The Air Force recruiting office will be closed on Jan. 1.
But if everything goes according to plan, Jan. 2 will find 23-year-old Logan Downs marching through the door to begin the enlisting process. Because Downs is a transgender man, that day is the soonest he could possibly join.
“I’m super excited,” he told The Daily Beast. “I’m ready to go. I’d ship out in January if I could.”
Downs has only had to wait this long to see his life’s dream fulfilled because of the Trump administration’s ongoing efforts to derail Obama-era plans for transgender inclusion in the United States military.
On July 26, Trump tweeted that “the United States government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the military” and his administration has been trying—and so far failing—to defend that stance in court ever since.
Now, due to the injunctions against Trump’s transgender troop ban, the Pentagon is moving forward with plans to allow transgender recruits like Downs to enlist at the start of 2018—despite the Trump administration’s request for an emergency stay.
Future court rulings could potentially eject those transgender people who do decide to enlist at the start of next year, but Downs can’t afford to linger on that possibility.
“I have to have hope and faith that it won’t happen because, at least in my life, positivity has done wonderful things for me,” he told The Daily Beast. “So I just stay positive. The decision is not mine so I can’t lose sleep over it.”
Indeed, Downs’ future in the military has long been outside of his control. His story follows all of the ups and downs that aspiring transgender service members have endured these past few years. Downs grew up outside of Orlando and, although he had a sister who went into the Navy, military service “really was not a family thing.”
But he has always wanted to serve anyway, in part because he already has an aptitude for order, schedule, and discipline.
“I have really wanted to join the military for my entire life,” he said. “I always just had this calling.”
In 2014, Downs came close to fulfilling that calling. Before transition—when Downs was still presenting as female—he joined the Army straight out of high school but got discharged due to an injury sustained during basic training.
He went home to Florida, discouraged. Then he met the woman who would become his wife and finally realized that he was transgender. Before that, Downs says, he “didn’t have the language” to describe how he felt about his identity or his body. But transitioning in 2014 clarified everything.
Unfortunately, it also put military service even further out of reach.
Until June 2016—relatively late in the Obama administration—the estimated 4,000 transgender troops who were already serving in the military were not allowed to do so openly. Downs could have tried to go back in the closet to enlist, but he didn’t want to sacrifice who we has for what he wanted to do.
“At the time, you would have had to stop hormones and basically lie to get in,” he told The Daily Beast. “I wasn’t willing to do that. That would not feel right doing that.”
Then came the Pentagon’s June 2016 announcement that the ban on openly transgender military service would be lifted—and plans were put in place to allow transgender civilians to enlist. As The Daily Beast previously noted, all branches of the military were previously gearing up to begin accessions on July 1, 2017. It seemed, at that point, inevitable that transgender people would be allowed to sign up.
“I finally felt like what I wanted to do was actually going to come to fruition,” Downs said of the June 2016 announcement, adding that he “finally had a date.”
“I was like, ‘All right, I’ll be ready next July,’” he recalled.
But instead of enlisting in July 2017, Downs watched alongside the entire country as President Trump tweeted a baseless attack on transgender service, claiming that the government would not allow it to continue because the military “cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”
In reality, RAND research had already shown that transgender inclusion in the military would have “minimal impact.“
“It was definitely heartbreaking,” Downs said of the tweets, but quickly pivoted to focus on the legal victories against the ban that have happened since. “It’s really been a fight but it’s worth it. All we want to do is serve alongside every other American who wants to serve. It’s definitely been hard but we’re ready.”
Downs will have to meet fairly rigorous standards in order to enlist. A Pentagon memo released earlier this month includes detailed guidelines about the new accessions policy, as NBC News and other outlets reported.
Transgender recruits will be allowed to serve but they will have to produce “all related medical documents… that facilitated the applicant’s gender transition.”
Those who have undergone sex reassignment surgery will have to demonstrate 18 months of being free from “clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.”
Those who have not undergone hormonal and surgical interventions will be required to “wear undergarments consistent with their physical anatomy,” even though, outwardly, they will be treated as their “preferred gender” in all other aspects of military life.
Apart from repeated references to “preferred gender”—a word choice that could suggest gender identity is a choice—the LGBT military organization SPART*A largely approves of these initial guidelines, which they say align with other allied nations that already allow transgender military recruitment.
“It’s a good first step while everyone gets acquainted with the process,” SPART*A president Blake Dremann told The Daily Beast in a statement. “We won’t be seeing a big influx of trans people on January 1st.”
The dressing requirements may be “stringent,” Dremann acknowledged, but they will also “help doctors identify trans folks without outing them to everyone else at a [Military Entrance Processing Station.] And SPART*A policy chair Bryan Fram added that the strict nature of the guidelines should put to rest any notion that transgender recruits are signing up for “free surgeries.”
“The requirements and responsibilities that come with the health care are stringent,” Fram said. “If someone wants trans affirming health care, it’s much easier to join a company like Walgreens than it is to join the military.”
Downs, who currently works at a grocery store in Oregon, has gladly jumped through all of the required hoops, making several rounds of phone calls to get all of the relevant medical paperwork sent from Florida to his local recruiting office.
His contact at the recruiting office, Downs says, has been “really understanding,” especially considering that he likely doesn’t have much prior exposure to aspiring transgender service members. Downs doesn’t mind requirements like being “stable” in one’s gender for 18 months; he’s had to wait that long to enlist anyway.
“Mentally, physically, emotionally, physically, I’m a completely different person than I was in 2013,” he told The Daily Beast, when asked about the Pentagon guidelines. “I don’t think it’s a bad idea; I think being stable in your gender is good.”
Nor does Downs seem concerned about potentially facing discrimination within the Air Force. After being interviewed for articles like this one, after all, the fact that he is transgender is not exactly a secret.
“I know a lot of active-duty [transgender] service members and they’re having zero problems,” he said, noting that he has been inspired by other openly transgender service members like Air Force Staff Sgt. Logan Ireland to be open himself.
“These prominent service members being out, and talking to people, and answering questions, that’s where you change hearts and minds,” he said. “That’s a big reason why I’m out.”
After being delayed for years, Downs is now days away from answering his calling. Everyone else seems to think, just from talking to him, that he’s already serving anyway.
“It’s really funny because I always have people ask me if I’m in the military,” he said. “I’m like, ‘Nope, but I will be.’”