Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

What Trump and his base get wrong about transgender Americans

Lee Schubert is a transgender woman and author of Woman Incognito: Transsexual without Transition

When U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew the Obama administration's guidelines that would have told public schools to let transgender students use a bathroom that matches their gender identity, I was not surprised. I saw it coming.

But when he tweeted that he was not going to allow transgender people to serve in the United States armed forces, I was totally unprepared. And so was the military. After all, the military had already decided to allow trans people to serve – and an estimated 15,000 of them already do, according to a 2014 study.

Story continues below advertisement

There is no logical reason why they should not. Mr. Trump's stated reasons are that it would cost the military too much money for medical expenses and that it would be "disruptive." There is no evidence for the former and the latter is just the same old red herring that always gets pulled out. First allowing blacks to serve alongside whites was supposed to be disruptive. In reality, the military became an example of successful racial integration in the United States. Then it was gays who were going to be disruptive. But "don't ask, don't tell" was abolished and openly gay members of the armed forces have survived with no problem. And now, even the military is all right with transgender people serving in its ranks – and they say they will continue to do so – but the Commander-in-Chief thinks they will sink the ship of state.

So let's look behind all the poppycock at the real reason the President wants to keep transgender men and women from serving their country in the military: It is religious conservatives who helped elect him but who have always questioned whether he is really one of them. (Of course, he isn't – but he does feel he must pander to them.)

Many evangelicals are engaged in an all-out battle against the transgender community. They never give their real reason. Instead, as seen in the transgender bathroom issue, they make up all sorts of nonsensical problems like the idea that men were going to start pretending to be women so that they could get into the women's restroom to molest wives and daughters.

What so many religious conservatives are really clinging to is the myth that gender and physical sex are the same thing.

Sure, that's what most people used to believe – but then most people also used to believe that the Earth is flat. Fortunately, the great majority of them yielded to the onslaught of evidence and faced the fact that the Earth is a sphere. In recent years, most mental health professionals have accepted the mounting evidence that gender is a subjective, psychological phenomenon – entirely separate from physical sex. But there are still some people insisting on the reality of a flat Earth and there are still people insisting that gender is nothing but a fancy word for sex.

I know the difference well. I was born with a male body and, since I have not transitioned, I still have one. I also happen to be an active member of a mainline Protestant church. So I am particularly intrigued by some of the religious arguments used to discredit the reality of bring transgender. My favourite? That God made people male or female and that He does not make mistakes. I totally agree that God does not make mistakes. She made me a woman with a male body and it was no mistake. I am exactly what I was always supposed to be. And I am just as certain that my gender is female – and I am sure that my physical sex is male. That is the reality.

Of course, Mr. Trump does not operate in the real world. He tweets major policy decisions without seeking the counsel of anyone who actually knows something about running a government. In this case, he does not seem to have any plan for what to do about the thousands of transgender people already in the military.

Story continues below advertisement

Nor has he drawn any distinctions among the many different roles people play in the armed forces. No trans person will be allowed in the military in any capacity, whether in combat or programming computers. Maybe he's afraid that a transgender doctor with the responsibility of saving the lives of wounded soldiers will surreptitiously give them sex-reassignment surgery.

Whatever he thinks, he will be setting back transgender equality and depriving the U.S. armed forces of many capable and talented people who are willing and able to serve their country valiantly and effectively.

Report an error
As of December 20, 2017, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles as we switch to a new provider. We are behind schedule, but we are still working hard to bring you a new commenting system as soon as possible. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to