Widgets Magazine


The Transitive Property: An Argument Against ROTC’s Return, from an Actual Transgender Person’s Perspective

So currently Stanford has been arguing about the return of ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps), the student branch of the U.S. military. ROTC was at Stanford until the 1970s, before it was removed from campus. The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which would allow gay and lesbian people to serve in the military, has revived the debate on ROTC. Many students argue that since the military doesn’t discriminate against gay and lesbian people anymore, ROTC should come back. Also, both The Stanford Daily and The Stanford Review have printed opinion pieces on the ROTC’s return. The Stanford Review’s Jan. 31, 2011, editorial, “No Excuses Left for ROTC’s Ban,” stated that transgender people will benefit from the military’s return to Stanford, because if we let more open-minded people in the military, eventually transgender people will be allowed to join.

It was while reading that editorial I realized that there was no transgender voice within this editorial, or within any of the opinion pieces presented in any Stanford publication so far. And if transgender issues are going to be at the center of an issue like the military, then some transgender person is going to have to get a word in — thus, this week’s column.

So there has been the argument that transgender people are not able-bodied due to the fact that their physical bodies don’t match up with their minds. Transgender people have Gender Identity Disorder, people claim. Gender Identity Disorder is a mental illness, which makes trans people unsuitable to serve in the military.

But this is not a matter of mental illness. I don’t disagree that many transgender people go through a period of mental and emotional distress. For some people, it lasts for years. However, it doesn’t last forever. Our emotional pain doesn’t ruin us or make us unable to live our full potential. In fact, it makes us stronger. It makes us never take anything for granted. It makes us work harder on our bodies and our minds. It makes us more determined. It makes us leaders. Now who wouldn’t want someone with this drive to work for them? The military is missing out on a small but potent subset of the population.

We deserve to be empowered and create change for ourselves. The only way that the military can be improved for us transgender people is if we are allowed to participate ourselves and make choices for ourselves. The National Center for Transgender Equality, the premiere national transgender advocacy organization, has released a statement in solidarity with efforts to prevent the return of ROTC to Stanford on the basis of continued discrimination against transgender people. How do publications like The Review feel as if they are more competent to decide what is “best” for transgender people than transgender students and transgender activists who have been working on transgender justice for decades?

Also, the ROTC members of Stanford will have to take their ROTC activities and training for academic units. ROTC will basically become equivalent to class for them. This is a blatant violation of the non-discrimination policy, which includes gender identity. If Stanford were to allow ROTC to return to campus, Stanford would be violating its own policy and taking a step back in its support for transgender people.

Have the Review state its argument to the transgendered young people who want to join the military. Its editorial told them that they cannot change the military themselves, that their voices do not matter, that if they want change, they need to shut up and let other people do it for them. Non-transgender people matter and have more power. But just because I take up a small minority of both the queer community and the general population does not mean I am no one. I am a human being. We have been marginalized for so long, in both the general and the queer community, and I am sick of it. Why should my existence somehow be less legitimate than somebody else simply because of a matter of statistics?

Placing transgender people into one group and telling us what’s for our own good tells us that we are not capable of making change ourselves. This is a blatant insult to our humanity. I refuse to be told to sit quietly and let people who do not know me tell me what I should and should not do. I reserve the right to speak my opinion as a human being. Only I know what is truly good for me, and only transgender people know what is good for themselves. Thus, I say NO to the return of ROTC to Stanford.

Agree or disagree with Cristopher about ROTC? E-mail him at cmsb@stanford.edu.

  • I’ve been saying this all along!

    Trans people, and people who think they are plants and animals, have to be allowed in the military before ROTC can return to Stanford.

  • LT

    @I’ve been saying this all along!

    Psst…your bigotry is showing…

  • @LT

    Funny that you bring up bigotry. These across-the-board anti-military people are bigots.

    People who think that people with mental disorders should not be in the military are not bigots.

  • @I’ve been saying this all along!

    OMG guys who think they are girls and girls who think they are guys are NOT CRAZY how much simpler can we make it

  • The Daily posts too much stuff from this author…

    This is like the millionth post.

  • Jim

    “Also, the ROTC members of Stanford will have to take their ROTC activities and training for academic units. ROTC will basically become equivalent to class for them.”

