For transgender service members, the clock is ticking.
Now that the Department of Defense is implementing the transgender troop ban on April 12, those currently serving have less than 30 days to receive a gender dysphoria diagnosis in order to seek medical treatment. After that, they would face discharge.
When the ban goes into effect, as the National Center for Transgender Equality noted, a small number of service members who have previously transitioned will be permitted to stay for now, while transgender civilians who wish to enlist will be turned away.
Caught in the middle are transgender service members who haven’t yet secured a gender dysphoria diagnosis and must get one before the ban begins. Several service members in this predicament told The Daily Beast that meeting the April 12 deadline will be hard.
“I’ll have to take time off work to travel 120 miles to the closest transgender care team in order to get a diagnosis,” Chloe, a lieutenant commander in the Navy who requested her last name be omitted for privacy, told The Daily Beast.
Chloe is a transgender woman who says she’s seven years away from being eligible for retirement, so losing her position now would be devastating. If she doesn’t meet the deadline, she told The Daily Beast, she would wait for change or try to tough it out.
“If I don’t get a diagnosis in time, I intend to continue serving and doing what I can to assist my transition and ease my dysphoria until the policy changes again or until I’m eligible for retirement,” she said.
Leaving gender dysphoria untreated presents mental health risks—and a growing body of medical literature clearly indicates that transition improves transgender well-being.
The Trump administration has claimed in both court filings and public messaging that its new policy is not an outright ban on transgender troops because they will still be allowed to serve in their birth-assigned sex. LGBT advocacy groups and medical experts, however, have pointed out the potentially devastating consequences of barring service members from seeking transition-related medical care in order to keep their jobs.
That explains why many in Chloe’s situation feel such urgency to get a diagnosis now.
“This [deadline] puts me and others in the position where we have to ‘speak now or forever hold our peace’ and it’s a very uncomfortable place to be,” Bryan Bree Fram, a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, told The Daily Beast. “We’re on the clock—and the clock is running out.”
For Fram, who is non-binary and serves “at a remote, geographically separated unit,” the nearest military provider who could provide a gender dysphoria diagnosis is over four hours away. Fram will try to get a diagnosis—but might not be able to in time.
Fram is also the communications director for SPART*A, an advocacy organization for transgender service members that has tried to draw public attention to the impact of the troop ban ever since President Trump first announced it via Twitter in July 2017.
This new deadline, says Fram, only adds to the anxiety that transgender service members have been experiencing for nearly two years, as the Trump administration fought to lift the preliminary injunctions on the ban, succeeding at the Supreme Court in January.
“This policy has already created an immense emotional toll on me and my family,” Fram told The Daily Beast. “None of this occurs in a vacuum. It isn’t just the service members who feel the stress, families face the same issues of uncertainty and fear.”
In a statement, a Department of Defense spokesperson said, “We encourage anyone experiencing physical or mental distress to see their medical provider.”
For Caleb, a transgender man and a petty officer in the Navy, the new deadline comes after a lengthy quest to get a gender dysphoria diagnosis from a military provider.
Ever since the Department of Defense announced its latest recommendations for the transgender troop ban, Caleb’s various assignments have kept him on the move.
“Since then, I’ve been in training courses in four different states, sometimes for months at a time, and I’ve deployed overseas twice,” he told The Daily Beast. “This hasn’t granted me any time to pursue the diagnosis I knew I might need in order to keep my career, especially since there was no military medical staff in some of those locations.”
Caleb, who requested that his surname be withheld for privacy, had one stint at home last December—and he used it to put in an official request for an appointment.
“The earliest available appointment was over two months later,” he said. “It also happened to be just three days before I left for my next deployment.”
After the Supreme Court decided in January to allow the troop ban to go into effect while various federal court cases unfold, Caleb took to calling for an appointment every day, hoping that others had canceled so that he could get slotted in sooner.
“I talked with other medical staff members to ask if there was anything they could do, and I always got a response along the lines of: ‘There’s no way this ban will go into effect before you get back,’” he told The Daily Beast. “Nobody really saw the urgency of my situation—and they cited things like funding and the time it takes on the administrative side for policy changes to go through. I wasn’t convinced.”
Just four months into the new year, Caleb is in a bind. He has only been able to see a psychiatrist once for an initial visit.
“Now, the rest of my career essentially depends on whether the doctor decides he has enough information after one visit to make the diagnosis,” he said. “I’ve reached out via email about the deadline and all I can do is wait for a response.”
Elliot Sommer, a graduate student who serves in the army reserves, is playing the same waiting game. He has already received a civilian diagnosis for gender dysphoria, but that must be verified by the military before April 12 so that he can remain in the reserves.
“It’s completely out of my hands which is probably the most frustrating part of the whole thing,” Sommer said. “I’m just trying to do the best that I can. I still go to drill every month and try to do my job to the best of my ability.”
In the absence of guarantees, transgender service members caught in this position have started to develop contingency plans.
Sommer said that he’s “looking for a second job.” Fram would try to “seek a waiver to the policy,” but with no expectation that the military would grant it. And without a gender dysphoria diagnosis, Caleb couldn’t imagine serving after his contract expires.
“I can’t see myself choosing to stomach a few more years of living a double life,” he said. “Years of glaring misinformation between how you view yourself and how everyone else perceives you can take a toll.”
Still, Caleb says that he has “faith that this is a moment that will pass quickly” in the future—although he wishes “that it didn’t have to cost people their careers and in many cases their livelihoods.”
Although the Trump administration is forcing transgender people out of the military, Fram believes the overwhelming consensus of medical experts, LGBT advocates, and public opinion will eventually win out.
“Though this door to open service is closing, we’re all going to be pressing up against it with the examples of our honorable and dedicated service,” said Fram. “When it opens again—and I’m sure it will—no one will be able to point to us and say that we left the mission incomplete.”