The Army's unwillingness to accept openly gay soldiers has always struck me as not just bigoted, but incredibly dumb. Placing heterosexism ahead of national security looks even dumber than ever at a time when the Army is having a lot of trouble recruiting and retaining people. But it's not just gays the Army doesn't want. It's not even gays and transgendered people. If you actually read the Army's Standards of Medical Fitness (pdf), you'll discover that the Army seems to have a truly bizarre devotion to the idea that only men and women with absolutely, completely normal genitalia and reproductive systems can possibly defend us in time of war. Among the people who do not meet its standards:
- Women who experience unusually heavy menstrual bleeding, or bleeding at irregular intervals, or no periods at all.
- Women born without a uterus.
- In men, "Current absence of one or both testicles, either congenital (752.89) or undescended (752.51) is disqualifying."
- And, for both men and women: "History of major abnormalities or defects of the genitalia such as change of sex (P64.5), hermaphroditism, pseudohermaphroditism, or pure gonadal dysgenesis (752.7) or dysfunctional residuals from surgical correction of these conditions is disqualifying."
Undescended testicles??? Unless I am very, very wrong about what exactly service in the military involves, I can't see that an undescended testicle would affect a soldier's ability to perform his duties. I checked to see whether undescended testicles might lead to some more severe problems later; apparently, they reduce fertility, which is hardly the Army's concern, and increase the odds that one will get testicular cancer. But since the Army accepts smokers, I can't see that this explains why they disqualify recruits with undescended testicles. As far as I can tell, the only remotely plausible explanation is that the Army has decided to constitute itself as a Defender of Binary Gender Norms. And that seems like a pretty stupid thing to do during wartime. Or ever, for that matter.
"Last year, the Army had to grant waivers to nearly one in five recruits because they had criminal records." If they're willing to overlook criminal records, I imagine that they're probably granting waivers to people with undescended testicles as well. But that's only a stopgap measure: the real question is: why on earth does the Army care whether or not its soldiers have undescended testicles in the first place? Why not just ask whether a soldier is physically able to do his or her duty, and leave it at that?