    ROTC would not necessarily count as academic credit – at many schools the classes do not count for credit. That would still be open to faculty senate debate.

    As others have stated repeatedly, ROTC’s presence would not be a “blatant violation” of the nondiscrimination code.

  • Sad…

    Poorly researched article. Cristopher comes across as arrogant and uninformed.

  • other mental illnesses

    the military should stop discriminating against all mental illnesses like depression and food addiction

  • Learn how to read, idiot

    Have you even tried to read the non-discrimination policy?

  • Logic

    Pedophilia is not a mental illness. Pedophiles should be allowed to do ROTC.

  • Actual Logic

    A note to other commenters:

    No matter what you think about ROTC or the military, it’s incredibly disrespectful and just plain wrong to compare being transgender to being a pedophile or thinking you’re a plant (whatever that’s even supposed to mean). All you’re doing is reinforcing Cris’s point: ignorant people pass judgment on trans people and their abilities without paying any attention to facts, or, for that matter, basic human decency. What a shame that the military allows bigots like you but not thoughtful, capable people like Cris. Even if you disagree with his points about ROTC, at least try not to be the kind of pond scum that refuses to acknowledge other people’s humanity.

  • @ The Daily posts…

    You clearly aren’t a regular reader of The Daily. Cris is a columnist and has a column every week, just like every other columnist.

    Anyhow, isn’t the real issue whether a person is “fit” for duty? Physically capable and safe to be around? Clearly someone who is psychotic presents a clear risk in the field, but someone who is transgendered? Not so obvious.

  • Grow up!

    The problem with this argument is simply it’s basis. The military isn’t telling you what’s good for you – they don’t care about you! They care about themselves, and their efficient function as an organization that does very high-stakes work. On this basis, their stance on trans people makes some sense, even if it’s hard to swallow. Trans people do suffer from unique emotional and physical problems, and it’s very difficult to evaluate these well on a case by case basis. I’m not saying that trans people should not be allowed to serve, I am simply saying that the issue is far more complicated than Cris makes it seem.

    That being said, it’s frustrating that some people here use the anonymity to say things that are so completely out of line. Come on people, grow up and learn how to treat others with respect.

  • Stanford alum

    The comments on this column are really embarrassing.

    Even if we accept the premise that being trans is an illness, that doesn’t warrant the disrespect evident in these comments. I’m not clairvoyant, but “Gender Identity Disorder” will probably go the way of homosexuality as far as whether it is a mental illness. However, the pain and depression one can feel as a result of being trans will last as long as the discrimination and transphobia evidenced by these comments remain.

    Also, for the pedophilia comment to actually work, logically, pedophilia has to be similar enough to being transgender to support the analogical reasoning. How pedophilia is necessarily like being transgender escapes me. It is, at the very least, a non-obvious connection and, more likely, just offensive and hurtful.

    Finally, let’s be clear: even if we accept that anti-military sentiment is bigotry, the bigotry experienced by trans people is of a far different kind and degree. When was the last time a cadet killed himself because his peers didn’t like the military?

  • Supporter of equality

    Wonderful article, Cris. The continued discrimination against trans people and ignorance about trans issues, even within a supposedly liberal community like Stanford, is reprehensible. Thank you for speaking up and making your voice heard.

  • Really, Stanford?

    I am so ashamed that Stanford doesn’t allow ROTC.

    The military fights for all of our rights and the sacrifices they make should be honored. There are many restrictions within the military that would not be permitted in civilian life, for various reasons. The military never promised to treat service members like civilians. No one is saying that the military shouldn’t rethink some of its policies, but not allowing ROTC on campus is more of a sign of disrespect to our service members than a productive way to argue for transgender rights.

    Once again, I’m so disappointed and ashamed of my school.

  • @Really, Stanford?

    Since when is it disrespectful to actually use the rights the military and many other people have worked for?

    I would say it’s fairly disrespectful not to.

