© 2022 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

The struggle of transgender soldiers in the military

Ways To Subscribe
Side by side photos of Lt. Col. Bree Fram in dress Air Force uniform before and after coming out as transgender.
Bree Fram Flickr
Lieutenant Colonel Bree Fram is currently the highest ranking out transgender officer in the Department of Defense.

A collection of essays highlights the personal experiences of transgender people in the U.S. armed forces.

In his first month in office, President Joe Biden issued an executive order stating that "All Americans who are qualified to serve in the Armed Forces of the United States should be able to serve."

His decision reversed the order of President Trump who banned all transgender individuals from military service.

Trans personnel have been through a series of ups and downs in their struggle to serve as their authentic selves.

From being totally banned throughout U.S. military history to acceptance under the Obama administration in 2016 to Trump's tweets a year later reversing that policy and now with no barriers to serving, the transgender community has been through highs and lows.

Lt. Col. Bree Fram of the U.S. Space Force says that after all that ". . . to get back to this point where again transgender people can reach their full potential in the service and be their best selves which enables them to be their best self at the mission was really important here in 2021."

For Army veteran and sociologist Máel Embser-Herbert, the quick change from being able to openly serve to being banned left them wondering. "I just couldn't imagine what it was that people were doing. How were you navigating this terrain of uncertainty, not knowing if your career was just going to be completely done and so, that set me up to want to know more."

Embser-Herbert's questions are just some of what is addressed in a book they edited with Lt. Col. Bree, "Honor and Integrity: Transgender Troops in their Own Words." The 26 essays within were written by current service members and veterans.

Revealed in several of the essays is that for some transgender persons the military was a refuge from families that did not understand them.

That can be compounded by living in small towns and for the transgender who join the military "it's an opportunity to kind of remake themselves," observes Embser-Herbert.

Having served in the Army and the reserves from the late 70s through 2000, Embser-Herbert thinks the military actually is a place for social experiments.

"You're dealing with a bureaucracy, with a chain of command, with people who are surrounded by folks different from themselves," concluding that transgender soldiers can "have, if not a positive response, at least a neutral one."

The stories told in "Honor and Integrity" range from the painful to the joyous to the humorous. As Fram points out the essays "span the scope of transgender experiences in the military, show there's no one way to be trans in the military."

Stay Connected
When I host Up To Date each morning at 9 a.m., my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. My email is steve@kcur.org.
Elizabeth Ruiz is a freelance producer for KCUR’s Up To Date. Contact her at elizabeth@kcur.org or on Twitter at @er_bentley_ruiz
Reginald David is an assistant producer with Up To Date. You can reach him at reginalddavid@kcur.org.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and powerful storytelling.
Your donation helps make nonprofit journalism available for everyone.