(CN) – Biologically male U.S. veterans were twice as likely as their civilian counterparts to identify as female, a former military psychologist told Courthouse News, discussing a soon-to-be-published study of more than 5 million service members.
No information has been released indicating whether the subjects of the study sought sex-reassignment surgery, or more generally disassociate with the sex of their birth.
The study by psychologist George Brown follows up on his 1988 paper, “Transsexuals in the Military: Flight Into Hypermasculinity,” which relied on interviews with 11 service members who identify as male-to-female transgender, meaning that they were born as biological males but identify as female. Many prefer the umbrella term transgender over the more narrow descriptor transsexual, which usually implies surgical alteration.
“A striking similarity was noted in the histories of nearly all of the military gender dysphorics,” the 1988 study states. “They joined the service, in their words, ‘to become a real man.'”
“Flight into Hypermasculinity” speculated that enlistment statistics could bear out the theory that male-to-female transsexuals might enlist as a way of “purging the feminine self.”
“Current military policies, in association with the proposed hypermasculine phase of transsexual development, may actually result in a higher prevalence of transsexualism in the military than in the civilian population,” the 1988 study theorized.
Brown, a veteran himself with 12 years of service in the U.S. Air Force and 13 years in the Department of Veterans Affairs, now says that his new research backs his 24-year-old hypothesis.
“I have data from a study I did in VA that demonstrates a prevalence double that in the nonmilitary population,” Brown told Courthouse News in an email. “It is unpublished data, pending presentation in San Francisco in the fall. It totally supports my 1988 work. The denominator in the study is over 5 million veterans. So, I am now confident that my early theory was correct.”
Brown, who has 118 scientific papers and abstracts under his belt, added that professional ethics prevent him from describing the study’s data in further detail before its public presentation.
In his 1988 research, Brown cited figures from Laura Giat Roberto in the Archives of Sexual Behavior that said transsexualism among males has an incidence between 1 and 37,000 and 1 and 100,000.
Twenty years later, the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Gender Identity and Gender Variance relied on statistics that said 1 in 11,900 male-to-female transsexuals experienced gender identity disorder. It noted that transgender activists in the research community, such as University of Michigan professor Lynn Conway, say the numbers are underreported.
It is unclear at this juncture where Brown compiled his latest data.
Brown currently sits on the board of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), which publishes the Standards of Care for Gender Identity Disorders recommended by the American Psychological Association.
Aaron Belkin, the director of the Palm Center, a research institute studying sexual minorities in the military at the University of California Los Angeles, said in a phone interview that he believed Brown’s new study could make transgender soldiers more visible to the public.
“People who oppose transgender rights and LGBT rights more broadly would have you believe that there’s no such thing as transgender troops,” Belkin said, using the abbreviation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.
The first line of Belkin’s new book, “Bring Me Men: Military Masculinity and the Benign Facade of American Empire 1898-2011,” cites the “Flight Into Hypermasculinity” thesis.
Belkin said that he was struck in particular by the fact that Brown’s “path-breaking” study revealed that transgender soldiers often volunteer for the most dangerous missions.
“Warrior identity and military masculinity are so revered in this society that people will do whatever it takes, including dying, for people to prove that they are ‘real men,'” he said. “The fact that many [male-to-female] transgender individuals join the military to prove that they are ‘real men’ is a sad testament to the culture’s idealization of warrior masculinity.”
Belkin advocates for the military to repeal its ban on transgender enlistment, based on principle, not numbers.
“Transgender troops should be allowed to serve because that’s what’s good for the military, and that’s what’s democratic, not because they join at higher or lower rates,” Belkin said.
Eileen Lainez, a spokeswoman at the Pentagon, declined to comment on the findings of the unreleased study or speculate about how it could affect military policy.
Instead, she stated the Department of Defense’s position on transgender service members.
“DoD regulations don’t allow transgender individuals to serve in the military, based upon medical standards for military service,” Lainez told Courthouse News an email.
Traditionally, the military has justified the medical standards barring sex changes on the basis of maintaining discipline and morale.
As quoted in “Flight into Hypermasculinity,” however, the judge advocate general for the U.S. Air Force has long questioned that rationale.
“The short of the matter seems to be that if we propose to base the policy of discharging members who undergo sex change operations on promotion of good order, discipline, morale, or other similar virtues, we must prepare for a challenge on the ground that there is no empirical evidence that transsexuals have an adverse impact on those values,” the JAG found in 1984, according to Brown’s study.
Meanwhile, scientists outside the United States are studying how transgender individuals have acclimated to militaries that no longer ban sexual and gender minorities, such as armed forces in Canada, Israel, Spain and Thailand.
Alan Okros, a retired Navy captain and professor at Canadian Forces College, told Courthouse News that his country lifted its ban exactly two decades ago.
A Canadian court struck down all military barriers against sexual and gender minorities in 1992 when challenged by intelligence officer Michelle Douglas, who was fired from the Special Investigations Unit for being a lesbian.
Okros said that Canadian society quickly adapted to the change.
“It was at the time and it continues to be a complete nonissue,” Okros said. “We have openly gay members of the CF [Canadian Forces]. They’re very open about their identity. They’re open about their partners.”
But cultural taboos still make it difficult to prove this integration through empirical studies, the psychologist said.
“Members of the Canadian Forces want to be judged by one criterion only: Can you do the job?” Okros said.
Asking a Canadian soldier about sexual and gender identity in such an environment would be “perceived as unnecessary and intrusive research,” he explained.
“Don’t put a 1,000-watt spotlight on this part of my identity,” Okros said, describing this mindset. “Being gay, or being aboriginal, that doesn’t define me. That is an important part of who I am, but understand me as a whole person.”
Such cultural attitudes prevent the Canadian military from helping locate interview subjects for Okros’ study, narrowing his pool of willing participants to just three male-to-female transgender CF service members, he said.
Okros also lent his expertise to help shape U.S. military policy, having testified as to the unconstitutionality of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, in the Northern District of California.
At the time, Okros said, he argued that the policy cut off gay soldiers from sharing their combat experiences with family, friends and other support networks, posing mental health risks for post-traumatic stress disorder.
U.S. policies barring transgender service members could pose similar health risks, he added.
Defense attorneys for Bradley Manning, the suspected source for the biggest intelligence leak in U.S. history, have argued that policies barring transgender troops took a toll on their client’s mental health.
At the Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a grand jury, an army investigator said she found a copy of “Flight into Hypermasculinity” in Manning’s housing unit.
Manning also read about female facial reconstructive surgery and explored a female persona, “Breanna,” on the Internet, evidence from the hearing showed.
Defense attorneys say that the military’s isolating policies led Manning to attack a superior officer and destroy military property.
Despite this line of argument, Manning’s lawyers frame his alleged decision to disclose classified information as a matter of conscience, in informing the public about U.S. diplomacy and warfare through WikiLeaks.
For now, Manning reportedly told his lawyers and the public to refer to him as male.
Okros, the Canadian professor, said that “good ole American exceptionalism” stands in the way of the U.S. military heeding the examples of foreign nations that allow transgender enlistment.
While the U.S. military has unique challenges and missions, the behavior of smaller groups, such as individual units and platoons, remains constant throughout the globe, he added.
“Small group dynamics are small group dynamics are small group dynamics,” Okros said. “The size, the purpose, and the role of the U.S. military are irrelevant.”