Logan Ireland is a transgender man who serves in the US military.
Logan Ireland is a transgender man who serves in the US military.

‘My lesbian daughter is now my straight son’

"EVERY day in Kandahar, when we go outside the wire, our job is inherently dangerous. There are people whose sole job is to kill you," says Logan Ireland, a US air force sergeant who has served in Afghanistan.

Ripped, tattooed, and with the obligatory buzz cut, the Texan looks every inch the air man.

But there's something different about Mr Ireland. Biologically, he was born a woman.

"People think the conditions out here are sh*tty. In Afghanistan, I'm doing a dangerous mission, but I'd much rather be here than home," he said.

"Here I can be my authentic self. In Afghanistan, in a war zone, I'm just another guy.

"But back home I'm still seen as female."

Logan Ireland (centre) with his mum Debbie and dad Todd.
Logan Ireland (centre) with his mum Debbie and dad Todd.

Mr Ireland, speaking there in 2016, is one of four US transgender service men and women who are the subject of a new documentary TransMilitary, that has its Australian premiere at the Veterans Film Festival in Canberra this week.

When writer Jamie Coughlin and directors Gabe Silverman and Fiona Dawson started filming TransMilitary Barack Obama was still president and the US military was looking to fully ditch its ban on openly trans people serving.

That ban would be lifted in 2016 with the US joining 17 other countries, including Australia, which legally allows trans people in the ranks.

Here, the most high profile has been Group Captain Cate McGregor AM, who was a finalist for the 2016 Australian of the Year.

Catherine McGregor, Australia's most senior ranking transgender military officer until she retired.
Catherine McGregor, Australia's most senior ranking transgender military officer until she retired.

That same year, future president Donald Trump posed with a rainbow flag emblazoned with "LGBTs (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) for Trump".

However, once settled in the White House, he dashed off a series of tweets in 2017 that suggested Trump wasn't all that for LGBT Americans after all.

"The United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the US Military. Our military … cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail," he wrote.

Backers of the ban said the military could be potentially liable for $8m annually to cover the health needs of trans personnel. Yet the organisation already spends 10 times that on just erectile dysfunction prescriptions.

'LESBIAN DAUGHTER IS NOW MY STRAIGHT SON'

It was a move that blindsided the filmmakers, says Ms Dawson: "We had a rough cut in place and we thought the story was going to end on a positive note and those tweets by Trump took everyone by surprise."

Mr Silverman told news.com.au trans people were caught in the crossfire of a culture war.

"What was interesting about the timing of Trump's tweets was that trans members were able to serve for a year with no incident whatsoever. Now we've all moved on from marriage equality, the new battle lines are transgender rights".

For Mr Ireland's mum Debbie Reim, it was less about rights and more about family.

When he was younger, before he transitioned, she suspected her then-daughter was a tomboy.

"As I got older I knew Logan was probably gay, but transgender was not a term I was exposed to. He had to educate me, he taught me a lot on how you create your own normal.

"I would laugh and say 'you know my lesbian daughter, well he turned out to be my straight son.'"

Logan Ireland’s mum, Debbie Reim, said she suspected her daughter was gay, but didn’t even know what transgender was.
Logan Ireland’s mum, Debbie Reim, said she suspected her daughter was gay, but didn’t even know what transgender was.

GROUNDS FOR DISCHARGE

Mr Ireland says that before the ban was lifted, and with the blessing of his commander, he could be Logan while he was on deployment.

But his position was always tenuous.

"[A senior officer] called my unit commander and said 'you've got an individual born female but she doesn't look it and she needs to be put in female barracks'.

"My unit commander said, 'his name is Logan, he's going to be living with his brothers, you don't need to be worried about him, we have it all figured out'.

"The more people that knew about me put me in a position to get discharged," Mr Ireland says.

Logan and Laila even got an audience with President Obama.
Logan and Laila even got an audience with President Obama.

Over time, he discussed his transition to more of his fellow service men. None, he says, had any issues. But before the ban was lifted, he had to ditch the male fatigues and change into a formal female uniform, known as dress blues, when he was back on base in the US.

"Dress blues are gender specific and for women feel like they are ripped out of the 1950s. So for Logan he had to basically be in a pencil skirt when in formal attire," said Mr Silverman.

It was while serving that Mr Ireland met his future wife Laila. She too was serving, in the army, and was also trans. The couple married in 2016 with their families cheering them on.

"If you said I'd be marrying a man who was also transgender, I would have told you to get out of here," she said. "But here I am [married] to a trans man from Texas who's in the air force."

But with a less sympathetic commander, Mrs Ireland was forced to present as a man while on base and eventually chose to leave the force despite an exemplary record.

Married couple Laila (left) and Logan Ireland. Picture: Facebook
Married couple Laila (left) and Logan Ireland. Picture: Facebook

JOB DONE

Documentary maker Ms Dawson says the military has often been more progressive on social issues than people assume. Accepting trans service man and women was no exception.

The military's top brass, she says, respected people who were prepared to lay down their life for their country. Most weren't that concerned about what gender that person is, or indeed was.

"The military leaders have bigger concerns - defending freedom, creating peace. So by the president putting those tweets out he's creating work that's unnecessary.

"They don't want to go back - it's job done, box ticked."

Ms Dawson said 78 per cent of Americans saw the military as a prestigious job and she wanted TransMilitary to reach that audience.

Logan was eventually allowed to serve as a man.
Logan was eventually allowed to serve as a man.

"When a service member is injured and a trans person pilots a helicopter that takes them to safety, no one cares what that person's gender was at birth, they care about their ability to do the job."

The president's proposed ban on trans Americans has not come into effect as it is currently before the courts. But trans people remain in the administration's sights and last week a leaked memo stated the Government was seeking to narrowly define gender as "determined by genitalia at birth" - in effect administratively erasing trans people.

Mr Ireland is frustrated the debate continues: "If you give me facts, we can talk about it; but I don't see facts as to why I can't become an officer".

 

TransMilitary is screening as part of the Veteran Film Festival on Friday 2 November at the Capitol Theatre, Canberra.

Logan (right) on patrol in Afghanistan.
Logan (right) on patrol in Afghanistan.

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