What The Transgender Soldier In The Roman Army Can Teach Us About Today

On July 26, 2017, Donald J. Trump, the bombastic and controversial President of the United States, made a statement regarding the rights of transgender individuals to serve in the military. He declared that the US military could not "be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail." His statements quickly started a firestorm of debate; however, history shows that discomfort surrounding the inclusion of LGBTQI+ people in the military is as longstanding as it is baseless. 

One fable in particular, written by an ancient Roman named Phaedrus, suggests that the Roman army may have employed tactics similar to those Trump has recently used. Tactics that attempt to exclude transgender people from serving in the military - the difference is that the Romans didn't blame medical expenses for their exclusion, instead they were far more forthcoming about their prejudice.

Photo: flickr / CC0

  • This Early Roman Fable Suggests That Romans Were As Accepting Of Trans Soldiers As President Trump

    In early imperial Rome, a freed slave by the name of Phaedrus is believed to have drafted a compelling fable concerning the fate of a cinaedus, a Roman term for gender-fluid person.

    The tale tells of "a barbarian threatening the troops of the military leader, Pompey the Great," and that all of the other soldiers were too "afraid to challenge this fierce opponent until a cinaedus stepped forward to volunteer for combat." This cinadeus, described as a large soldier with a "cracked voice and mincing walk" who practiced "untoward sexual behavior," begs his captain for the opportunity to battle the barbarian. After the captain reluctantly agrees, the cinadeus "quickly severs the barbarian's head and, with army agog, is summarily rewarded by Pompey."

  • The Moral Of The Story Is That Then And Now Discrimination Blinds People To Other's Abilities

    By the end of the fable, the cinadeus has proven himself to be not only braver than the rest of the soldiers who refused to attack the barbarian, but a better solider having taken the head of his enemy.

    Though a cinadeus is described as markedly different from today's modern transgender person, the lesson here is the same. There should be no issue of whether a cinadeus, or transgender person, can accomplish military tasks, history has proven time and again that they can. Instead, both then and now, this is an issue of those in authority making decisions fueled by discrimination and prejudice. 

  • Trump's Transgender Military Ban Individuals Mirrors Archaic Roman Sentiments

    The recent ban proposed by Trump, calling for all transgendered individuals to be pulled from consideration for military training and service, is concerning on many levels. It echoes the waves of prejudice often cast onto the LGBTQI+ community. 

    When it comes to the supposed complications caused by the employment of transgender soldiers, it is not the medical costs or their ability to perform military tasks that are of true concern. Rather, these are excuses given in order to cast a shadow over the real issue of some people's "discomfort with the idea of gender-ambiguous fighters."

    The notion that transgendered individuals are incapable of serving in the military is just as ridiculous now as it was when Phaedrus wrote his fable, and the prejudice it encourages is just as harmful.