Soldier's Sex Change Causes Headache for Military

  • By Yoon Soo-jung

    January 17, 2020 13:02

    An non-commissioned officer in the Army has had gender reassignment surgery while on leave and returned to base as a woman.

    This is unheard-of in conservative Korea, and military authorities duly tried to discharge the soldier, but the soldier insists on continuing service as a woman. According to military officials on Thursday, the NCO had been serving as a tank driver at a military unit in northern Gyeonggi Province.

    The military normally excludes from the mandatory draft for men who are considering changing their gender, but there is no precedent for a sex change during service. The soldier had been diagnosed with gender dysphoria at a military hospital and had undergone several psychiatric and hormone treatment sessions. The soldier then applied for a 19-day leave in November last year to have the adjustment surgery.

    At that time, the Army told the soldier it would be difficult to return to duty afterwards, but the soldier did not change his mind and flew to Thailand to have the operation.

    The sex change became a headache for the Army because gender dysphoria is classified as a mental illness under Korean law and soldiers with handicaps would have to be discharged after a mandatory review to see if they are fit for combat.

    A meeting at Army headquarters will make the final determination next week, focusing on the soldier's ability to continue carrying out service. But the soldier has recently sought court recognition of his new gender and asked the military to postpone the decision until legal proceedings are over.

    Kim Hyun, a former head of the Korean Bar Association, said, "This case could serve as a new legal precedent," since it is illegal in Korea to fire someone for being transgender or another minority.

    Yoon Hyung-ho at Kunyang University said, "According to military practices, the proper thing to do would have been to discharge the soldier before granting leave to undergo gender reassignment surgery. But some military insiders are critical. One officer said, "This case shows just how lax military discipline has become for a soldier undergo a sex-change operation while serving."

    The issue is controversial in other countries as well. The U.S. in 2015 allowed transgender people to serve in the military, but it was reinstated in January 2019 by President Donald Trump.

    Trump tweeted in July 2017 the state "cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail." The Supreme Court upheld Trump's administrative order, citing the costs of hormone therapy and potential rifts that could be caused in the military. However, transgender soldiers who joined the U.S. military before the order were not discharged.

    In many European countries, including the Netherlands, U.K., Germany, France and Sweden, transgender people are allowed to serve in the military.

    • Copyright © Chosunilbo &
    Previous Next
    All Headlines Back to Top