Guest Post: Natalie Murray Clarifies Canadian Military Dress Rules Media Coverage
The Canadian Military has released a policy on dress for trans soldiers. Unlike in the US, gays and lesbians have served openly since 1992 and trans people have been able to serve in the military since 1998.
The following guest post is by Natalie Murray, who is an IT technician stationed at CFB Trenton, Ontario. She has been in the Canadian Forces since 1987. She transitioned in 2003.
I am a proud member of the Canadian Forces, with 27 years of service, including 24 years in the regular force. I am also a transsexual woman, one who transitioned in uniform seven years ago, the eighth to ‘officially’ do so. (I’m personally aware, though, of two people who transitioned, then signed the dotted line.)
A few weeks ago, I was asked to do an interview with CBC’s Brent Bambury, for his radio show ‘Day Six’. Brent was asking me about my experiences transitioning in the Canadian Forces, and my thoughts on the prospective repeal of the onerous Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy in the US. The spot appeared on the December 4th show.
Four days later, I awoke to find an article in the National Post newspaper about something completely unrelated to DADT. It seems that the Canadian Forces had recently released a directive containing guidelines for the management of transsexual members. At the bottom of the article was a quote from me, purloined directly from the Day Six interview four days previously. The way the Post outlined the directive, it was made out as a policy that was all about the new dress code for transsexual and transvestite members. They brought in the horrible Scott Taylor, from Esprit de Corps to comment, and he pronounced it as ‘out of touch’, ‘politically correct’ and ‘badly timed’, because it happened to arrive at the same time as a report from the Canadian Forces Ombudsman about veterans. There were other articles as well, a LGBT publication from the UK, a fashion piece and the obligatory right wing christianist piece, all of them about clothing, the supposed ‘new transgender uniforms and dress requirements’, and all of them quoting the National Post article.
So I wrote back to the National Post.
I am the Canadian Forces member quoted in the article. I feel I need to clarify a few things.
First, the Canadian Forces does not accommodate members who crossdress, or transvestites, as you term it. Gender Identity Disorder is a recognized medical condition, hardly a choice, and as such, the CF gives members with GID the proper and appropriate medical treatment indicated by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health. It is treated as any other medical condition for any other member.
I do not believe Scott Taylor of Esprit de Corps is at all qualified to comment on this issue. He is sadly misinformed if he thinks this has to do with only clothing. It’s not being ‘politically correct’. It’s a medical concern, pure and simple. The Canadian Forces is a large organization, and new directives on all manner of subjects are sent out daily. It is quite unfair to suggest that the directive concerning transsexual members arriving at the same time as the report from the Ombudsman about something completely unrelated is somehow there to take away from that important issue. Perhaps, instead of relying on what he might have read on the Internet about transsexual people, especially Canadian Forces members, maybe he should come and talk to some of us before making such pronouncements. By the way, Scott, the term is ‘transgender’, not ‘transgendered’. As well, ‘transsexual’ is an adjective, not a noun. Please do not strip me of my hard-won female identity.
I am proud of my more than 23 years of service to the CF and to Canada. I did not transition ‘recently’ as the article suggests. I started the process in 2003, started living full time in the female role in early 2004 and had my genital reconstruction surgery in Montreal in 2005. I was the eighth member of the Canadian Forces to transition in uniform, although I personally know two people who transitioned well before that and signed the dotted line later on.
Lastly, I recognize the whole ‘soldier first’ meme, of course, but I’m not army. I wear Air Force blue.
They edited it down, of course, but the version they printed still contains most of what I wanted to say. (Aside, I got a few messages sent my way congratulating me on my good work, including one from the office of the Vice Chief of Defence Staff, in Ottawa.)
I clarified further when Lynn Conway posted this article and others on her trans news site: The Military Human Resources Records Procedures – Chapter 34 – Management of CF Transsexual Personnel covers everything related to a military transition. All it says about clothing is that the member will properly wear the uniform of the ‘target gender’, as they put it. The dress regulations themselves haven’t changed by a single word, and no reason or need whatsoever for that to happen. Our dress and deportment is still expected to be of the highest standard, as for every other member.
So what is this new ‘policy’, exactly? Well, for starters, it’s not any sort of policy at all. It’s a set of guidelines, and it’s not all that new. With a few small changes, it’s pretty much what I had to deal with when I transitioned almost eight years ago. For all I know, I may very well have been the one setting all the precedents now included here.
So I’ll go through it and:
The first paragraph spells it all out exactly. “This document has been created to provide the transsexual member, the CO and the URS/Res Unit with some guidelines pertaining to their administration.”
Then it gets into a bit of terminology, acronyms used and touches on the need to maintain the member’s privacy. A transsexual individual should expect the URS/Res Units to be dealt with the utmost privacy and respect. Only sections and individuals are to be informed, the “need to know” basis must be applied, (e.g.: when changing the gender in a system, there is no reason to indicate as to why).
The definition they have for people like us isn’t bad, all things considered. Transsexual. A transsexual is a person who has a psychological need to belong to, or identify with, the opposite sex and to live life as a member of that sex. A transsexual person has changed, or is in the process of changing, his or her physical and/or legal sex to conform to his or her internal sense of gender identity. The term can also be used to describe people who, without undergoing medical treatment, identify and live their lives full-time as a member of the gender different from their assigned sex/gender.
It states the requirement for the transitioning member to write a memorandum stating your intention to transition, starting a paper trail up their Chain of Command, which would serve as the authorization to make the needed administrative changes down the road. More on this later…
Then there’s the all important paragraph about clothing. A transsexual member shall dress consistent with their target gender and shall comply with the same standards of dress and deportment as applied to all other members of that gender. That’s it, that’s all. No mention of trans specific uniforms or special dress regulations for trans members. We are expected to dress to the same high standard as everybody else.
It mentions that medals, awards and honours will not be reissued under a new name, citing no legal authority for rewriting history. Maybe another battle to fight down the road, but not worth the trouble right now.
Then it gets into all the changes of documentation, both during transition and post surgery and/or legal name change.
During transition, things like new uniforms are issued, new ID cards, a temporary green (i.e. for government travel) passport, medical category as required. It specifically states that no alteration of gender or name without the required legal documentation.
This is a little bit different from what I experienced. One of the first things they did for me, without having this policy in place, was to have me declared administratively female on all my military docs, which meant that everything else could now fall into place, which it did. With the requirement for the initial memorandum, it would appear that administrative declaration is a thing of the past, with the requirement for the actual legal documentation of GRS there. I did still require the legal change of name for them to do that, and this hasn’t changed either.
Post surgery and/or legal name change sees the rest of the documentation changed. All the military administrative files, medical and dental files, full passports both blue and green, and advice to the member to ensure documentation at CRA and any other non-DND documentation is properly changed.
That’s really it in a nutshell. It’s not complicated and hardly secretive. So why all those news stories suggested it was all about clothing is beyond me…unless you take the position that they have some sort of axe to grind. Thanks to this experience, I’ve learnt a bit about how the media works, just how fucking lazy they really are, and have a better idea of whom I can trust. I shall be more careful down the line.
Natalie Murray in Trenton