OVIEDO, Fla. — Christine Downs enlisted in the U.S. military three years ago, but she was forced to withdraw after injuring her knees. Today, Downs is ready to try again — as a transgender man named Logan.
This summer, the Pentagon announced that transgender men and women will be allowed to serve openly in the military. Downs, 21, knew the policy had been under review, but he was amazed nevertheless to learn in June that Defense Secretary Ash Carter lifted the ban.
"It was exciting hearing the ban had been lifted, not just for me but for current service members and the countless transgender people who want to enlist in the future," Downs told Military Times. "There are so many people who've wanted to serve but could not previously because they were barred just because they are a transgender individual."
Downs hasn't spoken to a recruiter yet, but that's because the Army isn't fully prepared to work with transgender recruits. The Pentagon's new policy will be implemented in phases over the next year, said Eric Pahon, a Defense Department spokesman. Officials intend to begin by addressing needs among troops who already are serving and their commanders, he said. Forcewide training comes next.
The services must be ready to admit transgender recruits no later than July 1, Pahon said, "holding them to the same physical and mental fitness standards as everyone else who wants to join the military." Transgender men and women who want to join the Army, specifically, are encouraged to speak with recruiters and familiarize themselves with the services fitness standards and career paths, said Paul Prince, an Army spokesman.
Downs intends to do that by next year, he said.
Here in Oviedo, located on the outskirts of Orlando, it is oppressively humid. Summer temperatures routinely reach the 90s.
Downs finds some shade and drops into a squat, winded from having sprinted 50 yards for the fourth time as part of his workout. To prepare for his enlistment, he exercises daily with a mix of cardio exercise, strength training, and stretching/yoga. Pushups. Pullups. Situps. He's working hard to build the strength and endurance required to not only pass basic training but to excel as a soldier.
'HIS CIVIC DUTY'
Downs was devastated when he had to drop out in 2013, says Samantha Mathias, his fiancée. "There's a part of him," Mathias adds, "that one hundred percent feels it's his civic duty to be a part of the Army."
Scanning some childhood photos, Downs explains that, while growing up, he always felt more comfortable wearing baggy shirts and shorts than he did sporting dresses. He lights up, however, when showing off some keepsakes from high school — namely the white silky sashes he received upon being named to homecoming court two years in a row.
An accompanying photo shows Downs, wearing a pink and white dress and wide smile, holding a bouquet of red roses and locking arms with a member of the football team.
"It was really nice to show that you don't have to be this typical female," Downs recalls of high school. "You can have short hair, wear a dress, everyone think you're still beautiful."
In 2014, Downs realized that he no longer felt comfortable identifying as a woman. That year, he began taking testosterone. Now, he says, "if you looked at me on the street, you would not know I was trans."
He hopes to become a carpentry and masonry specialist. In the Army, they assist combat engineers and are involved in building structures.
"I feel I would excel in this position because I love working with my hands and building things," Downs said. "I want to gain more knowledge about construction, and learning while serving my country sounds like the perfect job for me."
When and if Downs graduates from basic training, he expects to attend follow on training in Mississippi, he said. He's excited and, above all, grateful to have the opportunity.
"I feel," Downs said, "like every able-bodied person in the United States should serve in the military. ... I'm going to do my job, and I'm going to do it as well as I can. I'm going to be just like everyone else."
Luzi is a reporter for the Medill News Service.