Trump’s Decision on Transsexuals in the Military is A Wise Choice

I was a soldier. I served for two years in the Singapore Armed Forces. My duties involved administration for my unit, focusing on personnel issues. My unit was deployed operationally to hunt for an escaped terrorist. Today I am still liable for reservist duties in a similar capacity. Based on my experiences, I can unequivocally state that I believe President Donald Trump’s decision to ban transsexuals in the military is a wise choice.

Cue outrage. Accusations of bigotry. Screeching about equality. For people who think transsexuals should be allowed to serve, only a rare handful acknowledge that such a policy carries with costs. But the ones I’ve seen count the cost in emotions and money.

The military pays the price in blood.

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Others may see glory. I only see pain and sacrifice.

TL; DR

For people who don’t want to read on, here’s a very brief argument:

40% of all transgenders have attempted suicide at some point. Two-thirds of transsexuals suffer from multiple mental illnesses simultaneously. Why is it a good idea to allow such people easy access to weapons in a high-stress environment?

Recruitment

If you’re still with me, excellent. First, some clarifications. I have no problems with transsexuals who choose to transition after military service. My argument is aimed at transsexuals serving or about to serve in the military and intend to transition during their service.

With this in mind, let’s dive into what the military needs.

The military is not a jobs program. It is not a healthcare program. It is not a social engineering laboratory. It is an organisation dedicated to defending the country against all enemies by breaking things and killing people. The battlefield does not care about trans rights, bigotry, equality or some other platitude du jour. The US military, being an all-volunteer military, has the luxury of recruiting people it believes can function on the battlefield.

The US military rejects people for all kinds of reasons: flat feet, asthma, diabetes, colour blindness. These health conditions are liabilities on the battlefield. People with gender dysphoria fall into a similar category. (See above, suicide and comorbidity). The US military is not obliged to take in people who can’t go to war and can’t fulfill its primary mission of breaking things and killing people.

There are two key questions recruiters need to ask about transgender recruits. How do you tell the difference between someone who develops gender dysphoria during service and wishes to get a sex change, and someone who joins the military with the express intention of mooching off the system to get free gender reassignment treatment? How do you tell whether a transgender recruit is suicidal, or will develop suicidal thoughts later in his career?

You can’t. Not with full confidence, not in this political climate. Easiest way to prevent problems? Don’t let transsexuals in.

Dollars and Sense

It’s been claimed that the military spends 5 times more on Viagra than it will on transgender services. Thus, the ‘reasoning’ goes, if the military can afford to spend $84.24 million on erectile dysfunction medicines, it can spend a paltry $8.4 million on providing transgender services.

That is both true and false. Most of the spending goes to military retirees who would have earned the right to medical care. Less than 10 percent of active-duty troops have prescriptions for Type 5 inhibitors. And Type 5 inhibitors, including Viagra and Cialis, do more than just treat erectile dysfunction: they can prevent severe altitude sickness and treat heart and prostrate diseases, among others. These are potentially life-saving medicines. Transgender treatments are entirely elective.

Transgender troops are a tiny minority; in the US military the high end of the estimate is 0.13%. So, retirees plus 10% who are active duty troops consume $84 million on ED medicines while 0.13%of the military will require $8.4 million. Sex reassignment does nothing to enhance military effectiveness or restore health. It’s not fair for a tiny group of troops to consume a vastly disproportionate amount of funding on elective procedures.

And money isn’t the only cost.

Training

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Don’t worry: if you screw up, everyone behind you dies.

It takes between one and a half years to three years to complete gender reassignment surgery. The basic term of enlistment in the US military is four years. Why would the military want to bring on someone who would be nondeployable for such a long period of time?

Modern militaries invest hundreds of thousands of dollars and months or years into training someone to be a warfighter. It’s reasonable to expect that when that servicemember completes training, that individual will be ready to serve. Transgenders who seek sex reassignment will impose time and monetary costs above and beyond what is already sunk into their training. Why should the military accept them?

Further, training is not a one-off event. Training is a continuous evolution throughout a servicemember’s career. Personnel are continuously penciled in for specialist training in specific schools to gain the knowledge they need to carry out their duties.

Gender reassignment requires multiple surgeries and months-long recovery periods. Longer if the person develops medical complications. That person will be out of action for significant blocks of time. No school is going to change its training schedule just to accommodate some special snowflake, and some really special snowflakes are going to use their surgeries and recovery periods as excuses to skip out on onerous training.

Now, what’s going to happen if you have a medic who can’t confidently resuscitate a dying soldier, a maintenance tech who can’t correctly diagnose and fix a wonky jet engine, an officer who doesn’t have the right knowledge base for his station?

