Transmilitary: meet the soldiers the military doesn’t want you to

Picture 244It’s no wonder Chelsea Manning didn’t start transitioning while serving in the army. The institution make have gotten rid of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, but it makes no bones about its exclusion of transgender people. In language that reflects its archaic and out of touch policies, The Department of Defense  lists the following as disqualifications for serving in the military: “history of major abnormalities or defects of the genitalia, such as change of sex [and] hermaphroditism.” and “current or history of psychosexual conditions, including but not limited to transsexualism [and] transvestism.”

This, of course, does not mean there are not transgender people currently serving in the Military. But they serve in silence. Until now. A new documentary web series, Transmilitary, introduces viewers to these forbidden soldiers, who risk their professional lives by coming out as transgender.

The show, which you can like on Facebook, hosted by producer Fiona Dawson, will be accompanied by an hour-long documentary, which will contrast the U.S. military’s policy with that of the policies of the UK, which started accepting trans people in their armed forces in 1999.

The producers, Swift and Tyrus Emory, are in the process of fundraising and will release the entire series this spring. For now, check out the teaser, which offers a glimpse of what the show will present.

Video and transcript below the jump



Fiona Dawson: I’m Fiona Dawson, your host for TransMilitary a new media series sharing the reality of transgender military lives.

Title card: “TransMilitary”

Fiona Dawson: These heroes, heroines, and all in between, face stigma and discrimination simply because, like all military personnel, they want to serve the country they love. In the United Kingdom, transgender people have been able to serve in their armed forces since 1999.  And yet today, in the United States, despite the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, transgender people are still banned from service.

Allyson Robinson: I’m Allyson Robinson, I’m a 1994 graduate of West Point, and I served in the Army in Germany, and the Middle East, and in Korea. I’ve been a part of the fight for full equality in our military for a long time, and I know that the time is now for transgender people to take the lead in the fight for their right to serve.

Fiona Dawson: What is the situation like today for transgender people in the military?

Allyson Robinson: Well it’s actually even worse than Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.  Anyone whose gender presentation doesn’t match up with what the chain of command imagines that it should be, or that colleagues imagine that it should be runs the risk of being interrogated.

Fiona Dawson: Why is this project so important?

Allyson Robinson: Well it’s critically important, Fiona, and it’s critically important right now in this early phase in the fight for transgender service.  In the same way that it was important for Americans to see images and to hear the voices of gay and lesbian service members  early in the fight to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.  Seeing us, hearingour stories–it changes the equation for many people.

Bryce Celotto: My name is Bryce Celotto, I’m a specialist in the Army National Guard, where I serve as a military police soldier. I’ve been enlisted for over 4 years now, and I’m transgender.

Fiona Dawson: What was your earliest memory of being inspired by the military?

Bryce Celotto: Umm, I would say I was probably about eight or nine years old. My grandfather was a Marine and he played a really huge part in raising me and in my childhood. And he was really proud to be a Marine and always talked about his experience in World War II.

Fiona Dawson: So had you considered how you were going to be in the military?

Bryce Celotto: Yes and no. So when I enlisted, it was February 2009 when I enlisted so Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was still around and you actually had to sign a piece of paper when I enlisted saying that you wouldn’t engage in homosexual conduct. I just enlisted because I wanted to serve–9/11 really struck with me, and I wanted to carry on my family name in the military.

Allyson Robinson: I was an army brat and I served in the army myself both as an enlisted soldier and as an officer.  I served in the Middle East, I served in Korea…um…and yet…none of it was as harrowing, as perilous, as wearying as the fight every day to push down, to keep inside…the person that I knew that I was.  That I knew in my heart of hearts that I was and that I knew that I needed to become.  I built a life of lies for myself.  I lied to everyone.  Today I am open and honest with the world about who I am.  The difference between the two is the difference between life and death for me, it’s the difference between living a real life and living a life that’s not really worth living.

Bryce Celotto: Getting discharged would be–it would be hard, it would be rough but, I’ve kinda come to accept that it is a very real possibility.  And because I do choose to live my life very openly, I’ve always known that it was a possibility.

Fiona Dawson: What is it about the military that makes people give up so much to serve?

Bryce Celotto:  I think for a lot of folks, and this is true for me, just being part of something bigger than yourself.  Being part of something that, you know, not many people have been a part of or can’t say they’ve been a part of, and wanting to do something more than go to college and having a typical career.  Or, you know, using the military to go to college, and have a better career. So I really think just the growth opportunities that you have, the opportunities to meet friends that you’ll never loose, you’ll always be brothers and sisters in arms.

