In July, Trump announced (well, tweeted) that “the United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the US Military,” citing something clearly baseless about “overwhelming medical costs.” At the time, his announcement was made without the coordination or apparently even the knowledge of the Pentagon; the defense department scrambled to figure out what the President’s plan even meant, let alone whether they could or would execute it.
Today, in the midst of some of the most intense and bipartisan criticism he and his administration have received since the inauguration — after two weeks in which the President has defended violent white supremacists, went on an hours-long unhinged tirade as police tear-gassed protesters outside, and parted ways with his Rasputin-esque white nationalist chief strategist — it was announced that the administration has apparently made it a priority to work with the Pentagon on putting Trump’s plan into action. An official directive was signed by Trump that prohibits transgender people from joining the military, and additionally gives Defense Secretary Mattis a great deal of latitude in terms of deciding the fate of transgender people already enlisted. The directive also apparently cuts off funding coverage for gender confirmation surgery for enlisted troops, except (allegedly) for those cases already in progress. It’s not clear at this juncture what this means for coverage of other transition-related healthcare, or if Trump and writers of the directive are aware of other transition-related care at all.
Within these proposed parameters, what reality will look like for currently enlisted transgender people is extraordinarily unclear. The directive allows for a six-month implementation period; what the end point of that “implementation” will look like is extremely murky, with spokespeople for the administration “unable to answer questions about whether the estimated thousands of transgender service members currently serving would be allowed to remain in the military.” This enormous uncertainty leaves the lives of thousands of people in unbearable flux in terms of their employment, their housing and education, their physical safety in a fraught and fractured political and work environment, and what any possible future might look like.
In July, when this plan was originally floated, Politico speculated that the decisions about trans troops were being made as part of a long-term bargaining session within the Republican party about money:
House Republicans were planning to pass a spending bill stacked with his campaign promises, including money to build his border wall with Mexico. But an internal House Republican fight over transgender troops was threatening to blow up the bill. And House GOP insiders feared they might not have the votes to pass the legislation because defense hawks wanted a ban on Pentagon-funded sex reassignment operations — something GOP leaders wouldn’t give them.
Trump’s plan (or lack thereof) to fund his xenophobic fever dream of a border wall has been one of the many scandals on his plate this week — he has recently alternately offered to fund it via a government shutdown, solar panels, or gutting other government agencies — so that may explain the timeline for this decision. It’s also possible, as it always is with this administration, that they’re totally unrelated and there is no real plan behind the scenes or going forward other than being violent to trans people. The consistency of that inconsistency is of course no comfort to the people whose present and future have been irrevocably impacted by this absurd and vindictive decision; we don’t know precisely what the implementation of this memo will look like, but we can surmise that, like everything else this administration has done, it will be deeply harmful to trans people. As always, the voices and experiences of those most directly impacted should be centered today and in the future; you could start by reading these responses of trans people who have experience with the US military on the ban.