There You Go Again: Trans Enlistment and the Cycle of Inequality


Today, the world was brutally reminded of the inequality that continues to ravage the transgender community when the President announced a plan to ban transgender individuals from enlisting with the United States military. The policy is a reversal of President Obama’s elimination of the ban on transgender troops. Responses ranged from outrage to ho-hum nonchalance. I will leave the legal analysis of the policy to more qualified individuals.

Instead, it seems important to discuss the fact that none of this is new. The concept of a cycle of inequality has been around for quite some time. Anyone who is a member of a disparaged demographic knows that discrimination tends to follow a similar pattern. This is not, of course, to say that everyone’s suffering is equal. There are clearly perceptible differences between, for example, women’s liberation and the civil rights movement. However, the arguments used to deny oppressed communities of their rights start to sound awfully familiar after a while. Within the few decades alone, we have seen substantial movements among three communities just for the fight for the freedom of their fellow citizens. These movements have involved women, gay and lesbian individuals, and transgender individuals.

How did those bigoted arguments sound? Did they all use words like “expense”, “cohesion”, and “burden”? Did they all attempt to instill fear in the heart of every American, forged by the idea that the military somehow might not be able to function effectively with this change? The answer to all of those questions is, of course, a resounding “yes”. Yet every time an issue like this presents itself, people seem to have trouble remembering that we have been down this road before. We have stirred the same proverbial soup with a different proverbial spoon.

So why do we do it? Certainly, complicated psychological phenomena are at play. Cognitive dissonance has been widely studied, and there exists a veritable mountain of literature on the topic. I am sure that I am wholly unqualified to comment on the scientific aspects of this cycle of discrimination. However, having heard entire groups of people argue against gays and lesbians serving in the military, it seems as though most of them have one belief in common: They’re convinced that they’re right this time.

Most people can acknowledge that it was wrong for the military to ban women and segregate by race. As time goes on, more and more people are admitting that the ban on openly gay individuals serving in the military was also a horrible idea. But many of those same people will likely be quick to defend the idea that transgender individuals should not be allowed in the military. The cycle of inequality is starting to move on to the next demographic.

It turns out that bigotry is a lot like predicting the end of the world. You can run the numbers all you want, and others will keep proving you wrong. But you can admit that your previous guess was wrong while still holding fast to the belief that your current prediction is ironclad. That’s how discrimination propagates itself. At one point, no one wanted black people to have any rights. Then several hard-fought battles were won in order to free blacks, allow them to vote, allow them to marry white people, and so on and so forth. The fight for equal rights for black people persists to this day.

But most people have moved on. The cycle never fully completes itself before moving on to its next victim. It’s closer to a trick metal hoop with a small piece cut out to allow another hoop to intertwine with it. The vast majority of people do not espouse the horrid philosophies concerning black people that were all too commonplace less than 160 years ago. This is something that should be celebrated. But the cycle seems to be a force innate to whole societies. We didn’t give up on discriminating against groups of people. We just moved on to a new group.

Movements passed and rights issued to those who should have never had to fight for them in the first place. Recently, we’ve seen substantial progress in the area of gay and lesbian rights. But the cycle made sure that the transgender community was in the on-deck circle. The most shocking part of all this is not that the trans community has become the next victim, but that people can see two similar struggles happen so close to each other, and fail to connect the dots. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has been dead for less than 6 years, yet opponents of transgender military service can’t see the parallels. Or worse, perhaps they see the parallels, but fervently believe that this is different. It’s likely a mixture of the two.

Inquiring minds wonder exactly how we can stop this. Can we put an end to the cycle? I believe that the best way to destroy this seemingly addictive way of thinking is to make people aware of its existence. People don’t like to think they’re wrong, so screaming and fighting likely solves nothing. But they will be more likely to respond if they can see the connection between one type of bigotry and others like it. So let’s keep talking. Dinner table conversations can often do more work than protests and marches. Maybe then we’ll be able to see that there is truly nothing new under the sun.

