U.S. Military Releases Transgender Handbook

The manual explains the transition process for service members who want to change their gender marker

Military transgender handbook — Illustration: R. A. Di Ieso
Oct 06, 2016 at 11:23 AM ET

Three months after Defense Secretary Ashton Carter lifted the ban on transgender people serving in the military, the Pentagon has published a handbook for transgender service, shedding light on how the military is expected to handle transgender issues.

The guide, released September 30, opens with a memorandum from Acting Under Secretary of Defense Peter Levine, stating: “This handbook will assists our transgender Service members in their gender transition, help commanders with their duties and responsibilities, and help all Service members.”

With this document, the military shows its commitment to helping transgender people feel more comfortable serving. “We’re pleased that the Pentagon is moving forward with implementation of open transgender service,” David Stacy, government affairs director of Human Rights Campaign, told Vocativ. “Their handbook provides helpful and important guidance to transgender service members, commanders, and other personnel, and it moves the U.S. military closer to ensuring every qualified American can serve openly and honestly.”

The 71-page manual begins with an introduction to the new transgender policy, a list of necessary definitions (such as cross-sex hormone therapy, gender dysphoria, and gender marker), and a brief explainer on the basics of the transition process.

The majority of the book is divided into three sections addressing transgender service members, commanders, and all service members.

For transgender service members, the book explains how they can transition while in service. First a military medical provider (MMP) must deem the procedure “medically necessary,” then the transgender service member works with the doctor and commander to create a transition plan with a timeline and a date for a change of gender marker in the military’s system. Next, the service member must obtain a MMP’s confirmation of transition completion and a government document showing their preferred gender marker. Finally, the service member must obtain written approval from the commander.

The guide encourages service members to communicate openly with their colleagues about the transition process and find a mentor who can help with matters like “correct wear of your preferred gender uniform and related grooming issues.” It also provides tips from service members who have already transitioned, like: “The hormones you may [take] to change will have a varied and perhaps profound effect on not only your physical body, but more importantly your emotional stability. Try not to allow this to cloud or affect your judgement.”

The portion of the guide aimed at commanders walks them through their role in the process of helping a service member transition. It informs commanders there are no separate standards for transgender troops, and, if a transgender service member is concerned about their privacy, commanders can make “reasonable accommodations” such as installing shower curtains.

As for other service members who might interact with transgender colleagues, the handbook reminds them the “cornerstone of DoD values is treating every Service member with dignity and respect.”

This final section shows that the Department of Defense is also concerned about transgender service members who have not decided if they want to transition, as it informs troops, “In an environment that permits inappropriate jokes and behavior, transgender Service members who have not disclosed their status may be unlikely to seek the care they need.”