Comment: Transgender soldiers shouldn’t rush to serve on the front line

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Gay former soldier James Wharton writes for PinkNews after the UK’s Chief of Defence Personnel confirmed transgender soldiers might be able to serve on the frontline.

Trans people serving on the front line is all well and good on paper but trust me; you do not want to be the first to do it.

Rightly, and long overdue, trans equality is finally making real ground in the UK.

Gay men like me often are complacent about the state of our own equality; we have certainly come far in the first two decades of this new century. I whole heartedly commend trans equality – all equality – to be as far reaching as possible and not just within our own pleasant land of the united kingdom but beyond, too.

However, last week a new discussion presented itself, initiated by Lieutenant General Andrew Gregory.

The Chief of Defence Personnel told PinkNews that he would see no real issue with a trans person serving fully in a front line regiment within the British Army, a regiment in the infantry or royal armoured corps, like the one I served in for ten years.

These organisations have for centuries been male only environments – something I think is outdated – however, that remains a fact that needs to be considered. I know from my own experience that the culture within these units is not that of a culture which will be able to adapt overnight to a trans person being allowed to serve within their ranks.

I feel emphatically that in theory, trans people should be allowed to do everything non-trans people are able to do, but in reality, practically, I would strongly advise any trans person from placing themselves in the middle of any infantry or royal armoured corps regiment within our army right now.

Lesbian and gay people are 15 years down the line from decriminalisation within the military, the army is 95% of the way there with regards to acceptance and integration.

Indeed, soldiers like me have been able to serve with authenticity particularly during the last five or so years, and without fear. But it wasn’t always like this, and indeed, there are still well publicised cases of embedded, deep cultural homophobia within the organisation.

When that incredibly brave first trans women joins the men of her infantry regiment – say the Parachute Regiment – she will be putting herself into the lion’s den, and I cannot pretend to believe otherwise. In fact, I think the army would be putting someone’s life in danger by doing so.

And what does that lead to?

Two things: First and foremost, it will be a horrific experience for the individual concerned. I have some inclination of being different in a group of a few hundred soldiers, it’s quite terrifying sometimes.

I was beaten so badly one night when I was 18 I was hospitalised and my attacker court martialed – because I was gay; but secondly, in light of this first outcome, operational effectiveness within that unit will be reduced. If a soldier is being harassed in any way by fellow soldiers, the unit stops being an effective fighting machine.

The army is not as powerful. This must never be allowed to happen under any circumstance.

I have watched on social media the comments, the remarks, in some cases outright discrimination and in other cases well thought out opinions on the matter from soldiers currently serving; I have to say it made very bleak reading.

Society is ready for trans people to serve on the front line, to drive tanks, to even stand guard on the forecourt of Buckingham Palace. The men of the front line fighting units in question – the best in the world it should be added – are simply not.

And no Lieutenant General, however well respected he may be, will change that by making a comment that I felt was a little eager. Yes the science behind his statement backs up his sentiments; what he hasn’t accounted for is the response from those men already serving in frontline units. Science aside, this is where the most difficult challenge will lie for any trans soldier entering the infantry.

I’m not against a trans women serving in the Parachute Regiment or any other front line unit; I’m just want her to be acutely aware of the boots she is stepping into; the environment she will be immersing herself in and the comrades she will be leaning on for ultimate support.

The work to change that environment, an environment which should absolutely be allowing women, whether they are trans or not to serve within it, needs to be started now and seen through with close attention. It would be cruel to make a decision overnight on this, and I believe, it would end tragically.

James Wharton is a columnist for Winq Magazine and author of Out in the Army.

As with all comment, this does not necessarily reflect the views of PinkNews.