The Game of Struggle: First Roll

shutterstock_398418100Congratulations. You are in the vast majority of people who did not spin the magical ten 1s in a row necessary to be placed on the privileged track in The Game of Struggle. Welcome to the club. Most people in the world are here.

We’ll start off your first roll with leaving college. You are already fairly privileged to even be in that position, but we wanted the game to be at least a little fun. Your degree cost you $100,000, and your student loan servicer expects payment within six spins. But that’s Future You’s problem. Enjoy this spin while you have it.

You advance two spaces, and you get to see what your latest life event is. The card reads “Your car needs a new engine. Pay $2,500 for a new engine, or take out a loan for a new car.” Your student loan balance hovers over you like the foreboding storm cloud it is. So, you decide to add $2,500 to it rather than the $20,000 it would take to buy a new car.

At least you have your shiny new college degree. It had better be pretty shiny for $100,000. Unfortunately, the rules of the game state that you can’t get a job for at least ten more spins. It turns out those employers want you to get experience before they can give you a job that would…well…give you experience. Also, once your student loans come due, you have to pay an additional $2,000 in interest every four spins.

Also, the jobs won’t be that glamorous. The economy just isn’t what it used to be. You’ll get an entry-level job eventually, but promotions will be doled out by chance rather than merit. Raises depend on the job, with most jobs only telling you that you should feel lucky to even be there. All of that will come when you even get a job. Remember, ten spins. For now, enjoy the complimentary unpaid internship that comes standard with every college degree in The Game of Struggle.

The rules of game dictate that non-privileged persons must start out living in an apartment with at least two roommates (one if you don’t live in the city). As a result, you lose $700 in rent every four spins. You can only get a house after getting the proper card, and rolling three ones in a row. Buckle up, it’ll be a while.

So welcome to The Game of Struggle. I know that it probably hasn’t been fun so far, and I don’t suspect it’ll get much better in the near future. But keep your chin up. The lucky few who rolled ten 1s in a row didn’t have anything given to them, right? You can get there if you just believe in your ability to roll ten 1s in a row, and work incredibly hard to do it.


The Game of Struggle: Introduction

shutterstock_393025615Recently, I experienced a fair bit of childhood nostalgia as I played a round of The Game of Life. The game has changed substantially over the decades, but the principles remain simple. You are the product of a combination of your choices in life and the fortune or despair that can find you with the random probability of a little plastic spinner. While the game is different than it was during my childhood, the fundamental problem with The Game of Life remains the same: Nothing about it is realistic.

The Game of Life had a substantial opportunity to somewhat accurately reflect the trials and tribulations that an average life entails. With income inequality being more pronounced than any other time in recent memory, the game could have incorporated what we’ve learned through our continuous public discourse concerning privilege. Few words have occupied such a unique place in millennial minds as “privilege”. The concept has helped us to understand our place in the world relative to those who may have more or less than we do.

I understand that I’m making a bigger deal out of this than it really is. A board game is supposed to be entertaining, and I wouldn’t blame the creators if they did not make a single change to it. However, I am curious what would happen in a different game where, instead of contributing half your net worth to get a college degree, you incur a substantial negative net worth in order to get the same thing. A game that really reflected our reality would not let you choose your path. Instead, it would be determined by random chance, as it is so often is in real life.

As a result, I will be writing a series of posts under this hypothetical. It’ll be called “The Game of Struggle”. The two paths will be called “The Privileged Path” and “The Disadvantaged Path”. On a spinner with numbers 1 through 10, every number except 1 will result in the player being placed on The Disadvantaged Path. Also, if you spin a 1, you have to spin again until you get ten 1s in a row. If you fail to get ten 1s in a row, you will be placed on The Disadvantaged Path anyway. I’ll write posts from both perspectives, and we can see how different such a game would look from the ones we enjoy playing with our friends at kitchen tables. See you soon.