A year ago, without fuss, the Canadian Forces issued a new policy allowing soldiers to wear the uniform of their target gender. This means that a soldier who is transitioning from, say, male to female is allowed to dress in the uniform designated for a female soldier.
The armed services first began covering gender-reassignment surgery in 1998 and it continues to do so, as do most of the provinces: We treat medical conditions with medical practices.
While I think we should take the transgender community's word for it – that transitioning works to transform often excruciatingly unhappy gender-dysphoric people into contented people – there are lots of studies that back them up as well.
It's hardly something that anyone would do for kicks. Transitioning isn't for sissies, which is why it's heart-warming that our military made a practical and humane decision to accommodate transgender soldiers. And it's also why it's unfortunate that since July, 2011, a Department of Transport rule has been on the books that could prevent those same transitioning soldiers from flying home for Christmas.
The existence of this rule was brought to light this week by blogger Jennifer McCreath. It states that if “a passenger does not appear to be of the gender indicated on the identification he or she presents,” that person is not allowed to fly.
I'm prepared to believe those who say transgender and inter-sex people aren't the demographic the rule aims to catch, but that leaves me wondering who it is the authorities are trying to nab.
I'm trying to imagine the target villain here. I guess it's a man who, driven by some combination of madness, mangled religious ideology and political motivation, decides that he must board a plane and commit a ghastly crime. We've seen this before. But this guy would have to be different.
He'd be a little more unusual than your average suicide bomber because, in order for this rule to prevent him from killing anyone, he would, for reasons known only to himself, have to feel compelled to commit this crime while wearing a dress.
This guy's not travelling on a false passport – not if this rule is for him. That was already a crime. And his passport tells us he's not on a no-fly list, which doesn't say, “Cut the guy some slack if he's wearing something pretty,” so no net gain in arrests there. If he is travelling on a false passport, he skates close to the edge because, unlike every other suicide bomber ever, he's not trying to slip under the radar.
No, this terrorist has added yet another layer of danger to his mission because, in getting a forged passport that marks him as a male when he presents as female, he's not only risking getting nailed by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, he's risking getting the crap kicked out of him in the airport parking garage.
He's inviting extra questions at Customs! Who does that? Clearly he's hoping that by attempting to commit an atrocious crime while posing as a member of one of the most scorned and misunderstood groups in society, he'll have an advantage. Because he is an idiot.
“Ah,” I hear you say. “But how do you know this woman with an M on her passport isn't a suicide bomber?”
Well, I don't. But given that, statistically, trans-youth, for example, have one of the highest rates of suicide of any demographic in North America, they strangely enough represent only a tiny fraction of documented suicide bombers: In fact, none. So a rule that makes their lives still more difficult without making anyone else's life safer is wrong.
Yes, as the rule stands, trans people may fly if they have a doctor's letter. If they're post-op, or have an operation scheduled within the year, they may get an amended passport. However, many trans people never have gender-reassignment surgery, or wait years to do so. We don't demand that other groups get doctor's letters in order to fly.
So the rule is unacceptable even if trans and inter-sex people weren't intentionally targeted. Being oblivious to a minority doesn't make discriminating against them defensible. The excuse that “we didn't even consider you, and relax, this rule hasn't, so far, been enforced” isn't tolerated in other areas. It shouldn't be here.
I assume it'll be amended. But, ultimately, the decent thing to do is what some other countries – Spain, South Africa and Britain among them – have done: Let's allow a transgender woman, for example, regardless of which private medical procedures she has undergone, to mark her passport “F,” and go on.