Allyson Robinson: No one goes into the military imagining that they’re going to be able to transition.  Nevertheless, each one of those people makes a choice every single day to endure pain and suffering greater than is necessary for no reason other than to be able to protect you, and I, and our society, and the institutions that matter to us.

Fiona Dawson: So why is the time right to do this project right now?

Allyson Robinson: Well the time is perfect to do this project right now.  Number 1: because gay and lesbian people, bisexual people, have been serving openly for some time.  The integration of our armed forces around sexual orientation, if you will, has gone on without a hitch.  It took us twenty years to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.  It’s taken us a decade to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.

Fiona Dawson: What about people who are currently serving?

Allyson Robinson: Well this is, this is, again, it is the critical piece. Because the argument that will be made over and over is that, well, there are no transgender people who are currently serving because transgender people can’t serve.  Well of course the people in the Pentagon, the people at the White House know that there are transgender people serving in the military.  When people can be open and honest about who they are, units come together more effectively and they fight more effectively as teams.  Our military is not as inclusive as it should be, its culture is not as inclusive as it could be, and that makes our force a weaker force.  I’m just patriotic enough to imagine that our military ought to lead the way in inclusion.  It shouldn’t be lagging behind the rest of society, and this is one area, where it is.

Bryce Celotto: I am transgender, and have transgender friends in the military, and we should all be able to serve the country that we love.

Fiona Dawson: (In Times Square) I’m so tempted to ask somebody if they know a transgender person.  Because how many people in Times Square knows someone who is transgender?  We could simply ask that. Do you know someone who is transgender? And then say yes or no and then “do you know what that means?”

Producer: Do you know someone who is gay, lesbian, transgender…

Fiona Dawson: Yeah. What do you think? Hey, can I ask you a question please?

Ricardo: Sure

Fiona Dawson: Are you okay being on camera?

Ricardo: Yes, I am.

Fiona Dawson: You are? Good.  Do you know what LGBT means?

Ricardo: I have no idea.

Fiona Dawson: Okay, it is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender.

Ricardo: Okay

Fiona Dawson: Alright? So every time you hear LGBT that’s what it is…

Ricardo: That’s what it stands for

Fiona Dawson: Do you know anyone who is transgender?

Ricardo: I have….no. (Shakes head)

Allyson Robinson:  I think, showing them the transgender people who are serving with honor today, those who have served with courage and distinction in the past…I think it has the potential not just to change the way they think about transgender military service, but to change the way they think about transgender people.  That could change our whole culture for the better.

Fiona Dawson: (Laughter) Ok, so now let’s talk about transgender people in the military.  Do you think that they should be allowed to serve openly?

Ricardo: I mean to be honest, I think we all should be accepted for who we are and what we can do.  If you can serve to protect us you should be open about your sexuality or you gender. It’s crazy how you can’t right now today.

Allyson Robinson: I like that, that’s good.

Fiona Dawson: (In front of the Medal of Honor Recipients of New York State placard at the Times Square military recruiting station)  Some of these names listed here could well be transgender service members. Are you ready?

End Credits


Born and raised on the mean streets of New York City’s Upper West Side, Katie Halper is a comic, writer, blogger, satirist and filmmaker based in New York. Katie graduated from The Dalton School (where she teaches history) and Wesleyan University (where she learned that labels are for jars.) A director of Living Liberally and co-founder/performer in Laughing Liberally, Katie has performed at Town Hall, Symphony Space, The Culture Project, D.C. Comedy Festival, all five Netroots Nations, and The Nation Magazine Cruise, where she made Howard Dean laugh! and has appeared with Lizz Winstead, Markos Moulitsas, The Yes Men, Cynthia Nixon and Jim Hightower. Her writing and videos have appeared in The New York Times, Comedy Central, The Nation Magazine, Gawker, Nerve, Jezebel, the Huffington Post, Alternet and Katie has been featured in/on NY Magazine, LA Times, In These Times, Gawker,Jezebel, MSNBC, Air America, GritTV, the Alan Colmes Show, Sirius radio (which hung up on her once) and the National Review, which called Katie “cute and some what brainy.” Katie co-produced Tim Robbins’s film Embedded, (Venice Film Festival, Sundance Channel); Estela Bravo’s Free to Fly (Havana Film Festival, LA Latino Film Festival); was outreach director for The Take, Naomi Klein/Avi Lewis documentary about Argentine workers (Toronto & Venice Film Festivals, Film Forum); co-directed New Yorkers Remember the Spanish Civil War, a video for Museum of the City of NY exhibit, and wrote/directed viral satiric videos including Jews/ Women/ Gays for McCain.

Katie is a writer, comedian, filmmaker, and New Yorker.

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