There are greater injustices than the exclusion of trans women and men from the US military, argues the University of Auckland’s Dr Ciara Cremin

As a person whose sex was determined male and who now presents daily in what society regards to be women’s clothes, you might think I would be 100 percent supportive of those who will be affected if Donald Trump gets his way and bans trans people from serving in the US military.

Trans women and men are a soft target for the far right. Numerically, we are small compared to other groups that are discriminated against, and we are also frequently in the media spotlight. In one short and crudely-crafted tweet, Trump was thus able to divert media attention in the US and around the world from the turmoil at the heart of his administration while also demonstrating to supporters that he has the teeth to enact the divisive politics he has preached.

Yet it is not so much the possible future effect on military personnel that troubles me as the immediate consequences of the tweet for all trans people in their daily lives. Just like his open displays of racism, sexism and misogyny, Trump’s transphobic words and tweets expand the circumference of what is deemed acceptable to think and say. This wasn’t just an attack on trans military members; it was an attack on all transpeople by arguably the most powerful person in the world. It encourages all transphobes everywhere, to give an extra slur, an extra bash, to what is still one of the most marginalised, vulnerable groups in western society by virtually any measure: health, employment, income, mental wellbeing.

But how can I defend the right of trans people to serve in the military when the institution they serve is responsible for crimes against humanity? From Vietnam to Iraq, throughout Africa and the Americas, the US military is a machinery of death that has both directly and indirectly caused the deaths of many millions of people throughout the world. The US military has been deployed to destabilise entire countries and prop up regimes that keep populations in a permanent state of poverty and oppression. The rights of trans people must be defended and also extended, while prejudice in all its forms must be opposed. However, to defend the right of people to become instruments of aggression is itself a negation of such principles; and to prioritise inclusion into the military over human life would itself be barbaric and ethnocentric in the extreme.

Trump’s proposed ban is an opportunity for trans people to align themselves against US imperialism and refuse such shabby tokens of inclusivity. This is the basis on which alliances with other groups who are also subject to institutionalised discrimination, violence and oppression can be forged and our capacity to transform society in all of our interests increased.

Trump’s proposed ban is an opportunity for trans people to align themselves against US imperialism and refuse such shabby tokens of inclusivity.

There is a considerable diversity of experiences and orientations amongst those who question and reject the gender assigned to them at birth. That I dress as a woman is not in itself a foundation for declaring solidarity with all trans people. Any such solidarity must be assessed on the basis of where individually we stand in respect to such struggles as those noted above. While frequently obscured or disavowed, there is a common interest amongst all those oppressed – whether because of their skin colour, ethnicity, gender, class or sexuality, or because they are victims of the very wars that the US propagates – to join forces against the politics of oppression and death.

For those who monopolise the means of production, accumulate vast wealth through financial speculation and sit atop the institutions that dominate our lives, the military is a vital instrument for repressing dissent and securing their economic and political gains. It is in their interest to foster the belief that responsibility for social disintegration, poverty and unemployment lies elsewhere – usually the vulnerable themselves are blamed – and the Republican Party are experts in such propaganda.

From the beginning, I was discouraged from expressing my frailties and encouraged to compete for objects that represent status and power. The male has to ‘man up’.

By dressing in women’s clothes I enact a refusal of this conditioning. It has brought the advantages afforded me as a man over women of my class into sharper focus. A man who wears dresses and likes feminine things is considered weak and subject to ridicule. This is a reflection of patriarchy, the condition under which men in general hold more political and economic power than women as reflected in the workplace and at home.

The gender binary is a tool of the capitalist patriarchy. Just like the American military. Trans politics must be aligned to supporting the vulnerable, not upholding those who misuse their power. Ultimately, by serving in the military, trans people are serving President Donald Trump. Other rights are more worthy of our support. However, if ever trans people are banned from the military what should be called for is not the right to serve but rather the right of refusal. Include us into the military by all means and we’ll include ourselves out.  

*Dr Cremin’s new book Man-Made Woman: The Dialectics of Cross-Dressing will be published with Pluto Press on August 20.

Dr Ciara Cremin is a senior lecturer in the School of Social Sciences at the University of Auckland.

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