“It is my conviction as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces,” wrote President Biden, “that gender identity should not be a bar to military service.”
On Monday, President Biden issued an executive order revoking President Trump’s previous presidential memorandum that excluded some transgender individuals from openly serving in the U.S. military. The order makes it the policy of the United States “to ensure that all transgender individuals who wish to serve in the United States military and can meet the appropriate standards shall be able to do so openly and free from discrimination.”
In 2018, President Trump issued an order requiring all persons who identify as transgender to serve under their biological sex. If they were unwilling or unable to do so, they could be discharged from military service. President Biden seems to think that his new policy is a mere reversion to the 2016 status quo, when President Obama allowed transgender people to serve under certain restrictive conditions. What he fails to understand is that the issue of transgenderism has evolved considerably over the past five years. Biden has adopted a policy that is not only radically incoherent but that will have profound effects on both the military and the American people.
President Biden seems to think that his new policy is a mere reversion to the 2016 status quo, when President Obama allowed transgender people to serve under certain restrictive conditions.
What’s Changed Since 2016
The first clue that Biden thinks he’s merely setting back the clock is that he bases his decision on a limited study produced in 2016. In his order, Biden says a “meticulous, comprehensive study requested by the Department of Defense found that enabling transgender individuals to serve openly in the United States military would have only a minimal impact on military readiness and healthcare costs.”
He referred to a study conducted by the Rand Corporation in 2016 to answer questions about allowing transgender individuals to serve openly. “Potential changes to this policy raised questions regarding access to gender transition–related health care, the range of transition-related treatments that DoD will need to provide, the potential costs associated with these treatments, and the impact of these health care needs on force readiness and the deployability of transgender service members,” the 112-page study said.
The conclusions of the Rand report, which were suspect even back in 2016, have been overtaken by a number of realities that are impossible to ignore in 2021.
For example, Rand calculates a midrange estimate of around 2,450 transgender personnel in the active component of the military, of approximately 1.3 million active-component service members. Based on this estimate, only about 0.1 percent of the military would identify as transgender, slightly lower than estimated 0.6 percent of U.S. adults who do so.
The report does not take into account the recent explosion in transgender identification. Recent estimates calculate that nearly 3 percent of teens now identify a transgender or gender-nonconforming. This means there are almost as many transgender teens as there are adult men and women who identify as gay and lesbian. Based on that trend, we could expect the estimated transgender population to increase from 2,450 to more than 39,000.
(While I do not think that 3 percent of the teen population is truly transgender—about 99 percent will abandon the identification when they enter adulthood—many LGBT activists do believe the numbers are accurate and so must defend the implications of that estimate being correct.)
That would mean there would be about as many transgender people on active duty as there are men and women in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves. The conclusions of the report change dramatically if we use estimates based on current trends in transgender identification.
Rand also bases its conclusions about military readiness on the analysis of only four countries (Australia, Canada, Israel, and the United Kingdom) that have policies allowing transgender people to serve openly. Those four countries have a combined military personnel of fewer than half a million, and an estimated transgender population within all four militaries of less than 1,000.
Rand’s conclusion that allowing transgender personnel to serve openly having a minimal effect on readiness is based heavily on transgenderism being an extremely rare issue that is defined by medical transition. Throughout the Rand study the assumption is made that military standards will be based on post-medical transitioning.
Transgender transitioning refers to two broad forms of expressing one’s gender identity, social and medical. What constitutes transitioning can vary from individual to individual, but social transition usually refers to changes such as using different pronouns, legally changing one’s name, or dressing in a way that matches one’s preferred gender identity. Medical transition can also mean making changes to one’s body, such as hormone therapy, breast reconstruction surgery, hysterectomy, and orchiectomy (removal of testicals).
Transgenderism is Not About Medical Transitioning
That same assumption about medical transitioning also served as the basis for President Obama’s policy. In 2016, the Department of Defense issued a new policy that would allow people who identified as transgender to serve under certain conditions. Before 2016, anyone who identified as transgender was generally deemed to be disqualified from military service. The 2016 policy allowed transgender individuals with no diagnosis or history of gender dysphoria to serve in their biological sex and allowed those who had been diagnosed with gender dysphoria to serve after completing medical transition, as determined by a military physician.
In 2016, LGBT activists kept quiet about their opposition so that Obama could make a radical change in military policy. But even then it was known that not all transgender people desire or intend to transition medically. According to German Lopez, the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey found only 61 percent of trans and gender-nonconforming respondents reported having medically transitioned, and 33 percent said they had surgically transitioned. About 14 percent of trans women and 72 percent of trans men—nearly three of four—said they never want full genital construction surgery.
A policy requiring transgender individuals to undergo medical transition before they could even be considered “transgender” would be a violation of President Biden’s stated policy of “LGBTQ inclusion.” For example, he promised the Equality Act would be one of his top priorities upon taking office. The Equality Act would amend several civil rights laws — such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968 — to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Equality Act does not require that medical transition occur before a person can take advantage of “transgender rights.” Indeed, that idea would be considered abhorrent by many transgender activists.