  • Quinn Slack

    I posted a response to this at The Stanford Review blog (Fiat Lux): http://blog.stanfordreview.org/2011/02/22/transgender-equality-not-the-final-frontier/

  • Problems…

    Cris, while I am emboldened and pleased to see that you’ve expressed an opinion on this topic, and while I think your voice is a valuable addition to this discussion, your claim to authority is only identitarian. You’re voice is a valuable component, but it does not seem to me to be any more legitimate or weighty because you are Trans. Cisgendered people are as deeply invested in the debate about transgender discrimination by ROTC. The fact of the matter is that, as it concerns academic credit, ROTC has not yet gained status as an acceptable avenue for unit fulfillment. The grounds, therefore upon which you base part of your argument — those few argument which you offer against ROTC that aren’t supported (at least in part) by your tacit claim to authority because of your identity — are thoroughly negated. Speaking as “we” or talking about “our” emotional health and its vicissitudes, etc., is a logically fallacious methodology. I personally identify as trans, but my feelings about it would not be supported by my identity, because my identity is not a grounds to support my position, nor it is a thing you should be co-opting as support for yours.

    I am ashamed to see that my peers are so uninformed about trans issues, and that they would condescend to compare transfolk to pedophiles, people who think they are plants, etc. It’s unacceptable, and I apologize that you have to deal with that.

  • Excellent article

    Finally a voice from someone who is trans! Great column, as always, Cris.

    A few things:

    If the military is going to discriminate with the assumption that trans people are mentally unstable, perhaps we should do a psychological analysis of *every single person* who enlists, because there are plenty of seriously unstable individuals who, at best, cause problems and at worst commit atrocities. Abu Ghraib anyone? (That’s one shining example, but there are online lists of reported war crimes committed by US soldiers, if you are so interested.) Even if they aren’t committing atrocities or at least they aren’t reported, they can still be mentally unstable. What about the guy who recently got back from Iraq and then wrote a piece in his college newspaper about how exhilarating it is to kill someone? (He was asked to leave the campus.)

    So let’s not rely on this “mental illness” crutch in an attempt to make a legitimate argument for the transphobic discrimination policies.

    The first commenter here (who mentioned plants and animals), I’m pretty sure, is the same person who posted that on the Stanford Review’s article. It’s funny how my comment stating how offensive it was is still waiting for moderation there, whereas his is still up. Absurd.

    “the military fights for all of our rights and the sacrifices they make should be honored. ”

    I hate hearing this BS–as though we’re all supposed to feel indebted for what they’ve done for us. How about what we have done for the military? What about all the research that universities do specifically under military contracts? You don’t think that the technology shown in the “it’s not science fiction” military commercials was created by military personnel, do you? When you get into the military and are charged with using various devices in a mission (GPS, high-powered weapons, scopes for seeing far away, homing missiles, etc.), take a moment to thank the brilliant scientists and engineers who came up with that. I’m not saying that the two are the same type of service to the country–let’s face it, scientists have a much larger impact on society than the military does, plain and simple–but I’m sick of pro-military people trying to make me feel ungrateful, as though the military is the only one doing service for the country. They aren’t. (I myself helped write software to help train military officials, but even if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t stand for the absurd argument that we “owe” the military and are ungrateful.)

  • @ I’ve been saying this all along, other mental illnesses, Logic

    The comments comparing transgender identity to pedophilia, believing that they are plants, and food addiction make me sick. The proponents of ROTC who claim that Stanford educated, “tolerant” individuals can influence the military’s policies need look no further than these comments for a solid refutation of their argument.

    Even if you believe transgender identity is a mental disorder, the fact is that Stanford doesn’t. Even if you believe pedophilia and food addiction are somehow equivalent to transgender identity (which they absolutely are not), the fact is that they are not protected under Stanford’s non-discrimination clause. And gender identity is. Our university does not discriminate on the basis of gender identity – neither should outside organizations who want to use our university’s space and resources.

  • Someone who knows a pinch of history

    I don’t care if you have an underlying moral problem with the “choices” of transgendered people, if you’re just disgusted by them for some reason and are afraid to say it, or if you are sticking to your guns because your conservative friends will ostracize you if you show an ounce of compassion.

    Maybe, just maybe, transgender people might face (on average) more emotional distress stemming from identity conflicts because people like you know nothing of the complex biopsychosocial relationships between one’s culture, upbringing, and inner sexuality and gender identity as they enter their young adult years.