People die.

In war, you need as many trained personnel at the front as possible. If a transsexual servicemember fails to attain training, it will negatively affect unit readiness. It will take far longer for a transsexual who transitions in-service to attain a necessary competency level than someone who does not. Further, it is difficult enough to replace combat losses; replacing personnel who go for elective surgery will simply add greater burden to the system. There is no room for special snowflakes who won’t even be around for much of their enlistment period, much less contribute to the mission.

Biology and Its Discontents

MtF individuals are going to be stronger than biological females. FtM individuals are going to be significantly weaker than biological males. In my time, we had sex-segregated fitness tests. A woman who scored full points on a female test will fail the male test. Very, very few women are going to be able to perform at the level of a man, and gender reassignment is not going to artificially alter a person’s biology.

The military is an arduous career, and lives are in the balance. What happens if you can’t drag a casualty, sprint for dozens or hundreds of yards under fire, drop him off and go back to get more? He dies. What happens if you can’t reload the main gun of your tank fast enough? The tank is hit and your crew dies. What happens if you are so exhausted you load up the wrong weapons on a helicopter or take too long to load it correctly? The grunts who need air support downrange now will die.

In the military, the price of failure is death. All it takes is one weak link for everybody around him to die.

Now, let’s suppose transsexuals who require hormone replacement therapy are allowed into combat. When they deploy into the field, they will be cut off from modern civilisation. If the enemy destroys the supply convoy carrying their hormones, they are out of luck. If they can’t get resupplied in time, troops who need external sources of hormones will suffer poor health. Alternatively, if these transgender troops develop medical complications from hormonal therapy in the field, medics aren’t likely to be able to help them. These servicemembers must be evacuated to the rear or suffer intensely — and in either case, they will become combat ineffective.

Now, what happens when someone becomes combat ineffective?

Someone Else Shoulders the Burden

Whenever a servicemember is out of action, everybody else has to take up the slack. If a squad leader is nondeployable, you’ll have to get an underqualified corporal to step up and take over. If an officer in charge of a specialist function is out of action, the unit’s senior NCO will have to wear two hats. There is no guarantee that the junior personnel will have the training and experience to properly execute his new duties, and the battlefield is an unforgiving teacher.

This creates stress and inefficiency that no one needs. The troops will tolerate it if someone is down due to severe illness or injury. But if it’s for an elective surgery? Rightly or wrongly, they will see it as shirking. This generates drama and conflict the unit doesn’t need. I have personally seen this before, and I can say it generates contempt for that individual. That contempt corrodes unit cohesion, and with it morale and operational efficiency.

There are other operational issues too. issue of personal equipment, housing, follow-up medical treatment as needed, training, and assignment of duties, among other things. The trans personnel will have to grapple with psychological and physiological issues as well, so everyone in the unit will need to undergo mandatory training to learn how to handle them, which takes away time and energy and money from training for war. Troops will need to figure out where transsexuals will sleep and shower, how to conduct urine drug tests without inviting charges of sexual harassment, and other such delicate matters. This creates inter-unit friction, reducing operational efficiency.

If someone is away for months on end, or if that person’s performance is compromised due to elective medical treatment, everybody else will have to take up his duties. They must take up more than their fair share of the burden, because someone, in their eyes, wants to be a special snowflake.

In a high-pressure, high-stakes organisation like the military, everybody must know if they can count on you to do your duty. If you can’t, they will have to pay the price. The military might as well recruit someone else who they can count on to be present for duty instead of recovering from elective surgery.

The Wages of Weakness

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There is presently no rush and no overwhelming need to allow transsexuals into any modern military. Barack Obama’s decision to allow transgenders to openly serve was motivated more by politics than sound military judgment. Trump’s ban prevented the military from experiencing the full impact of this policy.

Transsexuals place great burdens on the military that far exceeds their tiny population size. Individual transsexuals may bring talent into the military, but that advantage is vastly outweighed by the other costs.

And in the military, the price is paid in blood.

A Deeper Look at LGBT Discrimination in Singapore

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Is there discrimination against LGBT persons in Singapore? Activists and bloggers insist there is. Janelle Faye, a transgender Singaporean, arguesthere isn’t.

I think the truth is somewhere down the middle. In recent history, the authorities have not launched sweeps targeting LGBT people. There are no laws punishing people for the crime of being non-heteronormative. Sex change operations are freely available here, and LGBT-friendly bars, saunas and non-government organisations operate openly. Discriminatory attitudes and practices against LGBT people occurs at the level of individuals, families and organisations; not at the level of society. There are no formalised mechanisms of oppression aimed at LGBT people in the same fashion as, say, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria or the Islamic State.

