On the Science of Changing Sex

These Transsexuals Were the First Banned…

Posted in Editorial by Kay Brown on July 26, 2017

Kay Brown 2010… from the US Armed Forces.  Here’s what they did next.

“A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

I always interpreted this, our 2nd Amendment to our constitution to actually mean that the right to serve in the defence of our country, could not be “infringed”.   But clearly, bigotry and prejudice have prevailed over the centuries… as they did today when our current “Commander-in-Chief”, spouting more lies, but really serving the interests of bigots, re-instated the ugly and wholly unnecessary policy of excluding any and all transsexual and transgender people from military service “in any capacity”.  I believe whole-heartedly that this policy is unconstitutional on the face of it.

This policy has touched upon my own life and that of many other transfolk, both those I have known and admired, and those unknown, but still worthy of respect.

When I was in my mid-teens, my mother would leave brochures for the Navy around for my brother and I to find.  She tried very hard to get us both to join up.  I knew that was NOT for me, as I was trying desperately to transition as soon as I possibly could… and joining the Navy would not help in that effort.  Plus, hey, as an obviously gender atypical androphilic male, there was no way that I could pass as a straight man.  As it was, on my 18th birthday, my father came over to give me a combination birthday and high school graduation gift of a clock-radio, the only gift that I was given by anyone on this occasion.  He also informed me that I was no longer welcome to live in my mother’s house.  How brave of my mother to use my father to deliver the message.  I would not be welcome to stay at my father’s small apartment either… as it was too close to the family.  I would be given a small allowance if I remained away from the family from then on… to be a “remittance man”.  So, as I struggled to maintain myself, my brother soon joined the Navy to be trained as an avionics technician.

When I was 22 years old, in 1979, during a time of much stress, as I had been intermittently homeless and living in rather unsavory conditions at times, I was working as a very low paid electronics repair tech, a skill I had learned coming up the ranks from electronic assembler.  I had very skilled hands and could delicately remove and replace microelectronic components that most men could not.  One of our customers was an Air National Guard unit who didn’t have anyone who could fix the type of radios that I could.  One of their non-comms responsible for their electronics maintainance tried very hard to get me to sign-up.  As a pre-op transsexual, I knew that I could never do that as it was then well-known that the DOD policy was that no homosexuals nor transsexuals were allowed.  Being both androphilic and a pre-op, I would be considered doubly unqualified.  But I could REALLY have used the money and experience of serving.  (No soup for you!)

That year, I would meet two transwomen who had served in the military and both been discharged for being trans.

Joy_Candice

Dr. Joy Shaffer and Kay Brown in the mid-80s

The first was Joy Shaffer.  She had joined the Air Force as a teenager and served for something like 18 months as an avionics technician before events unfolded in which she admitted that she was trans.  She was administratively discharged, honorably, such that she was eligible for G.I. benefits which she used to earn a degree in biochemistry from CalTech, with honors, in only three years, transitioning there as a student.  When I met her a few months after her graduation, she was working as a research assistant for a scientist working to understand the biochemistry and epigenetics of osteoarthritis.  She was a named author on several peer reviewed papers including one in Cell.

clar05aThe other was Joanna Michelle Clark.  Joanna had been in the Navy, served aboard P-3 Orion subchasers, rose to Chief Petty Officer, thus our favorite nickname for her, “Chief”.  She, like so many other ‘late transitioners’ had been married.  But, as her gender dysphoria grew, she divorced, left the Navy, honorably, with no reference to being transsexual, and began transition.  She sought treatment at the Stanford Clinic in the early ’70s.  (She has some amusing stories about her own interviews with Dr. Fisk.)  Afterwards, she was recruited into the Army National Guard.  She had fully disclosed her earlier identity, medical status, and experience in the Navy.  As there were no policies concerning transsexuals at the time, she was inducted.  Ah… but folks at the Pentagon finally noticed her existence about a year and a half later.  They changed the policy and then booted her, dishonorably, for having violated the new policy!  She fought back but managed only to get her discharge changed to honorable, as she had never lied about her medical status at any point and it was the DOD who had changed their policies… and attempted to apply an illegal ex-post-facto charge against her.

This experience radicalized Joanna to become a true activist.  One of the first things she did afterwords was convince and work with Willie Brown to change California law to allow transsexuals to change their ID, including their driver licence, before SRS.

ACLUIn 1980, Joanna Clark, Joy Shaffer, and several other transsexuals, including myself, founded the ACLU Transsexual Rights Committee, with Joanna as the Committee Chair.  The committee worked on a number of initiatives including the issue of access to medical care which was under serious threat at both governmental and private insurance providers.  (Our nemesis, author of The Transsexual Empire, Janice Raymond was one of the culture warriors on the other side, writing transphobic whitepapers arguing against coverage for transition medical services.)  A key argument against medical coverage for SRS was that it was “experimental”.  I had insurance through my employer that should have covered my SRS, which I had gone deeply in debt (relative to my meager income at the time) to pay for.  But my carrier refused reimbursement based on “experimental”  I and an FtM transman who had been also refused reimbursement using this same “experimental” clause agreed to contest this rejection.  The committee put together a case for class action suit with ACLU backing and myself and the brave transman as key plaintiff.  But the insurance company stymied us by paying our claims and admitting that our surgeries were no longer “experimental”.  I thought we had won!  No, we got snuckered, the insurance companies started writing specific exclusionary language into all future policies.  We calculated that the cost of doing that exceeded the costs of coverage.  This was done out of bigotry, not rational business, just as the exclusion of LGBT people in the military is one of bigotry.

Joy went on to earn a medical degree at Stanford Medical School, became board certified in internal medicine, later to found a large private LGBT friendly medical practice in San Jose (“Silicon Valley”).  As well as having the largest transgender private practice in the world, Joy served on the front lines against the HIV/AIDS epidemic taking on patients when others wouldn’t.  When anti-retro-viral drugs started saving lives, she celebrated telling me, “We are fucking curing AIDS!”

Joanna, deeply moved by the growing death toll of the early AIDS epidemic went on to a new mission in HIV/AIDS education.  Violating copy right law, systematically pulled scientific and medical papers from behind paywalls and placed them on first a BBS then later a website, to disseminate lifesaving information on HIV/AIDS, work that she continues to this day.

Had the DOD not changed their policy so as to boot Joanna and Joy, both the transgender/transsexual and gay communities would have lost the services of some of our greatest champions and heroes.  Some good has come out of evil bigotry.

So, back to today’s announcement.  How many transsexuals, you know, the ones that actually “change sex” and need medical intervention are there in the U.S. armed services?  Forget those silly numbers that have been thrown around.  Using proper statistics of how many transfolk have actually transitioned in the U.S., the total is only 90,000 out of close to 300 million residents; with only 2 million Americans in uniform, that means only 600 transsexuals.  That’s it.  600.  Wow, that’s going to cost… far less than they already spend on little blue pills for men who can’t get it up.  And the DOD knows it.

For a short while, we thought that just maybe, this ban would be lifted completely… as the DOD was allowing transfolk to continue to serve with honor for the past two years.  But now that looks to have been false hope.

Given the ongoing story about this ban, it is important that this history be known.  Please share it widely.  (Note to media:  Please do quote from this material as desired.)

Further Reading:

Wikipedia Page on Joanna M. Clark

Essay on the true number of transitioned transfolk in the U.S.

Scientific American: Cost of Medical Care for Transgender Service Members Would Be Minimal, Studies Show.


Fun Reading:

 

All the Stars are Suns ebook completeSincerity Espinoza didn’t go looking for trouble, it found her. All she wants out of life is the chance to go to the stars but she is caught in a web of misunderstandings, political & legal maneuvering, and the growing threat of terrorist plots by religious fanatics. She has a secret that if found out too soon could mean not only her own death but the ruin of the hope for humanity ever going to the stars. But even amidst momentous events, life is still about the small moments of love, laughter, and sadness.   Available as an ebook at Amazon and Kindle Unlimited.

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