How selective is our service?

Kal Hachadoorian explores the conflict between gender identity and national duty posed by the Selective Service System.

On Friday October 7, the Selective Service twitter account tweeted, “Parents, if your son is an only son and the last male in your family to carry the family name, he is still required to register with SSS [Selective Service System].” The tweet reached 2,297 replies, a sizable sum compared to the 22 and, even smaller, 5 replies received by the account’s previous two tweets.

Repeatedly brought up in the large number of replies was the topic of transgender individuals, and how they fit into this statement. Some commenters made ignorant and tone deaf remarks such as, “For the purpose of SSS my son will identify as a girl starting with his 18th birthday. Checkmate fascist.” Others speculated about the tweet’s (and the system’s) transphobic and misogynistic undertones, with one person saying, “The list of ‘who needs to register’ also includes […] transgender ‘PEOPLE’..but only those with a certain ‘natural-born-phsyiological-advantage-for-this type-of-thing’ if you catch my drift.”

This person also included screenshots of the relevant section of the SSS official government website, which states that “US citizens or immigrants who are born male and changed their gender to female are still required to register,” whereas “[i]ndividuals who are born female and changed their gender to male are not required to register.”

 

Transgender men have served in the military for decades, dating back all the way to the Civil War. Ilana Zahavy ’24/Staff

Though not by any means a new rule, the tweet drew attention to this outdated idea, rehashing longstanding debates not only about the draft, but also about what constitutes both transphobia and misogyny in today’s ever-progressing society. The draft happens to be an excellent lens through which to view both of these issues.

A military draft, which is the practice wherein the government makes enlistment in the armed forces mandatory, was first used in America during the Civil War in 1863, and was reinstituted in 1917 with the Selective Services Act in preparation for World War I. 1940 marked the birth of a peacetime draft in the United States, which is still in place today.

At all three of these points in history, though to varying degrees, most women were still confined to the home and stuck playing a very specific, very limited role in society–cooking, cleaning, and caring for children. Because of this, it would have been a ridiculous notion to suggest women be included in the draft; family life as it was known back then would have completely fallen apart.

Now, however, with gender roles and stereotypes becoming increasingly challenged and a the rise inof individuals identifying as transgender, and the very idea of what gender is is shifting away from merely biology and more towards the sociological idea of gender as a social construct. Now, t, the thought that men are drafted while women are not seems as though it should be obsolete.

Except, it isn’t actually about men and women. While at the time the draft was first put in place, the almost nonexistent number of out trans individuals would have made the distinction completely meaningless, the SSS website now makes it clear that those who must sign up for the draft are biological males, not men. The question is, is that a valid distinction to make?

The debate over when gender is the important factor to look at, and when biological sex is actually more appropriate, shows up over and over again in the field of trans discourse. We’ve seen it before in debates over sports, restrooms, and women’s colleges, just to name a few.

When it comes to the draft, if, as our tweeter from before suggests, the reason the SSS wants specifically males as opposed to men is because of their “natural-born-phsyiological-advantage-for-this type-of-thing.” There is a very strong argument against such a rule. (A similar argument is used when discussing trans athletes, and why they should be allowed to compete against others of the same gender, as opposed to others of the same sex.)

Every human being is going to vary in their natural aptitude for certain activities based on traits they may or may not have. For example, to be good in combat, being tall, fast, and strong will without a doubt give one an advantage. And, while it is true that on average males are taller, faster, and stronger than females, is an average enough to force an entire sex into a category relying on such traits, and exclude the other sex from that category altogether?

There are always going to be certain people who win the genetic lottery, and certain people who don’t. The pool of people required by the SSS to sign up for the draft is going to range in genetic aptitude greatly, even if only made up of males. Not to mention that, with only under 1.5% of the draft-aged population identifying as transgender (as reported by most surveys and estimates), counting trans people in the draft as the gender they identify as would, in the end, have almost a negligible effect.

As one of the tweets from earlier insensitively joked about, there are some concerns that a man might fake being a trans woman in order to avoid the draft. However, with studies showing the death rate of trans women to be the highest of any gender identity, almost two times higher than that of cis men and almost three times higher than that of cis women, faking it seems like the bigger risk. Not to mention the fact that the very prevalent issue of toxic masculinity would likely stop most men from even considering the idea.

So, it turns out that the draft is a case where biological sex isn’t a good metric to use when determining who has to sign up and who doesn’t. Interestingly enough, when you break down that argument, the idea that gender should matter in the slightest also falls apart.

Though it would be nice to have a generalizable conclusion to all debates on the topic, this answer is not one-size-fits-all. It isn’t always the case that both sex and gender are meaningless categories to sort individuals into. Sometimes, dividing individuals by either sex or gender can be helpful, such as in studies of mental illnesses or physical diseases that present differently according to sex, or how gender definitively plays into the aforementioned example of women’s colleges. It is important to always consider each scenario on its own, and come to an informed conclusion based on the specifics of that situation. However, more often than we as a society tend to think, neither sex nor gender actually end up being as important as we first assume they are. The draft is only one example of this ever-growing phenomenon.

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