Lieutenant Shachar joined the IDF as a woman. Throughout his military service, he went through the unique and complicated process of changing his gender. Identifying himself as a man, he has become the first openly transgender officer in the IDF.

Lt. Shachar - First openly transgender IDF officer

 

Copyright: IDF Spokesperson

Source: IDF Blog

Shachar joined the army knowing he felt like a man and identifying himself as transgender, but not everyone in his life knew. At the time of his recruitment he still wasn’t ready to introduce himself to everyone as a man. "I knew that I felt like a man by the time I was two years old, at 16 I learned how to define those feelings, and since then all the important people in my life have known. Nearing my recruitment it was clear to me that I had to address the issue."

Within 24 hours of arriving at his training base, Shachar approached his commander to talk to her about his needs. "I wasn’t ready to tell everyone around me, but I did choose to talk to my commanders. I understood that if I wanted any consideration I needed to be honest with them." The commander understood the situation and gave Shachar a separate time to shower on his own, and special permission to only wear his field uniform (which is the same for men and women). This way he could go through training avoiding situations that would make him feel uncomfortable.

During officer’s training course Shachar came to the understanding that he had to "come out" about his gender orientation. He realized that if he wanted to be a successful officer and have good relationships with his soldiers, he would have to be honest with them.

Towards the end of the officer’s training course, a week is dedicated to teaching the future officers how to cope with the individual needs of each soldier, with activities that emphasize differences between soldiers and their special needs. Shachar came out to his company during a unique activity they had at the end of that week. "One of the guys asked me why I was wearing a men’s uniform. It was the first time in my life that I addressed the topic in a large forum. I said  to him that I wear a men’s uniform because that’s how I feel. My whole life I’ve known I’m a man, despite the fact that I was born a woman. I think, feel and identify as a man."

Shachar finished officer’s training course as a man. His commander personally made sure that his officer’s diploma declared him as a male commander.

Israeli law obligates public health care clinics to fund sex change processes if the requester is fit to undergo physical sex change therapy. During their military service, soldiers are cared for by the Health Corps, which is obligated to follow the same laws as any other public health care clinic. Therefore the IDF, under Israeli law, funds both hormonal treatment and sex reassignment surgery. Shachar is now in the process of taking sex changing hormones. If he chooses to take the next step and undergo a sex reassignment surgery during his service, the IDF will also fund and support that treatment.

Brigadier General Rachel Tevet-Weisel, the Women’s Affairs Advisor to the IDF Chief of Staff, is also responsible for policy making on LGBT issues. "Today in the army we don’t ask anyone about his or her sexual preferences. It’s not an issue in term of recruitment, its not an issue in terms of where they are going to serve, it’s not our business – it’s only their business."

The IDF has instituted several policies to make military service more comfortable for transgender soldiers. These policies are not recommendations, they are orders.

Brig. Gen. Tevet-Wiesel concludes: "I don’t think the army is clean of homophobia. There are probably places that soldiers aren’t acting in the right way, but this is against the policy of the IDF.  Part of the education today in the army is that you have to be tolerant. They have a special program in officer’s training course that talks all about tolerance and LGBT issues are one of their subjects. You have to accept everyone as they are, you can’t choose, these are your soldiers and these are the people you are going to fight with."

Shahar’s story of acceptance, patience and honesty is an inspiration to other transgender soldiers in the IDF and to anyone who believes that diversity and equality is possible anywhere, even in the military. "It’s a moral choice that the IDF made when it chose to define itself as the nation’s army. There is no reason not to recruit great people just because it requires a few modifications in the system," says Shahar.