In our highly polarized culture, films like Transmilitary are vitally important. Sure it’s pushing an agenda, but the heroism and integrity of its subjects makes that agenda undeniable. Transmilitary is a film that should be seen widely, both to renew our appreciation for LGBTQ soldiers and to help shape public policy moving forward.
In Transmilitary, director Gabriel Silverman focuses on four members of the military, Staff Sergeant Logan Ireland, Corporal Laila Ireland (retired), Captain Jennifer Peace, and Captain El Cook, all of whom are trans and, at some point in their career, served in the closet. The film traces their stories alongside recent debates about the rights of tansgender people to serve in the military (and the larger discussions of trans’ rights in general). It follows the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” but ends on the uncertain note of our current situation in which the Trump Administrations seems to be at a stalemate with the courts on this issue. Nevertheless, this film is a celebration of the heroism of all soldiers that would stand in harm’s way and an indictment of the bigotry that would classify them as second class citizens and soldiers.
There are an estimated 15,500 transgender servicewomen and men in active duty, which makes the United States military the largest employer of the trans community. This may seem like a shocking number, but it should come as no surprise. What does the military offer: opportunity for leadership, a sense of family, health benefits, and some stability. All of these are things that many members of the transgender community don’t enjoy in civilian life, as Sue Fulton, president of SPARTA, points out. That there are politicians who would to take this away from transgender members of the military is doubly cruel. Transmilitary shows the camaraderie that these soldiers enjoy from their peers while on deployment. More often than not, their fellow soldiers are not the source of their struggles. What oppression they do suffer is often at the hands of politicians and policy makers, those who are usually untainted by the death and destruction of combat.
Transmilitary makes it clear that the “issue” of transgender soldiers has far more to do with ignorance, stupidity, fear, and hatred than it does with any potentially negative effects of transgender service in the military. So when Mike Huckabee says that the military’s goals are to “kill people and break stuff,” he reveals an almost unbelievably ignorant, short-sighted view of the military and the peace-keeping and humanitarian services it provides at home and abroad.
Transmilitary premieres in the Documentary Feature Competition at SXSW.