    Let’s get this out of the way: you and I know there is no reason that changing your appearance and sexual biology renders you any less physically able to serve than, say, a frail young woman who barely passes boot camp.

    Now, please, just go along with this metaphor and don’t get hung up on the differences in magnitude: In the 1930s and 40s, Southern racism forced countless young black males to carry around a Pandora’s box of confusion and frustration with their ostensibly “inferior” identity. Then the Tuskegee Airmen came along.

    How can you say Cris isn’t right? Who’s to say that, if anything, transgendered people, when treated like human beings with the same capacity for courage as you and I, won’t go the extra mile to prove their love for the rights they believe our military protects?

  • @Excellent Article

    Learn to have some respect for the military. Yes, you are indebted to the military, especially to the people who are risking their lives and dieing for this country. You clearly haven’t grasped the enormity of that type of sacrifice. Hopefully you just keep your mouth shut in public.

  • another perspective

    I also think it’s necessary to consider how transgender people would actually fare in the armed forces once they became commissioned officers after ROTC. Even at Stanford, from what I’ve heard, transgender people get singles automatically if they so choose. Why? And my guess is because it is still a little disconcerting to most people to live in close quarters with someone who is outwardly the same gender as you but not so in a biological sense. In the army, how are people supposed to accommodate this request on a regular basis? Soldiers are in close quarters with each for extended periods of time. I don’t think the general population will ever truly “accept” transgender people and definetly not to the extent that gay people are now accepted for who they are. And I think part of this has to do with the just the extreme nature of what trans gender people do to themselves, in terms of surgeries, medication, etc to satisfy their identity issues.

  • @@Excellent article

    “Learn to have some respect for the military. Yes, you are indebted to the military, especially to the people who are risking their lives and dieing for this country. You clearly haven’t grasped the enormity of that type of sacrifice. Hopefully you just keep your mouth shut in public.”

    You clearly haven’t grasped the enormity of the brainwashing you’ve endured. That’s exactly the type of nationalism that the government tries to inculcate, and people like you just gobble it up. The way you (and others) say it, every person in the military is risking his/her life and “dieing [sic].” Very far from it (1.5 million are in the military and only about 11,000 have died in the wars we’re currently engaged in; most of the personnel never risk their lives or even see combat). You could also make the argument that you aren’t showing proper respect to those who have helped out the military without serving–namely, those who provide the intellectual drive that allows the military to run, through technology. Stop making it seem as though hardworking people, many of whom help the military, are “indebted” to the military (especially when our supposed “right to say this” isn’t in danger).

  • ESQG

    I don’t want to implicitly support the argument that the military’s discrimination against trans people is valid on grounds of mental instability, because I don’t hold with that. However the mental instability rules are a huge problem for college: I’m surprised that no-one has yet mentioned the problem this presents students whose college tuition depends on ROTC.
    If you’re in the ROTC program (and you can be part of it at Stanford), you can’t quit or get disqualified/fired otherwise you’ll have to pay back your entire scholarship. They see your medical records. So if you have an illness you can hide, that you think might make you lose your ROTC scholarship, you might well not go for professional help; people often think they can hide mental illness, depression, etc. Do we really need a program on campus that provides its participants a disincentive to get psychological help? Really? Surely most college students know personally or through friends how serious that is.

  • @@Excellent Article, 2

    I like the word choice: we are “indebted” to the military, even though the nation has gone deeply into debt to pay for it more than anything else. /snark

  • Janani

    These comments, to me, signal more than anything that the case for bringing back ROTC is even weaker than I first believed. Several proponents have stated that sending “liberal-minded Stanford students” into the military will slowly change military culture and make it open and affirming for transgender people. Clearly, the discourse here shows that not to be a possibility. Regarding mental illness, suicide rates are high in the transgender community because of hate and transphobia (comparing trans people to pedophiles, for example, is transphobic), and institutionalized discrimination (as in the case of the de jure exclusion of trans folk from the military), not because transgender identity necessarily makes someone unstable.

    Honestly, what would we do if the minority being silenced/excluded here were a louder, more powerful group? (Such as Asian students, like myself?). Would we trivialize and pathologize their struggle for access? Just as Cris articulates, the size of a marginalized group should have no bearing on how strongly we enforce the non-discrimination clause and mobilize our own principles of equal opportunity. The fact that anonymous commenters here are able to get away with their level of bigotry just speaks to how much more work needs doing….

