Transgender & fit to serve

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Tuesday November 20, 2018
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Scene from directors Gabriel Silverman and Fiona Dawson's "TransMilitary." Photo: LogoTV
Scene from directors Gabriel Silverman and Fiona Dawson's "TransMilitary." Photo: LogoTV

The new documentary by Gabriel Silverman and Fiona Dawson "TransMilitary" shares the stories of four transgender people who serve in the U.S. military, and shows their efforts to make the military a more welcoming place for them. The film, which recently aired on Logo and is still streaming at, takes on a special meaning given the anti-trans policies of the Trump administration and the president's efforts to ban trans people from serving in any capacity.

Early in the film the directors acknowledge a surprising statistic: 15,500 trans folks currently serve in the armed forces, making the military the country's largest employer of trans people. As the film's four subjects point out, all they want is to do the best job they can and to be themselves.

"I stand to lose everything I have," says Staff Sergeant Logan Ireland, a trans man who serves in Afghanistan. He speaks of preferring the dangers of being in that war-torn country, where he's seen as "just another guy," to being at home, where he must live in fear of being outed. Ireland is engaged to Laila Villanueva, a trans woman who accepts an honorable discharge so she doesn't lose her benefits. Many times Villanueva was forced to slick her hair back and don men's attire. She speaks of the repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell," which happened under Pres. Obama. "I had no idea it didn't cover the T in LGBT," she says.

Much of the film deals with an organization called SPART*A, which advocates for transgender people in the military. SPART*A has set up a series of meeting with top military officials, asking that the trans ban be lifted and that transgender people be allowed to serve. The meetings go well. The Pentagon's Brad Carson offers an apology for the way the military has treated trans people. Ireland, meanwhile, takes a bold step. At a public event with Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, he introduces himself as a trans man.

Co-director Dawson spoke to the B.A.R. about what she hopes viewers will take from the film. "One of the main goals of 'TransMilitary' is to give audiences a new way to understand what it means to be transgender through the lens of those who have chosen to serve our country," she said. "As the ban on open transgender service continues its battle in the courtroom, the film builds empathy, increases validation, and breaks down stereotypes. Audience members have told us they leave the theater feeling angry and inspired to action, whether that action is to look at and treat their trans neighbors differently, or to ask their congressperson to stand up against judicial and legislative efforts to roll back LGBTQ protections."

Without preaching, "TransMilitary" paints a vivid portrait of the everyday struggle for acceptance faced by transgender people. By focusing on individual stories, the film makes the argument for the rights of trans people with heart, soul and compassion.

To view TransMilitary, go to