In Limbo or Worse: US Military members who transitioned since July 2015

Transgender Service
Ensign Ali Marberry posting as Mortal_butterfly on Instagram. Photo used with permission.

Last July Defense Secretary Ashton Carter issued a DOD statement announcing that a study had been initiated to examine the possible integration of transgender service members. Calling the present policy “outdated” and citing the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell’ . Sec. Carter noted empathetically that “Throughout this time, transgender men and women in uniform have been there with us, even as they often had to serve in silence alongside their fellow comrades in arms.”

The overall impression of the statement indicated that Carter favored having openly trans service in 6 months time “unless objective and practical impediments [were] identified”.

NY Times editorial opinion published on April 7th, 2016 notes that it’s been eight months since Carter’s directive and still and there has been no service-wide policy change emplaced. This has left those who transitioned since having interpreted Carter’s stance as a green light, in Limbo, screwed or just plain dead.

When they’re not looking out for the enemy, they’re looking over their shoulders.

One transgender woman, serving in the U.S. Army during the war in Afghanistan told “The Kernal” in 2014 through the encrypted anonymous Tor network that other soldiers cut holes in her uniform over and over again. Others soldiers claimed they were forced to bury dead bodies and take on other punitive duties after their gender identity had been outed.

Multiple “women [serving in Afghanistan] (said that) that they were suddenly put at the head of their supply convoys every week until the end of their tour, with the idea that if there were an [explosive device], they’d be in the position that would be struck by it. Putting someone in a position where they are at a very high risk of death, on purpose, is unconscionable. The message behind having someone [always] lead convoy is, ‘I think you shouldn’t exist and want you to die.’

The effects of the military’s continued treatment of transgender members are mirrored in this tragic statistic. More active military members committed suicide in 2015 than were killed in Afghanistan that year. Historically, closeted transgender people and those who are in early stages of transition dealing with peer and employer disapproval have one of the highest suicide rates ever recorded. How many of those who took their lives since  Carters announcement were transgender? We will never know.

What of those who transitioned (and are alive) since July 2015?

The NYT article put the number at 77. But as Navy Ensign Ali Marberry, who was featured in the NY Times article pointed out to Planetrans, the true number remains unknown as does the fate of each one.

“Although 77 have come out to their commands according to this.” Ensign Ali Marberry said. “I’m sure there’s many, many more living in limbo. And more are coming out to their commands daily.”

Transgender Navy Ensign Ali Marberry is one of the relatively fortunate ones. Though not allowed to continue flight training after transitioning, she said that her command is “very accepting and understanding.”

“I came out last August. I’m in a unique situation” Marberry continued “My immediate superior, and the officer over the whole division both graduated from the Naval Academy together, and they have a classmate they are close to who is a transwoman. Also, some of our work deals with gender and sexuality in research and in classes. So they already understood much about trans people.”

Plantrans: The NYT article says that you were disqualified from flight school. What are your current duties and are you hopeful that at some point they will allow you to reapply?

Ali Marberry: “I don’t even know if I can “reapply”. In October, I was “temporarily downed” for hormones and Gender Identity Disorder (which doesn’t exist anymore) The last thing I heard on my status was an informal email at the beginning of December saying that BUPERS will not reassign me until the policy comes out.”

Anyone who has ever served in the ARMY knows how critical it is you personally to work in your MOS (job). The NAVY is no different.

“I would love to fly,” Marberry said. “I’ve gotten a taste of it, and I’m hooked. Though at this point I just want to go do some real job in the Navy. All of my classmates are in Florida, Hawaii, Japan and other places around the world doing their jobs, leading sailors and Marines, and advancing their careers.”

“I still am required to have a male haircut, and I wear a male uniform, although it no longer fits me because of my curves, so I just look awkward. There isn’t a male uniform in existence that would fit me properly and look professional at this point,” said Marberry.


The military establishment needs to understand that the unnecessary stress that they have placed on their members creates life-threatening dysphoria, the same as it does in civilian life. For the record Ma’am, you look amazing. That comes from inside of you regardless of the wrapper you are forced to wear. You are a strong confident woman who is empowering the rest of us to continue to fight for our rights.

Editor Kelli Busey was honourably discharged at the rank of Staff Sargent E-6 from the ARMY having served in Air defense Missiles systems, Ground Satellite equipment repair, and Infantry. She is in awe of these transgender service members having had a successful military career letting others believe she was gay. (not trans)

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Kelli, Busey is managing editor at Planet Transgender


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