Intersex people and military service in the United States
The regulations regarding the service of intersex people in the United States Armed Forces are vague and inconsistent due to the broad nature of humans with intersex conditions. The United States Armed Forces as a whole does not officially ban intersex people from service but does exclude many based on the form of their status. Policies regarding all intersex people are not addressed formally although depending on the type of sex variation some intersex people are allowed to serve.
When the skeleton of Casimir Pulaski, a famed American Revolutionary War general, was exhumed and studied, several female features were found which led to speculation that Pulaski was likely intersex.
Between 1905 and 1945, the term "hermaphroditism" was used as a general term to refer to several urological conditions which made someone unable to enrol as a cadet at West Point Military Academy. Barring of people with actual "hermaphroditic" diagnosable medical conditions dates back at least as far back as 1951. In 1988 most forms of so called "true hermaphroditism" and "pseudohermaphroditism" excluded a person from serving in the military.
Policies and treatment
People born with non-standard genital anatomy or ambiguous genitalia are largely excluded from military service. This practice is believed to have been first introduced in 1961, alongside a ban on transvestites. According to a 2007 report from the Michael D. Palm Center, there is a long list of disqualifying genital differences that are used to bar individuals from service. For example, having one undescended testicle can make a man ineligible for service.
Enclosure 4 of "Induction in the Military Services; dated April 10, 2010" instruction, entitled "Medical Standards For Appointment, Enlistment, Or Induction", is the one that identifies the preclusion of some intersex people from serving in the military.
- Paragraph 14. (Female Genitalia), subparagraph e.:
- Paragraph 15. (Male Genitalia), subparagraph l.:
According to The Crimson, the military's policy on genital differences is explicitly discriminatory. Despite the steady increase of other previously excluded members into the military since the repeal of "Don't ask, don't tell", there has not been much change with respect to the status of intersex people. Military medical policies still prevent intersex people from serving uncloseted. However, the military does provide some surgeries for intersex people which they deem 'medically necessary' as opposed to 'cosmetic'. The Veterans Health Administration does distinguish between surgeries for transgender individuals and intersex persons. In 2015, this allowed intersex persons to receive medically necessary treatment that was still prohibited for transgender people. This was because of the belief that intersex surgery caused "fewer practical concerns". However, a history of genital surgery prior to service is considered an acceptable reason to discharge a service member. The acceptance of transgender individuals in 2016 by the Armed Forces did not touch on intersex people and they are still subject to specific reviews before enlistment, as noted before.
The updated version of DoDI 6130.03's genital guidelines are as follows:
- Female Genitalia:
- History of major abnormalities or defects of the genitalia, such as hermaphroditism, pseudohermaphroditism, or pure gonadal dysgenesis.
- Male Genitalia:
- History of major abnormalities or defects of the genitalia such as hermaphroditism, pseudohermaphroditism, or pure gonadal dysgenesis.
The subsequent attempt at banning transgender troops by President Donald Trump in 2017 also did not touch on the state of intersex personnel, and it was unclear if the ban would have any intentional or unintentional effects on them.
Intersex activist and Navy veteran Dana Zzyym has expressed that their family's military background made it out of the question for them to be associated with the queer community as a youth due to the prevalence of homophobia in the armed forces. Their parents hid Zzyym's status as intersex from them and Zzyym discovered their identity and the surgeries their parents had approved for them by themselves after their Navy service. Zzyym is the first veteran to be issued a gender-neutral passport.
In 2010, Republican representative Duncan D. Hunter implied that intersex people were always banned from service. However, this claim was contradicted by a veteran who stated that they were allowed to serve openly and be deployed to Desert Storm as an intersex woman. Activist Autumn Sandeen also refuted Hunter's claims in a statement on her blog. In contrast, another response to Hunter was from Choire Sicha of The Awl who stated that "intersex people aren’t welcome to serve, but no one’s quite sure how and why", but did not elaborate on if they believed this referred to all conditions or just visible ones. Along with trans and non-heterosexual people, Hunter includes intersex people on his list of queer groups which he believes to be unfit for service because he holds the belief that they would disrupt unit cohesion. At the time when speaking about the subject he referred to intersex people by the term "hermaphrodites", which drew criticism from several intersex advocates and allies since it is a medically inaccurate term for a human being and is seen as a slur in the 20th century. His comments were also mocked on the NPR comedy news show Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! which joked about his opinion on the subject, claiming that including intersex people would be advantageous to the military, since they could "pursue enemies into both men’s and women’s restrooms". This joke was poorly received by some, including writers of ShadowProof, who stated that it was both insulting to intersex people and a play on the negative stereotype of trans people as potential bathroom sexual predators, and Queerty. Hunter's comments were also ridiculed by the cast of the FOX News show Red Eye who felt that his comments were merely about his dislike of homosexuals and not really about how intersex people would affect the military. They stated that since there are so few intersex people the question was not very relevant to the subject of "Don't ask, don't tell" which they felt was what Hunter was trying to imply. The cast of The Tony Kornheiser Show dismissed Hunter's concerns as well, expressing too that the number of intersex people that exist who want to join the military could not be enough to disrupt any operations.
In 2007, the Palm Center released a report concluding that most of the military's beliefs about intersex people were myths and that neither intersex nor transgender peoples' medical problems posed any barrier to effective service. The study also argues that the rigidity of sexual difference, gender roles, and sexuality are "becoming increasingly less absolute," which could raise questions regarding the admission, retention, training, housing, and other services of intersex individuals in the armed forces. Publications by the United States National Center for Biotechnology Information recommends that intersex individuals be allowed to serve in the armed forces, but not combat units.
Intersex veterans are entitled to "medically necessary" surgeries. When transgender people were banned from receiving sex reassignment surgery, intersex people were also banned from these surgeries. This meant that someone who was in the military presenting as male in their records could not transition to a female identity with help from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, even if they were always predominantly female in all but writing.
United States Air Force
Many U.S. Air Force recruiters think that intersex people should be disqualified from service due to "the expected increased demand for medical treatments" but intersex persons are still allowed to serve in the Civil Air Patrol.
United States Army
In the U.S. Army, the official policy is that individuals who identify as intersex or have other sex-related disorders are medically problematic and/or psychologically disturbed; hence, they are not eligible to serve.
United States Coast Guard
United States Marine Corps
The Reserve Officers' Training Corps is obliged to follow the guidelines set by the military and has rejected intersex youth because of this. This, along with their exclusion of transgender people, has led to criticism from and of schools such as Harvard which did not allow the ROTC until "Don't ask, don't tell" was repealed in 2010, but welcomed them afterwards. The critics argue that the return of the ROTC to campus violates the school's non-discrimination clause.
- Intersex rights in the United States
- Transgender people and military service
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