At the same time, there still exists laws and policies that, for better or ill, sweep up LGBT people in their wake.

Section 377A and its Consequences

Section 377A of the Penal Code states:

Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or abets the commission of, or procures or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency with another male person, shall be punished with >imprisonment for a term which may extend to 2 years.

Singapore inherited its laws from the British, and the Penal Code is based off India’s. Since Independence, other legislation that criminalises “unnatural sex”, such as non-vaginal sex or lesbian sexual intercourse, have been struck down. Section 377A still remains on the books, but the government insists that it will not prosecute gays under the law.

In practice, this is mostly true. As far as I know, in the past two decades Section 377A has only been trotted out to handle cases of public nuisance, rape and statutory rape. It has never been used to prosecute men who have consensual sex with men in private.

Singapore’s government needs to balance the needs of multiple groups in society, including religious conservatives. Keeping Section 377A can be seen as a peace offering to keep them happy while the government does away with less controversial legislation on other kinds of sex. Unfortunately, retaining Section 377A has knock-on effects.

In the military, gay soldiers are assigned a special deployment status, kept away from sensitive information, and confined to day duties for the rest of their careers. This essentially means that openly gay soldiers will never be placed in career-enhancing positions within the military. I don’t think this is institutional discrimination, rather an operational security measure. If a spy learns that a gay soldier has access to classified information, the spy can deploy a honey trap and take compromising photographs of the soldier, blackmailing him to reveal this information on pain of being arrested and charged under Section 377A.

The criminalisation of homosexual male acts also has wide-ranging impacts on civilian life: marriage, housing, insurance, legal aid, medical services. Since same-sex relationships are not officially recognised by the government, such couples are not eligible for the same benefits as heterosexual couples, and homoseuals cannot make legal decisions for their partners. This situation will likely remain so until and unless there are no longer any laws on the books criminalising consensual sex acts between adults. Perhaps longer.

While Section 377A has not led to institutionalised discrimination, this is only due to the policy of the current government. With the People’s Action Party enjoying a supermajority in Parliament (82 out of 84 seats), if the government decides at a future date that it will benefit from cracking down on gay men, there is nothing to stop it. Likewise, if a future government decrees that it shall henceforth prosecute all gay men in Singapore, Section 377A empowers it to do so.

Section 377A hangs like a sword of Damocles over the gay community. Its existence automatically criminalises men who have sex with men, even if they have done nothing to harm others. No citizen can count on the eternal benevolence of the state. Section 377A must be abolished. In its place, Parliament must revise existing law to cover cases of public nuisance, rape, statutory rape and other crimes that were previously prosecuted under Section 377A, with an eye towards deterring and punishing harm as opposed to consensual acts.

LGBT People in the Media

There are no laws forbidding the portrayal of LGBT people in the mass media. Instead, the Media Development Authority — which develops the media by censoring it — issued guidelines forbidding the “promotion or glamorization of the homosexual lifestyle”.

This policy has claimed a long list of victims of censorship. Barack Obama’s pro-LGBT comments. A same-sex kiss from a theatrical production of Les MiserablesMass Effect, for its femShep/Liara relationship, for a while. A number of local films and plays. A full list of censored media can be found here.

This isn’t to say that the MDA demanded the media to hide LGBT characters. Indeed, there is no bar against having such characters, so long as they aren’t portrayed positively. A local Mandarin-language police procedural featured a male-to-female transsexual as a killer. Another drama had an episode where the cast convinced a transvestite to give up his cross-dressing ways.

This is discrimination by regulatory fiat. The MDA does not answer to Parliament or the people. If the government believes more restrictions should be placed on the media, the MDA can do it without having to go through the formalities of a Parliamentary debate or try to convince the people through the press.

But this should also be seen in context. The government has long held the position that Singapore’s media should be a ‘nation-building media’. The media takes its cues from the government, delivering the messages and creating the narratives that the government wants it to deliver. When controversies erupted over en bloc sales of real estate in Singapore, MediaCorp suddenly produced a drama about a family caught up in an en bloc sale. Press coverage of national events tend to be slanted to favour the government, emphasising Singapore’s ‘traditional values’, including religious harmony, efficient government, and de-politicisation of racial and religious matters. This is part of the government’s overall strategy of justifying its rule through ‘Asian values’, which is really a hodgepodge of Confucian and Victorian moral norms. It creates a narrative of ‘Asian values’ through the media, then uses it to claim the moral high ground.

