Live and Let Live
By Patrick F. Cannon
I served in the United States Army from March 1961 to late February 1963. I was drafted, and thank God got out before Vietnam became the festering sore it was to become. After trudging through the Georgia mud in basic training, and sweltering in its heat at Signal School, I was sent to France, where I worked in a communications center; first ate mussels; and learned that you could drink something other than beer.
Perhaps as punishment for my good fortune, I was to spend the last six months of my service in the middle of the Mojave Desert. At every stage of my brief military career, I served with homosexuals. This was before “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the ultimate lifting of any ban on their service. Then and for many years to come, there was an outright ban on gays in the military. Those who did enlist or were drafted were forced to be discrete and stay very much in the closet. The only case of a gay soldier being discharged that I was personally aware of was an outgrowth of the double agent spy scandal in Britain, where two of the famous “Cambridge Five” (Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt) were gay and therefore thought to particularly vulnerable to Soviet blandishments. As it turned out, their gayness was irrelevant to their treason.
(By the way, anti-homosexual laws in Britain were only repealed in 1967. I recently saw the film “The Imitation Game” for the second time. If you saw it, you will know that Alan Turing, the mathematician largely responsible for breaking German secret codes during World War II, was later convicted for “lewd acts” and was forced to undergo chemical castration to avoid prison. He subsequently committed suicide. He was only in his 40s and we’ll never know what other contributions he might have made.)
In my case, a top secret clearance was required for my army specialty. To get it, we were required to undergo a lie-detector test. One of my fellow students, a young lady, failed the “gay” questions and was subsequently discharged. She was a nice and intelligent girl and would almost certainly have done a good job, but such were the times.
Now, President Trump, he of the “leap before you look” cast of mind, has threatened to ban transgender people from serving in the military. It is thought he did this because a congresswoman had offered an amendment that would have banned the services from providing so-called gender reassignment surgery because of the expense. Note that the amendment would not have banned them from serving, only that the cost of surgery would not be born by the government. I have seen varying estimates of the possible cost, all somewhere in the low billions, a mere pittance for our profligate politicians.
In looking into this, I found that the surgery is covered by insurance in some states, but not others. Not everyone is aware of this, but insurance companies are largely regulated by the states. If they so decide, they can require health insurers to cover gender reassignment surgery, just as they can require them to cover the cost of abortions or other medical procedures that some might oppose on religious or other grounds. What they can’t do, as we’re discovering under the Affordable Care Act, is require them to provide coverage at all.
There is a difference, however, between gender reassignment and other surgeries. For example, as a surgical procedure, abortion is designed to terminate a pregnancy, so the intention and result match. At another level, if your heart is failing, you might undergo a heart transplant. Bad heart is replaced with a good heart, just as a bum kidney or liver might also be replaced. In other words, surgery is meant to affect a cure. But what does gender reassignment surgery cure?
Gender dysphoria, which is the name given to the condition of people who believe they were assigned the wrong sex at birth, is nothing new. While the numbers are always open to dispute, many researchers believe that 0.3 percent of the population might have this condition. If accurate, it’s likely that a similar number of Romans and Egyptians and Assyrians had it as well. The difference is, there was little they could do about it other than cross-dressing and trying to live as the other sex.
Now, with a referral from their physician, they can undergo hormone and other therapies to change their appearance, followed in some cases by gender reassignment surgery. For a man who believes he is a woman (three times as many men as women undergo the surgery), this involves castration and removal of the penis, followed by the creation of something that looks like a labia and vagina. Women who believe they should have been male have their uterus and ovaries removed and clitoral and other tissues used to create something like a penis. They also often have breast tissue removed.
In contrast to all other surgeries, the result is only an illusion of a cure, as it’s currently impossible to actually change ones sex. It would seem, then, that there is a legitimate question about whether such surgery should be paid for by those of us who pay health care premiums, or through the taxes we pay to the various levels of government. Until some clarity and uniformity comes to this legitimate issue, I suspect that those with gender dysphoria will seek to join organizations or live in states that will pay for their surgery, which can cost up to $50,000. What they should not have to seek are the civil rights they are guaranteed by the Constitution, which the president might try reading when he’s not drafting misleading statements for his children.
Copyright 2017, Patrick F. Cannon