“TransMilitary,” the new documentary by Gabriel Silverman and Fiona Dawson, shares the stories of four trans people who serve in the U.S. military and shows their efforts to make the military a more welcoming place for trans people.
The film, which recently aired on Logo and is still streaming at LogoTV.com, takes on a special meaning given the anti-trans policies of the Trump administration and the president's efforts to ban trans people from serving in any capacity.
Early in the film the directors acknowledge a surprising statistic: 15,500 trans people currently serve in the armed forces, making the military the country's largest employer of trans people. As the four individuals whom the film focuses on point out, all they want is to do the best job they can and be themselves.
"I stand to lose everything I have," said Staff Sergeant Logan Ireland, a trans man who serves in Afghanistan. He speaks of preferring the dangers of being in that war torn country, where he's seen as "just another guy," to being at home where he must live in fear of being outed. Ireland is engaged to Laila Villanueva, a trans woman who accepts an honorable discharge so that she doesn't lose her benefits. On numerous occasions Villanueva was forced to slick her hair back and don men's attire. She speaks of the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, which happened under President Obama.
"I had no idea it didn't cover the T in LGBT," she said.
A large portion of the film deals with an organization called SPART*A, which advocates for trans people in the military. SPART*A has set up a series of meeting with top military officials, asking that the trans ban be lifted and that trans people be allowed to serve. The meetings go well, with the Pentagon's Brad Carson offering an apology for the way the military has treated trans people
Ireland, meanwhile, takes a very bold step. At a public event with Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, he introduces himself as a trans man.
Co-director Dawson spoke to SFGN about what she hopes viewers will take from the film.
"One of the main goals of TransMilitary is to give audiences a new way to understand what it means to be transgender through the lens of those who have chosen to serve our country," she said. "As the ban on open transgender service continues its battle in the courtroom, the film builds empathy, increases validation, and breaks down stereotypes. Audience members have told us they leave the theater feeling angry and inspired to action, whether that action is to look at and treat their trans neighbors differently, or to ask their congressperson to stand up against judicial and legislative efforts to roll back LGBTQ protections."
"The power of narrative is undeniable," added co-director Silverman. "It's the most impactful tool we have for challenging hate and closing gaps of understanding. For perspective, a 2015 GLAAD study found that almost 90 percent of Americans had met someone who is lesbian, gay or bisexual, while only 16 percent of Americans said they knowingly met someone who is transgender. How can we have a proper conversation of transgender rights when the vast majority of Americans don't have, or don't know they have had, personal experience with transgender people."
Dawson added: "We would love transgender viewers to feel seen, heard and validated. And for cisgender viewers to be inspired by our characters and truly feel what it’s like to live in this country as a transgender person."
The filmmakers have succeeded at what they set out to do. Without preaching, TransMilitary paints a vivid portrait of the everyday struggle for acceptance faced by trans people, struggles which remain an uphill battle thanks to the current administration. By focusing on individual stories, the film makes the argument for the rights of trans people with heart, soul and compassion.
To view TransMilitary, please visit LogoTV.com.