Without warning — even to the Pentagon — President Trump announced via Twitter Wednesday that the U.S. military will no longer “accept or allow” transgender people to serve in any capacity. He seemed to have arrived at this decision to help secure funding for his border wall from fellow Republicans but, perhaps to his surprise, the party is divided on the issue. The move may be unconstitutional, so it’s yet another Trump administration policy that’s likely to be decided by the courts.
Though Trump used the term “transgender people,” it’s important to be specific here. “Transgender” is an umbrella term that includes people such as drag kings and queens, cross-dressers, and other gender-nonconforming groups. Most notably, it includes a subset of people for which there, at the moment, is no better term than “transsexual.” This group — which often gets the most media attention — suffers from a medical condition known as “gender dysphoria,” most prominently characterized by extreme discomfort with the primary and secondary sex characteristics of one’s body, to the point where the only known and effective treatment is cross-sex hormones and sex-reassignment surgeries, as needed.
So, what does Trump’s decision mean for transsexual — and transgender — people currently serving in the military? Daily Intelligencer spoke with Navy Lieutenant Commander Blake Dremann, who was the first openly transgender individual promoted after Defense Secretary Ashton Carter lifted the ban on transgender troops. Dremann is now the president of SPART*A, an LGBT advocacy organization for active duty servicemembers and vets, and he weighed in on what Trump’s ban might mean for him and the military community he represents.
Some people argue that Trump is right to ban transgender people from the military because servicemembers may suffer mental or psychological problems. How do you respond to that?
They are woefully misinformed. That’s really what it comes down to. They refuse to accept the science that we are perfectly fit to serve and we’ve been doing it with and without treatment for decades within the military. Not to mention, we’re backed up by medical studies, both by Rand and the New England [Journal] of Medicine. So, to say that I’m unfit is a slap in the face for the stuff that I’ve done. I’ve been to Afghanistan. I’ve been onboard ships. I’ve been onboard submarines. I was awarded the Navy’s highest logistics award in 2015.
Trump’s mentioned the “tremendous medical costs” incurred by transgender service members. It seems to me, what gets lost in all of this, is that those sex-reassignment surgeries are medically necessary.
Those are the prescribed treatments and they’ve been the same for the last 50 years. The misinformation that we’re fighting on that is that a large portion of the population still views transgender-related surgeries as elective. In spite of the research that’s been done and in spite of the fact that, ‘hey, if we do this and we treat them, we retain quality servicemembers.’ We don’t need to train anybody new or bring up anybody in the ranks.
How did you hear about Trump’s decision? What was your initial reaction?
I found out today while I was at work by pulling up CNN to check the news. My initial reaction was shock and surprise. Then I had to go outside and collect myself so that I could continue to be a strong pillar for the servicemembers of SPART*A, the organization I lead, and maintain that calm demeanor. But in order to do that I needed to take ten minutes to collect myself. But that was the reaction. Little bit of shock, little bit of fear, and then had to buck up and continue down the path.
And how has today unfolded for you?
I have had several friends and family reach out and express their support. I’ve still yet to answer my panicked mother on what this all means. It’s one of those things where my commanders are fully supportive of me and what I do. They understood that I needed to leave today to take care of this thing, to put some fires out.
So your commanders gave you the rest of the day off?
Yeah. They knew I was gonna need to go handle some personal things with regards to this. So just like a family emergency — which for me this is exactly what it was — I took off the rest of the day. I needed to handle some things here in order to both calm the servicemembers that I lead as well as make sure that our stories were getting out. In order to show people, “Hey, this is uncalled for.”
I’ve been overwhelmed with lots of messages and words of support and interviews to basically put out there that, hey, we’re already here, we’re already serving, we do not impact readiness. We’ve not shown any disruption to services with regards to operations. Transgender service is not, any way shape or form, a reason why a service cannot carry out a mission. That hasn’t happened. They’ve all been able to do the mission that they’ve done.
Did you get treatment while you were in the military?
Could you describe that? What was that process like?
I started my medical transition in November 2013, before we were even talking about changing the ban. I started with therapy before that in 2012. At the time, I was stationed on a U.S. submarine, and completed two deployments while I was on the submarine on hormones. [The therapy and hormones] were out of my own pocket through a civilian provider. My medical did not move to the military until September 2016. So, all of my medical procedures were paid for out of pocket at that point. Unbeknownst to the military, for the most part.
Can you elaborate on that last point?
The transition in general. I just didn’t tell them and I continued to do my job as I’ve always done.
You just took the steps as they came without notifying anybody?Correct. Other than my civilian doctor.
The military currently covers medical care related to gender dysphoria. Why did you have to go through the private route?Through the private route all I had done was hormones. Any surgery I received has been done through the military.
When did you tell your commanders that you were undergoing this medical process?
I first informed my commanders in June of 2015 right before the announcement that they were going to review the policy. Their concern was more that I was being treated properly and they knew that the policy was likely to change so they understood the difference between doing things the right way and doing the right thing. That’s how we handled it up until the policy change in June of last year.
Are these the same commanders who you’re serving under now?No. I’ve since moved to a different command. I’m still in D.C., but under a different command. They’re still fully committed and fully supportive of me and my service.
What happens now?
We are exploring our options as to what we can do to move forward. One of the big things to remember is that right now, it’s just a tweet. Neither the military nor the president have issued actual policy. Until that happens — and even after, if they do end up changing policy — we will continue to serve our nation as we always have until they tell us that we can’t. And then we’ll determine our legal strategies to move forward.