That limitation of transgenderism to those who’ve medically transitioned would also likely be inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia (2020). In that ruling Justice Gorsuch wrote:
A statutory violation occurs if an employer intentionally relies in part on an individual employee’s sex when deciding to discharge the employee. Because discrimination on the basis of homosexuality or transgender status requires an employer to intentionally treat individual employees differently because of their sex, an employer who intentionally penalizes an employee for being homosexual or transgender also violates Title VII. There is no escaping the role intent plays: Just as sex is necessarily a but-for cause when an employer discriminates against homosexual or transgender employees, an employer who discriminates on these grounds inescapably intends to rely on sex in its decision making.
For the military to say transgender women (biological males) must meet the same standards and requirements of other biological males would mean it says transgender women are not really women at all. While this is in line with reality, it is in opposition to the Biden administration and the Democratic Party’s position on “transgender inclusion.”
But if military was to allow transgender women (biological males) to use the same standard as biological women, it would discriminate against biological males who identify with their biological sex. This would also be in violation of the law since it is discrimination based on “sex.”
Biden’s policy would also appear to discriminate against military servicemembers who identify as “non-binary.” As the Human Rights Campaign notes, non-binary is an “adjective describing a person who does not identify exclusively as a man or a woman. Non-binary people may identify as being both a man and a woman, somewhere in between, or as falling completely outside these categories.” Non-binary is a form of gender identity and it would thus be illegal, according to the logic of Justice Gorsuch, to discriminate against a person who sometimes identifies as a man and sometimes as a woman.
Lowered Standards and Other Harms
Needless to say, Biden’s policy will have an undeniable effect on military readiness. There is simply no way that you can have different standards for men and women that are rooted in and based on biology and still have a policy in which gender identity is whatever a person decides to be. At a minimum, all physical standards will have to be reduced to the lowest common denominator.
Already, there has been a lowering of medical standard in the military to accommodate transgenderism.
What happens on a Forward Operating Base if medical supplies are delayed? Or if a soldier is cut off from the base for any length of time? What happens to that soldier’s mental and emotional functioning without the needed hormone injections? If the discomfort with one’s biological sex is so great that one is willing to receive hormone injections to ease it, we can assume that not receiving the injections would be detrimental to one’s well-being and therefore combat effectiveness.
Another disqualifying factor is suicide. Anyone who has attempted suicide is considered medically disqualified and unfit for service. Since 41 percent of people who identify as transgender have attempted suicide (compared to the 4.6 percent of the overall U.S. population who report a lifetime-related suicide), almost half would be disqualified for this reason alone. And as Ryan Anderson notes, people who identify as transgender also suffer a host of mental health and social problems—including anxiety, depression, and substance abuse—at higher rates than the general population.
Many of these same disqualifying factors that endanger military readiness are reasons why Christians need to show extra compassion for transgender individuals. (For more on how we can apply the gospel to this issue, see Andrew T. Walker’s article, “The Christian Response to Gender Dysphoria” and Sam Allberry’s “What Christianity Alone Offers Transgender Persons.”)
However, the harm done to both transgender individuals and to the military by this policy pales in comparison to the harm it will have on women.
For example, embracing gender identity as “sex” eliminates any and all biology-based standards between men and women in employment. When men can identify as women (and employers can’t ask them if they are or assume they don’t identify as a woman), then the standard for proving discrimination against actual biological women is raised impossibly high.
This problem may not erupt immediately. It may take years or even a decade before the inexorable logic of the “gender identity” movement seeps into the cultural conscience and takes effect. People may deny it today, just as many people denied in 1964 that the term “sex” in Title VII (rather than biological sex) would be used to protect men who “identify” as women. But eventually, as we’ve repeatedly seen in the past few years, what seems like impossibilities quickly become inevitable.
Policy Should Be Based on God’s Design
Scripture says, “male and female he created them” (Gen. 5:2). It is this simple, obvious truth that culture is rebelling against and that we need to continuously defend.
“The differences between men and women are rooted in divine design,” Kevin DeYoung says. “This is clear from 1 Timothy 2 and from Genesis 1–2. Complementarianism is not about Paul accommodating to a patriarchal first-century culture, let alone about us accommodating the expectations of our cultures inside or outside the church. God has something to say about manhood and womanhood. And what God has to say is rooted in what he designed.”
This is why complementarianism is not merely about “submission” within the family. It’s also about protecting women from a culture that worships male power and disdains femininity, and that has no qualms about using the LGBTQ movement to codify advantages for biological men into the law. President Biden seems to think he is making a change that will affect less than 1 percent of the population. But the logical implication of saying gender does not exist—except within one’s heart and head—will harm the 51 percent of the population that is biologically female.