Transgender Servicemembers, the Military’s Esprit de Corps

Battling for Both Teams

The individuals who raised their right hand and swore an oath to protect and defend the US Constitution against all enemies, both foreign and domestic, are some of the bravest individuals I’ve met in my 41 years. It also takes a special kind of bravery to be a transgender servicemember, regardless of whether the person is “out” or not.

I am a retired US Marine Corps officer serving our Nation for 20 years in the enlisted infantry ranks as a commanding officer of a logistics company. I also served as an attorney across the globe in places like Okinawa, Japan; Brazzaville, Congo; Freetown, Sierra Leone; Tunis, Tunisia; Fallujah, Iraq; and JTF Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, among others. When I enlisted in 1994, the policy commonly known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was just under a year old. I have a distinct memory of my recruiter in College Station, Texas taking a black marker and redacting the question about homosexual conduct and then saying, “We don’t have to worry about that question because you’re not a faggot…  right?” As an 18 year old queer kid who was desperately trying to prove my masculinity, I answered something like, “um yeah, furthest thing from it.”

Little did the recruiter know but I was both queer and transgender. I kept my secrets closely guarded trusting only a few with the fact that I “batted for both teams.” Despite not having the vocabulary to describe my identity at that point, I didn’t let anyone know that I felt like there was a mismatch between what I saw in the mirror and what my brain was telling me what my body should look like. My need to “man-up” was driven not by my actual gender, but by strong societal pressures from growing up in Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas, as well as the conservative religious background of my family.

Knowing that I was different than my fellow grunts, my gender mismatch was a secret much too personal to tell anyone at that point in my life. As the next four years of my initial enlistment flew by, I created lifelong friends. My eyes opened to so many new experiences, and I knew in my heart that the saying “once a Marine, always a Marine” was the absolute truth. Next, I headed to undergrad at Texas A&M University and law school at Texas Tech University.

My last billet as enlisted infantry was as the platoon sergeant of Scout Platoon, 4th Tank Battalion. In between my first and second years of law school, we were activated and attached to Regimental Combat Team 1 based out of Camp Fallujah, Iraq. We fought street-to-street and house-to-house in Operation PHANTOM FURY, commonly known as the Second Battle of Fallujah. Seven weeks after coming home, I reported to Officer Candidate School. Upon my completion, I was commissioned and served as an active duty attorney before retiring at the rank of Captain in May 2014.

Two years after I retired, I came out as a transgender woman, just days after Pres. Obama’s repeal of the ban on open service by transgender servicemembers. The vast majority of my peers, junior Marines, and senior officers with whom I served on active duty were incredibly supportive. I received hundreds of phone calls, emails and Facebook comments, each telling me that I was the same Shinn they’d always known and they had my back.

A few months after my transition began in earnest, I had an administrative hearing aboard Marine Corps Combat Development Command located in Quantico, Virginia nicknamed The Crossroads of the Corps. My faith in the Marine Corps and our stellar Marines was redoubled when – to a person – each Marine used the correct pronouns, called me “ma’am” when saluting, and they were even opening doors for me. It was a surreal experience that truly made me wish I had the opportunity to serve openly. It also highlighted the resilience of and compassion for our fellow troops which are hallmarks of our esprit de corps.

Trump’s Allegations Are False

As I was getting ready for work on the morning of July 26th, 2017, I saw the now-infamous series of tweets by Pres. Trump. My initial reaction was anger and disgust at what seemed to be a callous disregard and betrayal of our proud servicemembers. This initial tsunami of emotion morphed into a feeling that action was vital to combat the blatant falsehoods I was seeing on the news and online.

Despite the misrepresentations contained in Pres. Trump’s tweets and some of the far-right Republicans’ vociferous attestations otherwise, it has been proven over the past year transgender medical costs are “relatively low.” Through the lived experiences of openly-serving transgender servicemembers, along with in-depth studies such as the 2016 RAND Corporation study, 2014 study from Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, 2014 Palm Center study, and a September 2015 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine conducted before repeal, transgender servicemembers are not the “disruption” that Pres. Trump alleges. In truth, the total cost per year of medical care for transgender troops is “relatively low,” per the RAND study. Not only does this match my own experience, but the American Psychological Association came to the same conclusions as RAND, yet went even further:

“The American Psychological Association questions the reasoning behind President Trump’s call to bar transgender people from the military. We’ve seen no scientific evidence that allowing transgender people to serve in the armed forces has had an adverse impact on our military readiness or unit cohesion. Therefore, we ask that transgender individuals continue to be allowed to serve their country,” said APA President Antonio E. Puente, PhD.

The American Medical Association issued a statement and its president, Dr. David O. Barbe, M.D., said “[t]here is no medically valid reason to exclude transgender individuals from military service. Transgender individuals are serving their country with honor, and they should be allowed to continue doing so.”

The Department of Defense-commissioned RAND study calculated an estimated 0.04 – 0.13% increase in active-component health care expenditures at a maximum estimate at $8.4 million per year. It’s a stark contrast to other DoD expenses. For example, the annual cost of the military’s treatment of erectile dysfunction is $84.24 million, $41.6 million on Viagra alone. That’s an order of magnitude greater than the maximum annual estimate cost for transgender health care. The DoD annual health care budget is $49.3 billion – that’s billion with a “b” – with $6.27 billion for health care provided to only active duty servicemembers with the portion of the transgender health care only amounting to approximately 0.017% of the total DoD health care budget.

When one looks at other governmental spending, the President has flown to his Mar-a-Lago resort seven times so far since his inauguration six months ago. While there are not published costs for these trips (yet), one can use past presidents’ travel costs to construct an estimate, which comes out to roughly $25 million spent. If President Trump keeps up this travel schedule, his annual Mar-a-Lago travel alone would equal almost six years of health care for transgender servicemembers.

While I did not have the opportunity to serve openly as a transgender person on active duty, there are many who have. The experiences of amazing warriors Air Force Staff Sergeant Logan Ireland (featured in the NY Times documentary “Transgender: At War and In Love”), Army Staff Sergeant Patricia King (the first infantrywoman in the Army); Navy Lieutenant Commander Blake Dremann; Army Drill Sergeant Ken Ochoa, and the several thousands of actively-serving troops are the proof that open service is not the “disruption” Pres. Trump alleges. In fact, open service strengthens our military’s readiness by allowing all servicemembers to live authentically and wholly within their unit.

Perhaps even more surprising is the chorus of bipartisan support for open transgender service. These people include Congressional Republicans such as Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), chairman of the Senate armed services committee; Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL); and Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) a retired Air Force colonel and military lawyer. Looking to our NATO sister nations’ experience, 18 countries have successfully implemented open trans service in their militaries, all with zero appreciable impact on readiness, lethality, unit cohesion, and mission accomplishment. This proves that integration of transgender servicemembers is no “social experiment.”

After evaluation of both the science surrounding this important issue alongside the lives of our brave transgender servicemembers across the world, it is clear to see that Pres. Trump and others that share his views are blind to the actual realities, needs, and rich diversity of our military. America’s real greatness is built on the backs of men and women like LCDR Dremann, SSgt King, SSgt Ireland, and Sgt Ochoa. I humbly ask you to support all of our troops. Semper Fidelis!