Transgender People Are Not a ‘Burden’: The Massive Military Budget Is

Instead of looking to the U.S. military to preserve our rights, we should be dismantling it.

Tamara Nassar and Jake Valente August 4, 2017

Protest in 2013 at San Francisco, Calif. Pride to reinstate Bradley Manning as parade grand marshal. (Steve Rhodes)

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump recent­ly announced an unof­fi­cial ban on trans­gen­der peo­ple serv­ing in the U.S. mil­i­tary, describ­ing their ser­vice as a finan­cial bur­den,” plagued with tremen­dous med­ical costs and dis­rup­tion.” Trump’s announce­ment was fol­lowed by a debate with­in queer com­mu­ni­ties about what this ban means for the trans­gen­der move­ment as it inter­sects with an anti-impe­ri­al­ist agenda.

Despite dis­sent­ing voic­es, the cur­rent dis­course on the Left seems to be dom­i­nat­ed by cheer­lead­ing for the mar­gin­al vic­to­ry of trans­gen­der inclu­sion in the mil­i­tary, sidelin­ing the queer community’s his­toric resis­tance to depen­dence on exploita­tive insti­tu­tions, exem­pli­fied through the Against Equal­i­ty orga­ni­za­tion and The Sylvi­aa Rivera Project.

Let us make one thing clear: The Depart­ment of Defense (DOD) should not be cel­e­brat­ed as an eco­nom­ic provider for the mar­gin­al­ized. Instead, we should reimag­ine a more socio-eco­nom­i­cal­ly just dis­tri­b­u­tion of resources that does not depend on an insti­tu­tion that enforces war and occupation.

Tox­ic and trau­mat­ic mil­i­tary culture

Many join the mil­i­tary not out of sheer patri­o­tism, but to reap the ben­e­fits grant­ed by an exploita­tive employ­er. Yet, fol­low­ing mil­i­tary ser­vice, many are left des­ti­tute, with vet­er­ans gross­ly over­rep­re­sent­ed in the nation­al home­less pop­u­la­tion. Vet­er­ans often return from ser­vice suf­fer­ing from dev­as­tat­ing Post-Trau­mat­ic Stress Dis­or­der, con­tribut­ing to a sui­cide rate of 20 vet­er­ans each day. Is the high like­li­hood of phys­i­cal and psy­chic suf­fer­ing worth the sup­port of a sys­tem that, his­tor­i­cal­ly, has turned a blind eye on its most vulnerable?

Dean Spade, trans­gen­der activist and asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of law at Seat­tle Uni­ver­si­ty, spoke with In These Times about the trau­ma trans indi­vid­u­als expe­ri­ence in the mil­i­tary. If we know that the U.S. mil­i­tary is this site of extreme sex­u­al vio­lence … then we could guess what it would be like for peo­ple to be trans in the mil­i­tary,” he said. Because when­ev­er there is intense sex­u­al vio­lence, trans peo­ple tend to be targeted.”

Spade added that the unad­dressed cul­ture of racism in the mil­i­tary is espe­cial­ly detri­men­tal for trans­gen­der peo­ple of col­or. The peo­ple that got kicked out the most of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell were black women, and often it would be because they would expe­ri­ence a lot of sex­u­al harass­ment and sex­u­al vio­lence. And when they would report or refuse, they would be let go.”

The real burden 

The U.S. gov­ern­ment allo­cates approx­i­mate­ly 48 per­cent of its fed­er­al bud­get on cur­rent or past mil­i­tary expen­di­tures, accord­ing to the War Resisters League’s analy­sis of the 2017 pro­posed bud­get that accounts for announce­ments of new expen­di­tures. With­in the defense bud­get, the DOD spends more than three times as much on its pri­vate defense con­trac­tors than it does on vet­er­an ser­vices and pensions.

Need­less to say, allow­ing trans­gen­der per­son­nel to serve open­ly would cause an insignif­i­cant increase in mil­i­tary health­care expen­di­tures, amount­ing to much less than a few of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago trips. It is crys­tal clear that the real eco­nom­ic bur­den is the defense budget.

We must refo­cus our move­ment toward a future where afford­able health­care and edu­ca­tion exist out­side of mil­i­tary bind­ing, as many join specif­i­cal­ly for those ben­e­fits. The Trump administration’s ad-hoc, scape­goat­ing prac­tices, delib­er­ate­ly tar­get­ing a vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tion, should not dis­tract from the increas­ing inter­sec­tion­al aware­ness moti­vat­ing many social jus­tice move­ments today. Mil­i­tary tac­tics employed by Tiger­Swan to car­ry out oper­a­tions on the Stand­ing Rock Sioux Tribe and pro­tes­tors of DAPL reveal fur­ther the par­al­lels between U.S. impe­ri­al­ism abroad and at home.

Inclu­sion is not always liberation 

Accord­ing to Spade, the U.S. mil­i­tary and police depart­ments show­case queer ser­vice mem­bers and offi­cers as a form of pinkwash­ing, a term that describes mar­ket­ing in which gov­ern­ments, cor­po­ra­tions or insti­tu­tions cul­ti­vate a queer-friend­ly image to divert atten­tion from vio­lence and human rights abus­es they per­pe­trate. Gay and les­bian pol­i­tics [some­times] col­ludes with the worst insti­tu­tions in the Unit­ed States and actu­al­ly real­ly reha­bil­i­tate them from left cri­tique, and when [these insti­tu­tions are] in cri­sis, they can slap a rain­bow flag on their police car or say that the mil­i­tary is now on the side of gay and les­bian lib­er­a­tion or trans lib­er­a­tion, and get their PR to make that insti­tu­tion appear real­ly pro­gres­sive,” said Spade.

It comes as no sur­prise that the move­ment for queer lib­er­a­tion has a long his­to­ry in its fight against the mil­i­tary, pre­cise­ly because lib­er­a­tion is an encom­pass­ing con­cept. Spade spoke to us about how the anti-police, anti-war in Viet­nam, anti-racism, and queer lib­er­a­tion move­ments were all emerg­ing and pros­per­ing around the same time, and so influ­ence was flu­id between all these move­ments. It was a time when sol­i­dar­i­ty meant inter­sec­tion­al­i­ty. There needs to be mean­ing­ful debates with­in queer and trans com­mu­ni­ties about what our pol­i­tics are com­mit­ted to,” says Spade.

The U.S. mil­i­tary is, and always has been, designed to dis­pose of those who the elite deem dis­pos­able. The vio­lence that it espous­es is the same vio­lence the queer com­mu­ni­ty has been his­tor­i­cal­ly fight­ing against. We must resist and reject the idea that the mil­i­tary is a body that can be mend­ed with queer inclusion.

Tama­ra Nas­sar is a spring 2017 In These Times edi­to­r­i­al intern.Jake Valente is an inde­pen­dent edi­tor, aca­d­e­m­ic pub­lish­er, and writer.
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