'I try to remain androgynous': Transgender troops in limbo as Pentagon debates policy
By Andrew Tilghman
First Chief Warrant Officer 2
Lindsey Muller spent most of her 16-year Army career in the Army as a man named Ryan. ABut about two years ago, the AH-64 Apache Longbow pilot changed her name, started taking female hormones and underwent going what the 34-year-old describes as "female puberty."
The biggest step in her transition came in 2014, when she confronted her chain of command, her battalion and brigade commanders, with the fact she is a transgender soldier who, under current Pentagon rules, has a "psychosexual condition" that warrants medical separation. "When I walked into their offices I had the current policy in my hand," Muller, a chief warrant officer 2, told Military Times. "I said ‘Hey, based on this regulation, I’m deemed unfit to serve. It was almost throwing myself at my commander’s mercy." she recalled.
The commanders' response was unexpected. "I was encouraged to stay and continue my career," she said.
Today Muller, who works as is a helicopter pilot instructor at Fort Rucker in Alabama, is and one of at least 77 service members across the active-duty military who have notified their chains of command about their intent to change their gender. Those troops — and potentially thousands of others — are eagerly awaiting a new Pentagon policy to clarify their status in the military and outline how a transgender service member might undergo a personal transition while conforming to military regulations.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter last year formed a "working group" to hammer out the details of a new policy, which he said would be unveiled officially by this spring. Yet so far that has not happened and the issue has stalled amid high-level disagreement over the details, according to officials familiar with the Pentagon’s internal debate.
Many key questions remain unresolved. Allowing a service member to officially transition from one gender to another means wearing a new uniforms, adhering to new grooming rules and aligning with the new physical fitness standards that are linked to promotions. Who will decide when that transition is officially recognized? A commander? Health care professionals? The Pentagon bureaucracy’s personnel office? Individual service members?
In addition the issue raises a host of medical issues. Will the military health care system pay for hormone therapy or sex- gender reassignment procedures? How much leave time will that warrant? Will any of those procedures impact a service member’s eligibility to deploy, fly or conduct other military missions?
"There has been progress in terms of trying to consider how to move forward and resolve this issue," Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said last week on June 6. "There have been significant conversations within the building on that front."
But The tension surrounding over the issue was highlighted Wednesday, on June 8 at the annual Pentagon "pride" event celebrating lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender employees. Carter, who attended and spoke during at the event last year, was absent, as were all of the military's most senior uniformed military leaders.
The highest ranking official to speak at the event was Navy Secretary Ray Mabus. Newly appointed Army Secretary Eric Fanning, the Defense Department's first openly service secretary, also attended.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, left, laughs with Army Secretary Eric Fanning during a the Pentagon's annual LGBT pride celebration June 8. Fanning is the Defense Department's first openly gay service secretary.
Photo Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images
Studies suggest there are a more than 10,000 transgender service members on in the active duty and in the reserves force. Recalling what she said was a slow, painstaking process to repeal the "Don’t Ask Don’t Tell" laws that prohibited homosexuals from serving openly, Muller said she is unsurprised to see the transgender issue move so slowly.
"I tell you," she added, "the one thing the military has taught me is patience." she said.
She recalls the slow and painstaking process involved in repealing the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" laws that prohibited homosexuals from serving openly.
Regardless of the Pentagon's policy, Muller has in many ways transitioned to being a female. "When I'm greeted at the gate in the morning on base its 'Good morning ma'am,'" she said.
She continues to wear a men's uniform and adhere to male grooming standards. She has applied for an exemption to those rules and permission to present herself publicly as a female, but that request stalled amid high-level uncertainly about the military-wide policy.
"So I don’t push the envelope, she said, "and I try to just remain androgynous." she said.
Muller met Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in 2014.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Lindsey Muller
The order all-but barring separation of transgender service members has created an unusual situations to which many that commanders are uncertain how they should to respond. It’s easy to find videos online of transgender service members talking openly about their personnel experience. Last year, in fact, the White House invited Senior Airman Logan Ireland, a transgender service member, to an event and the Air Force granted special permission for Ireland, genetically officially a woman, to wear male military attire.
But the order all-but barring separation of transgender service members has created an unusual situations to which many that commanders are uncertain how they should to respond. And treatment of transgender troops varies across the services and various commands.
"In my opinion, they kind of put the cart before the horse. You can’t discharge transgender service members. But now the problem is: How do you treat a transgender person? This is very new territory," Muller said. "There really was no guidance on how far you can let a person go in transition." she said.
Muller says she has encountered very few people who have a problem with her transition, and those who do express their concerns based on religion rather than personal animus.
And she's been heartened by the response from her command.
"To be honest, I could not have asked to work for a more professional group of leaders," she said. "When confronted with a difficult and never-before-dealt-with topic, they took into account my performance history and desire to continue serving, and I was encouraged to stay. Since then I have served openly as a transgender soldier rather seamlessly and with little to absolutely no conflict."
About Andrew Tilghman
Andrew Tilghman is the executive editor for Military Times. He is a former Military Times Pentagon reporter and served as a Middle East correspondent for the Stars and Stripes. Before covering the military, he worked as a reporter for the Houston Chronicle in Texas, the Albany Times Union in New York and The Associated Press in Milwaukee.