By Samantha Tamplin and Corey Wall
Captain Jake Eleazer came to EKU and spoke at the Keen Johnson building Thursday, Oct. 26. The series, which crosses the nation, is entitled TRANS(in)formations and focuses on the history, struggle and recent controversy surrounding trans people in the military.
Eleazer is an active duty member of the Kentucky Army National Guard and a therapist focused mainly on counseling and conducting research on issues facing transgender veterans and the fight for military inclusion.
The event opened with a video made for The New York Times by Eleazer’s friend, director Fiona Dawson. The video was about Logan Ireland, a military service member stationed in Afghanistan, and his struggle with being transgender in the military.
Ireland could have potentially been discharged for telling his commander that he is transgender, but he took the risk.
“I stand to lose everything…it overrides the service that I’ve done,” said Ireland.
His officers ended up accepting him and granted Ireland all the privileges of a male service member.
Following the video, Eleazer discussed the specifics of transgender military policy. Transgender disorder is a psychological disorder that was “due for an update” according to Eleazer.
Transgender disorder classified being transgender as a psychological disorder and was officially removed from the list of military psychological disorders in 2013, Eleazer said. It was replaced with gender dysphoria, a psychological disorder with disassociation between the mind and body where the treatment, or cure, is transitioning.
Originally, transgender disorder was grounds for keeping trans people out of the military. According to Eleazer, the entire policy was based on “outdated medical info.”
In July of 2015, Ashton Carter, former United States defense secretary, announced that there would be a review of policy, but it wasn’t until 2016 that a policy change actually occurred. The new policy stated that transgender troops already in the military could continue to serve.
Then, on July 1, a new policy to allow transgender people to enlist was supposed to go into effect but did not, due to a change in administration, Eleazer said.
Some commanders were accommodating to transgender troops, but the troops needed specific policies to be put in place to protect them. Eleazer said that these issues are reminiscent of past prejudices in the military.
He went on to give a brief history of transgender and LGBTQ issues in the military, mentioning Brenda Sue Fulton, the first female graduate from West Point and Christine Jorgensen, the first open transgender veteran.
Eleazer touched on the importance of the internet’s role on making possible for service members to discuss being trans and to find other trans service members. He said that it was a pivotal factor in the founding of several trans support groups for military members.
He went on to discuss his personal story and his struggle with being transgender in the military. Eleazer said he came to terms with his identity as he was leaving EKU in 2010.
“I had to deal with a lot of my internalized transphobia,” Eleazer said. “It was hard to work through that.”
Eleazer started transitioning during grad school at the University of Louisville, but stopped taking testosterone for a while when he realized that the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell did not apply to him as a transgender person.
Eleazer was living openly as a man, but sill had to portray himself as a woman in the military. Over time, though, he ran into military members while he was somewhere as a man and had to hide.
“I kept having these moments when I realized at some point we’re going to get checkmated,” Eleazer said, referencing the close encounters with military personnel.
Nevertheless, he continued on with the military. He said he was very fortunate because of his race, transmasculine qualities and privileges as an officer, all of which made it easier for him than other service members.
Eventually, Eleazer came out as a trans man to his commander, who said he didn’t care. Nevertheless, news spread and Eleazer was dishonorably discharged.
“The commander at the time gave me an award and used my real name, but I was being kicked out for who I was,” Eleazer said. “I thought it was the most effed up thing.”
Eleazer fought this and was given a temporary desk job while it was investigated.
Soon, the military decided to officially let him go, and he received his final discharge letter. Three hours after receiving his official discharge letter, the bill allowing transgender troops to stay in the military was enacted and his discharge letter was nullified. Eleazer is still in the military today.
Lauren Pankratz, a women and gender studies minor, attended the event.
“I thought this was a really awesome speech. Just because you’re not trans or non-binary or gay doesn’t mean it’s not valid. People need to educate themselves on other people, because me being gay or someone being trans doesn’t hurt anyone. It’s me living my truth and being happy.”
Carter Sickles, an assistant professor of English and theatre and a member of the women and gender studies department, said, “it was great to have Jacob Eleazer speak to EKU students about the issues affecting transgender service members. There is so much misinformation about trans people out there, and, unfortunately, the president has only intensified that misinformation, especially with his tweets about trans people in the military.”
Eleazer’s speech was broadcast live and can be viewed in its entirety on the EKU Women and Gender Studies Facebook page.