Anonymous Perspective on Transgender Soldiers: Content Analysis of Online Headlines and Comments in South Korea | BMC Public Health


Baker said that “transgender people are those whose gender identity differs from that generally associated with the sex they were assigned at birth. [11].” Not all transgender people experience significant distress, the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) uses “gender dysphoria” to clinically describe such distress. [11]. During her lifetime, Hee-Soo Byun said that she underwent gender affirmation surgery just to live as a woman and a soldier. [12]. However, South Korea’s current military personnel regulations do not align with the DSM-V definition of transgender. It’s outdated to think of transgender identity as a mental illness [13]. Another obstacle to the inclusion of transgender people in military service in South Korea is the dichotomous categorization of human sexes based on anatomy. Discrimination is fundamentally based on categorization by sex and not gender, so it is difficult for trans people to belong to the organization. If the categorization was based on gender, then Ms. Byun would have belonged to the female soldiers. To include transgender individuals in the military, the Department of National Defense should consider appropriate preparations regarding physical environments that allow cisgender and transgender soldiers to coexist within an organization. As described above, in this study, opposing comments presenting disturbing views that the human rights of cisgender people would be at risk if the inclusion of transgender people in military service were permitted were easily found. Additionally, a previous study of 70 trans women who served in the military and had fulfilled their obligations at the time of the survey found that half said they had discomfort using showers and facilities. sleeping with cisgender people. [5]. These findings indicate that the general population as well as transgender people emphasized that appropriate preparations regarding physical environments are necessary for cisgender and transgender people to coexist.

In the present study, we could easily find biased and discriminatory expressions against transgender people in newspaper articles. As part of the analysis, we studied the keywords of news article titles to determine if they were about Byun’s experience with gender dysphoria. This study revealed that no article, classified as “anonymous”, had used the term “gender dysphoria” in its title. However, the term “gender transitioning” has been used regardless of the newspapers’ political orientations. A more provocative term, “sex reassignment surgery”, has also been identified. More than one headline, which discussed Byun’s original sex at birth (male), was confirmed in every newspaper except one liberal newspaper. Emcke pointed out that hate is not individual or sudden, but socially formed and taught [14]. Even though Byun’s supervisor officially acknowledged and authorized gender-affirming surgery, some headlines highlighted the terms “on vacation” and “on duty.” It is speculated that such terms may have caused a misunderstanding by implying that the operation was carried out impulsively or that the transgender soldiers were not faithful to their obligations. Additionally, these biased and discriminatory expressions have been used to criticize Byun in comments against transgender soldiers. Additionally, Byun was found to be often associated with her rank or position in the military even after the forced discharge. Surprisingly, the proportion of articles that used the term “former” was less than 50%. Some reader comments expressed discomfort with this kind of description saying, “Why is he still called SergeantBecause news stories strive for accuracy and information, it’s easy to believe that their content is fact-based. [15]. It is not easy for cisgender people to notice their encounters with transgender people in their daily lives, but it is easier for them to develop misunderstanding or prejudices about transgender people based on the portrayal that the media entails. make. [15]. Therefore, any form of media, including daily news bulletins, must be responsible and ensure the relevance and neutrality of words when describing transgender people. Biased and discriminatory expressions against transgender people in the mass media should be properly handled in accordance with the reports on human rights standards proposed by the Korea Journalists Association. This not only undermines the dignity and human rights of transgender people, but also induces hostility towards LGBT people, which could lead to associated problems as a result of discrimination and prejudice. [16].

In this study, we primarily assessed comments on media reports from members of the general public to examine attitudes toward transgender soldiers. As expected, the proportion of comments opposing Byun serving in the military in any form was high. Transgender people became public in Korea in 2001 when Risu Ha appeared in the media as an artist and gained popularity. [17]. Regardless of the 20-year time difference, the level of social acceptability between Hee-Soo Byun who wanted to serve in the military and Risu Ha, a celebrity, differed. A previous study that analyzed the opinions of 500 people using the 2017 Global Transgender Attitudes Survey found that 45.2% of participants agreed that transgender people should be allowed to serve in the army. [18]. This discrepancy could be caused by differences in respondent/commentator characteristics and methodologies. However, caution should be exercised as bold opinions were expressed through online commentary due to complete anonymity and not in face-to-face interviews or surveys.

One notable issue among the comments supporting the inclusion of transgender people in military service was the need to re-examine Byun’s current eligibility as a female soldier after the gender affirmation operation. This may be related to the legitimate employment process indicating that fairness and fairness in an employment process is important to Koreans.

Additionally, some of the quotes depicting opposing comments not only reflect transphobia, but also sexism and even misogyny. Such comments viewed female soldiers as not being useful for national defense compared to male soldiers due to their belief in the physical inferiority of women. However, it is commonly accepted that transgender identity does not indicate physical unfitness. [19]. In addition, the general population’s lack of understanding of gender-related terms, such as gender identity and gender expression, should be improved. For example, it was found from an opposing comment that sexual orientation was confused with gender identity -“This should never be allowed. Homosexuality is a type of mental disorder. They should go to the hospital instead of the army.”

Study limitations

This study has several limitations. First, the analysis was only carried out for four major daily newspapers. Second, it is likely that the opinions of certain age groups, who were familiar with using the internet or smartphones, were primarily collected, and therefore the results of this study cannot be generalized to others. age groups. Third, specific analyzes based on readers’ detailed information were impossible. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to infer that the comments collected in this study reflect the opinions of male readers. Since military service is compulsory for all able-bodied men in Korea, military-related issues mainly attract men’s attention. Fourth, although various opinions were noted, the researchers were unable to verify whether each of these opinions was scientifically sound or could be supported by scientific evidence. Nonetheless, the study’s findings may be useful since they examined opinions about transgender soldiers in Korea for the first time.

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Jenny T. Curlee