  • @Janani

    Commenters on this column are obviously not the entire student population. You are either trolling or extremely ignorant.

  • @@@Excellent Article

    Seems like you’re marginalizing those who have died on the basis of their small numbers compared to the military as a whole, yet in the context of the even fewer trans people not being allowed to serve, it’s a big enough problem for you to support an article using that as the basis to completely block ROTC from campus.

  • Delphi Lomeli

    Most persons here are missing the point: ROTC is not allowed currently due to discrimination. Allowing the back merely due to the repeal of DADT would equal the following statement: “OK. You guys can return. We will compromise and accept that gays and lesbians will be allowed to serve. So what if you guys don’t allow transgender persons to serve. They don’t matter much anyway.” Or am I wrong here? If ROTC was banned because of discrimination against LGBT, then they must be allowed back ONLY after discrimination against LGBT ends. The end of LGB discrimination falls short. Period.

    I served for six years and was honorably discharged at 23 yrs old as an Air Force MP E-5 S/Sgt. Two years in discovered that I was transgender. I knew it all along. I just had no idea how acute it was until at 20 yrs of age, away from parental influence, my independent identity bubbled up to the surface. I recall specifically the day when suddenly my body looked all wrong. My physical (not my mental) development had not occurred as I wished. I suppose we who loathe our body are “mental misfits” while those who loathe their body for other physical ailments are not—-go figure. To this day I have no record of mental abnormalities or ailments. It would be years before I discovered that there was a remedy to mind-body incongruence. If I had known at 20 yrs of age, I would have begun my transition while in the Air Force.

  • Claire

    Gays and lesbians are not necessarily mentally ill. Transgendered people are. This is simply a statement of fact, like obese people have a BMI of 30 kg/m^2 or greater. These people should deal with their own issues instead of trolling for the attention they crave.

  • @claire

    omg that is so wrong the psychiatrists know nothing and shouldn’t be allowed to classify being transgendered as a mental illness the transgendered should get to decide if they are mentally ill or not because noone knows them better not even their parents

  • @Claire

    Claire, you are most likely referring to transgender identity’s status in the DSM. While it is technically true that Gender Identity Disorder is still considered a mental illness, you need to know the homosexuality was included in the DSM until the 1970s. It is likely that Gender Identity Disorder will be out of the DSM in the next few revisions, since there is a great deal of contention about its placement there.

    Nevertheless, regardless of the typical classification as an illness, the fact is that Stanford does not classify it as such. We protect individuals on the basis of their gender identity, even if the medical establishment does not. These people do not need to deal with their own “issues,” if by issues you mean their gender identity. You are the one who needs to deal with your issues of intolerance and transphobia.

  • Claire

    Pointing out something in the DSM that was fixed decades ago doesn’t really relate to its validity today. If the APA, at some point in the future, decides that Gender Identity Disorder is no longer a mental illness, then that would be the appropriate time for transgendered people to seek to enter the military.

    Calling me transphobic is a childish, ad hominem attack.

  • Just to clear it up…

    Transgendered people who actually want to serve in the military devote their efforts to getting the APA to remove Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders from its DSM.

    Anti-military people, on the other hand, devote their efforts to whining about the possibility of ROTC at Stanford.

    Personally, I’m all for capable transgendered people serving in the military. But I wish these anti-military people would be open about their views and stop playing the discrimination card when it’s obvious they discriminate against military-affiliate people.

  • @Claire

    Claire, my point was that the DSM calling something a mental illness doesn’t make it so. Just as homosexuals were not mentally ill after the DSM’s revision, they weren’t mentally ill before. The term used to describe them changed, but they were the same people with the same sexual orientation. The same is true, and will be true, of transgender identity. It is clear that Stanford believes this. It is reasonable to expect that programs on Stanford’s campus should believe this too. PMS is listed in the DSM

    @”Just to clear it up…” Many individuals in SSQL and other groups are working hard to make sure transgender individuals can serve in the US military, just as they serve openly in the Canadian, Israeli, and Australian militaries. Here is a petition you can sign: