Transgender people in the military: Are you a man or a woman?
Most people never consider that question. As a transgender woman I've been asked that question and I have answered it many times realizing that those who ask the question seldom understand what they are asking. I'm re-visit the question once again in light of our president's order to ban transgender people from serving in the military.
As a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2014, it was reported that I was the first openly transgender woman to run for that office. It's a shallow title since these "firsts" often do little to change the social narrative. Our first black president did little to change the social narrative around racism during eight years in office, and 2016 confirmed a profound suspicion that the first woman president might do little to change the social narrative around gender equity.
Strangely, it did give me new insights about what it means to be transgender. I've accepted myself as a female my entire life though society gave me little affirmation. The first female born male to run for the U.S. House of representatives was Karen Ann Kerin, who ran against Bernie Sanders in 2000 as a Republican. She was born Charles Kerin. Following a bout with cancer that left her without male organs, she chose to live her life as a woman. She never identified as transgender and some would argue that she was not, claiming transgender is a cognitive manifestation of gender. That point may be arguable but Karen will be remembered as a pretty amazing woman.
Industrialization and technology are male spaces and war is the ultimate manifestation, gradually surpassing football as our national obsession. Men have fought hard and continue to fight hard to exclude women from these spaces. Politics sustains these obsessions and women have been summarily excluded from political power as well.
A woman's place is in the home; a notion that has trivialized the role of women in society for more than a century, perhaps since the dawn of property rights. Female spaces are the foundations of society, family, childcare, education, health care, and social organizing. However, in the academia of social engineering men still dominate the colleges and universities and think tanks.
We have created a narrative of gender conflict where women fight for economic and social status by gaining entry to male spaces in a society that continues to devalue nurses, teachers and social workers, highly skilled and demanding professions that offer little social mobility. We sexualize women, but deny them the right to fairly negotiate; rather, dominating them through false narratives about a protected class. Those protections would generally be unnecessary if women had true equality in American society.
Transgender people completely undermine these social narratives. Not only can a woman do a man's job, but perhaps that woman might actually be a man. A man might be disguising a female agenda; what then? Women fight for the right to exist in male spaces, but few men really pursue women's roles. There's little doubt it's related to the low economic value of women's roles, but having lived experience in both genders, it is clear to me that there are significant differences between being male and being female.
Socialization can not create or dissolve those genetic differences. Without those differences I would never have known I'm a woman. The difference is far less than we are led to believe in a society that manipulates class stratification in the pursuit of wealth and power. Transgender people are the exception that proves the rule.
Of course transgender people should serve in the military. We must change the social narrative around gender equity, not by pressuring women into male spaces, but rather by valuing what women do. We need to shift the narrative of militarism towards cultural evolution. It's the only way we will make America great again.
Paula Overby is a political activist and author of the soon-to-be-released book "The Transgender Myth: A Personal Story of Gender Equity and Transgender Identity."