The problem here isn’t just discrimination per se. It’s that the government uses the media as its mouthpiece to spread its version of public ethics, politics and news, and LGBT issues is just one of them. Singaporeans cannot count on the mainstream media to explore alternative stories and narratives that contradict the party line, and there is little profit in petitioning the MDA to change its policies if the government won’t. A more realistic approach would be to engage the government itself on portrayals of LGBT people, and why LGBT people should be given fair portrayal in the media.

But I won’t hold my breath. Creators who want to have LGBT characters in their works would find better luck in spaces the MDA can’t touch. In the age of the Internet, creators can upload works on YouTube, use Patreon or Kickstarter for funding, write and narrate digital stories, and more. Instead of butting heads with the MDA on legacy media platforms, seek places where the MDA cannot reach and build your audience there. This will pull receptive audiences to your platforms, allow you to render any and all discriminatory media portrayals in Singapore irrelevant.

Marriage and Housing

In Singapore, it is usually joked that the most common way to propose marriage is to ask your would-be spouse to buy a flat with you. That’s because public housing in Singapore is strictly limited, favouring family units (including newly-weds). LGBT couples must either purchase flats on the private/resale markets or wait until they are 35 years old and purchase a flat under the joint singles scheme. Is this discrimination?

Singapore, it must be remembered, is a tiny, land-scarce country. Land use must be carefully planned, and a flat may be retained in the same family for two or even three generations out of necessity. The government must prioritise the needs of families with children and newlyweds who will produce children, for they will ensure the continued survival of the nation and the people. Lesbians, gays and transsexuals who will not or cannot produce children will not contribute to the next generation or the generation after, so their needs must be placed last.

Unfortunately, since bureaucracies must operate with a broad brush, there will be unintended victims. This year, a couple lost their marriage to the mechanisms of state. They registered their marriage as a heterosexual couple, but the male declared that he intended to transition to female. The marriage was nonetheless allowed to continue, and was registered as a heterosexual marriage. After the former husband transitioned, the marriage became a same-sex marriage — which is illegal here. After months of hemming and hawing, the state forcibly dissolved the marriage and the couple had to move to a smaller home.

I understand where the government is coming from and recognise the necessity of prioritizing heterosexual couples (and, by extension, the long-term survival of the country), but this is most unfortunate for the couple mentioned above, and other edge cases that the bureaucracy isn’t equipped to resolve. On the other hand, I don’t think Western-style civil unions can resolve the matter either. If non-heterosexual couples in civil unions are accorded the same rights as heterosexual couples in recognised weddings, it could have a significant impact on the availability of public housing in Singapore. It is not fair for a tiny non-fertile percent of the population to have such an outsized impact on the rest of the population that will ensure the nation’s continued existence.

Should we build more public housing? Singapore is the very definition of a concrete jungle: where can more land be found? What about letting LGBT people rent flats? Rent prices are sky-high in Singapore: rental flats cater to PMETs with astronomical salaries or groups of people, leaving rented rooms the only viable option for most people.

I don’t have any easy answers. What I do know is that this issue isn’t discussed in public at all. LGBT people are left to fend for themselves while the government will not accommodate them. Instead of harping on such abstract matters as the ‘freedom to love’, LGBT activists should focus on everyday matters that affect the lives of people, and the government should in turn engage these activists to hopefully reach a win-win solution.

Roll Up Your Sleeves and Get to Work

Having attended the original Pink Dot, I can confirm Faye’s remarks on its essential vacuity. Yes, it celebrates the freedom of love. Yes, it trots out speakers affirming non-heteronormative relationships and the virtues of tolerance and diversity. Yes, there is music and live performances and balloons. For one day a year it makes people feel good. But what about the other 364 days of the year?

I don’t care about feeling good. I care about doing good.

There isn’t widespread systemic discrimination against LGBT people in Singapore on the scale of the Middle East or elsewhere. However, Section 377A allows potential tyrants to oppress the LGBT community. Media portrayals of LGBT people in Singapore are a facet of the government’s control over the media. Housing for LGBT people remain a thorny but underdiscussed issue.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. LGBT people face a number of unique challenges that aren’t aired openly. Half of lesbian relationships involve domestic violence. Last year, there were 408 new reported cases of HIV transmission, and 52% of them originated from homosexual transmission. Advertisements about HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention targeting the LGBT community cannot be aired here.

It’s easy to jump on bandwagons, chant slogans and repeat the tired rhetoric of power, privilege and discrimination. It makes people feel good, but it doesn’t do anything to resolve these issues. If you’re truly interested in helping LGBT people, then roll up your sleeves and get to work.