Transsexuals in Uniform

Spinning off from Bradley Manning’s announcement “that the soldier prefers to be referred to as Chelsea Manning, and has also felt female since childhood” an article @HuffPostUK ( reports on recent research into transsexuals in the military and the psychological concerns that arise.

Gender issues are so constantly in the news these days it can be hard to recall that until recently transgendered people were shrouded in mystery, with little research available to foster understanding. When I began to tread in these waters some years ago, the few studies I came across were based on vanishingly small populations and often seemed to have been conducted by people with one or another axe to grind. Serious, careful research would be a good thing. There’s no way to judge whether that’s what this particular research is, but the article reports a number of provocative findings, likely to generate heated discussion.

According to the authors, transsexuals join the military in much higher than expected numbers: males-to-females as a way to bury their gender unease, females-to-males because they find it a relatively safe haven in which to explore masculinity. Expressing suicidal tendencies, both camps are said to be attracted to military engagement as a dangerous pursuit in which they could die.

While there are many reasons why one might imagine a military career to be an uncomfortable fit for a transgendered person, one statement by the authors jumped out at me. “Latest research reveals transgender people’s personalities show a significant tendency to be more independent and less cooperative than the general population.” Independent and non-cooperative: doesn’t sound much like a soldier. It does sound like a more polite translation of the word I’ve repeatedly heard from professionals who work with people undergoing gender transformation and from trans family members: narcissism. Intense, obsessive narcissism. A concern with the self that obliterates concern for, perhaps awareness of others. That compromises or eliminates good judgment.

What of the families?

As is generally the case with such articles, no mention is made of the spouses and children in military families blown apart by the transgendered person who chooses to go public while in service. If, as this article suggests, the military is going to have more transgendered soldiers coming out in future, it’s to be hoped that they will begin to consider how they will cope with that situation. They might also think about the needs of the families.  



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2 responses to “Transsexuals in Uniform

  1. Liz

    Christine, this is both a comment and a cry for help. My brother in law was for several years in the air force (RAF) albeit in the role of an engineer. He married twice, grew a beard and then 10 years ago he committed suicide. I only recently found out that he had trans gender issues. I am currently reading your book ‘sex changes’ for the third time because I am living through everything that you have. My husband is undergoing hormone treatment in relation to his life long feelings of gender dysphoria. we have two boys aged 15 and 11. I don’t need to tell you how devastating that is for me and my boys. Thank you so much for writing the book. It’s my sanity check after listening to yet more blame and selfrightiousness from my (for now) husband. Is there anyway I could contact you? I understand entirely that you may not want to. Do you know of any online support groups for families going through this? As you say no one seems to think of offering support to the partner in these circumstances. Genuine support and counseling not propaganda from the GLBT lobby.
    Thank you,

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