy of the War Department is not to intermingle colored and white enlisted personnel … To make changes would produce situations destructive to morale and detrimental to the preparation for national defense,”
It’s clear we have been down this road before.
My ability to serve should never be determined by my gender identity. America is a place where anyone desiring to serve their country can do so and is encouraged to. When did that change?
My father always told me “once we put on that uniform, we are all brothers and sisters in arms.”
Regardless of the harmful and unAmerican acts of this Presidency, I will fight everyday to serve my country because I am lucky to live in the greatest one on Earth.
“What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight — it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” — Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower