You can’t manufacture social change. Not directly. Don’t believe anyone who says otherwise.
Social change is about people changing their minds. Notice I didn’t say anything about changing peoples’ minds. The best way to change the minds of others on a divisive social issue is to avoid, at all costs, professing that you want to change their minds. At the first whiff of manipulation, they will dig their heels in and resist change.
The best method to change minds is to change circumstances, unapologetically, and communicate why the change is occurring. After that, the prudent move is to back away and let people work their way through those circumstances in their daily interactions. Let leaders set the tone. Let individuals set the example. Let people change their minds on their own terms and at their own pace. This will allow them to own the change rather than begrudgingly tolerating it. This is the only path to genuine and lasting change.
The Air Force’s policy on transgender integration is a recipe for begrudging rather than authentic tolerance. On the first page, it says all it needs to say:
“All Service members are entitled to equal opportunity in an environment free from sexual harassment and unlawful discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, or sexual orientation. It is the Department’s position, consistent with the U.S. Attorney General’s opinion, that discrimination based on gender identity is a form of sex discrimination. In today’s Air Force, people of different moral and religious values work, live and fight together on a daily basis. This is possible because they treat each other with dignity and respect. Airmen will continue to respect and serve with others who may hold different views and beliefs.”
It then goes on to commit the fundamental error of over-talking, over-thinking, and over-handling an issue that can’t be resolved with a management science approach. Its advocates, Secretary Deborah Lee James ostensibly among them, should know better than to attempt to coerce compliance where persuaded acceptance is the true goal.
The substance of the additional 16 pages proves the point. At every turn, the bureaucracy is telling people how to eat lima beans. When someone is/isn’t deployable. Applying for and securing a gender reassignment plan. How to properly walk on regulatory eggshells in the remote presence of someone covered by the policy. H0w to evaluate their dress and appearance. How to properly construct facilities to accommodate them. Read for yourself.
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It’s as if the Air Force is trying to demonstrate social enlightenment, yet is so awkwardly uninformed as to believe transgender people have a unique form of alien plumbing and breathe something other than oxygen.
The biggest miscue is reserved for the fitness policy. The service offers an exemption to airmen undergoing transgender transition, which is both unprecedented and a recipe for resentment and alienation. This on the heels of a decade spent cashiering airmen who applied for exemptions, waivers, and profiles because they were wounded in combat or run down by years or decades of strenuous service. No one cared because the thing to do at the time was get the numbers down … to get rid of people. Now the thing to do is to celebrate diversity, so it’s suddenly acceptable to be unable to pass a fitness assessment so long as you’re in a fashionably diverse demographic. This is trying to make transgender people part of the accepted norm by highlighting that they are exceptional.
But here’s the truly skull-splitting part: you can only get the exemption if you fail a test first and then bring a note from mommy claiming you lead a healthy lifestyle. This “compromise” has the unique quality of alienating everyone. If you’re a transgender airman, you get to trade your dignity for the blessing of the bureaucracy. If you’re Joe Airman, you get to watch someone else qualify for a waiver you can’t get, even if you have reasons you subjectively consider just as valid. For lack of a better idea, the service is substituting social preference for objective fairness, and it won’t fool anyone. All this in the name of trying to control the implementation of a controversial policy so as to avoid the impression of controversy. It’s perfectly Air Force. They want the juice without the squeeze.
But let’s just rewind and playback the humorous stupidity. If you’re a transgender airman in transition and want to be exempted from your fitness assessment, you must first show up, try, fail, and hope that the headquarters of the entire service agrees you deserve the exemption. Nothing like having a dozen layers of bureaucracy review the details of your physical performance … right alongside a detailed medical description of your genital biology.
The whole policy is based on the flimsy premise that people need to be tightly directed into compliance with a social agenda. Whoever wrote it is out of touch with what happens in the street-level Air Force. People don’t care about plumbing. They don’t care about how someone “identifies.” They care about job performance. They care about teammates pulling their weight and being ready to get the job done when the pressure is dialed up. That’s it. Strong performance ends all other discussions. Weak performance makes them irrelevant.
The Air Force’s decade-long journey of sexual self-awakening has been painful at best and comedic at worst. I was a commander during the ham-handed rollout of the repeal of don’t ask/don’t tell. Those of us who had discovered common sense advised at the time that the mass briefings and explicit instructions on how to be around gay people were silly and at least a decade behind reality. We were ignored and the service embarrassed itself, mostly because the oxygen thieves in charge who had never discovered common sense were convinced the repeal was akin to a galloping pass of one of the Four Horsemen. Their attitudes reflected the narcissism that so often infects command. Ego drives too many officers to believe wrongly that their narrow perspective is broadly held. Fascism prevents them from being pronounced as wrong as they are.
One simple rule is needed: distinguish sexuality from profession. Individuals should keep their sexual motivations separate from the workplace and the command should cease its endless search for knowledge of the private sexual conduct of airmen … taking notice only when there is a legitimate collision between private behavior and military necessity. That’s a tiny sliver of cases.
Inflating a couple of paragraphs into 16 pages reeks of over-control, which is a great way to lose control altogether. But maybe that’s for the best in the end.