Ethical Quote Of The Month: Sgt. Shane Ortega

Trans Military Service Member

“You have to exercise patience with people, but people are not going to understand the subject overnight.”

—-Sgt. Shane Ortega, helicopter crew chief in the Army’s 25th Infantry Division, speaking to the Washington Post about his legal battle with the U.S. military, which continues to classify him as a woman despite his transition to a man.

The reason we say that “hard cases make bad law” is that the toughest cases fall between the cracks in rules and regulations, and they all have cracks. The law seeks consistent precedents, so anomalous fact patterns threaten the integrity and efficiency of otherwise effective laws and rules that work well in the vast majority of situations. Yet those hard cases usually indicate flaws in policies, rules and laws, and sometimes point to the need for change.

Often, an organization, especially a bureaucratic one like the military, will deal with such disruptive cases by simply looking past the actual facts, and treating them “by the book.” Ortega represents a particularly glaring instance of this phenomenon, which in his case not only harms his career, but also makes the military appear rigid to the point of absurdity.

Yet, as his Ethical Quote of the Month indicates, he understands. Change is painful, and it takes time.

Sgt. Ortega has served three combat tours in the past decade in Iraq and Afghanistan, two as a Marine and one in the Army, the first two as a woman—he was born female— and the last one as a man. Pentagon rules still insist that transgender soldiers must be discharged from military service on medical grounds: the military regards such military personnel as suffering from a mental disorder. At this point, Ortega has been grounded while his lawyers at the ACLU battle to keep him in the service. Meanwhile, he is consigned to desk duty while living an existence that could have been envisioned by W.S. Gilbert or Pirandello.

Though he regards himself as a gay male, the Army regards him as a heterosexual woman. He holds a man’s military travel passport, based on the new Social Security card he received when he changed his name, but the military identifies him as a female in its computer system. The Army also requires him to wear a woman’s “dress blues” for official occasions. Since a psychiatrist ruled that Sgt. Ortega did not suffer from any mental or emotional defects that would interfere with his service, the Army is now trying to manufacture arguments for why he is unfit, suggesting that he and other transgender soldiers cannot serve in combat conditions because they rely on hormone treatments. Troops with other medication requirements, however, such as diabetics, are not  disqualified from service. Ortega, moreover, experienced no problems arising from his gender reassignment in his last tour of duty. In eastern Afghanistan, Ortega operated as an assistant squad leader repairing aircraft for a Special Forces unit in a remote forward operating base. “You really learn it really plays no role. Nobody’s going to carry my gear,” he told the Washington Post. “It’s pretty hard-core equal treatment in a combat zone.”

Despite Ortega’s patience and understanding, the military can be counted upon to push his empathy to the limit. President Obama, typically risk averse, is choosing to avoid the public relations and political fall-out that would arise if he changed the military’s policies regarding transgender soldiers—after all, it’s not a large voting bloc, so they can be left in limbo indefinitely, or at least until the public gets over its “Ick!” reaction—and is thus passing the buck to the services, where he knows a resolution is likely to take years. Sgt. Ortega is doing what he can, speaking with elected officials, civilian groups and health professionals as well as in public forums.

If the military would follow the philosophy of the Ethics Incompleteness Principle* and just deal logically and fairly with the extreme anomaly that Ortega represents without having his case force the services into a full acceptance of transgender military personnel that their culture is not ready to accept, he could get on with his career and his life. This change, which, like the acceptance of blacks, women and gays in the military, is inevitable, will take time, and Ortega, a true army man, understands the culture he is part of. He also understands that the military doesn’t like hard cases, anomalies and exceptions, and would rather ignore them than let them erode rules, policies and traditions that once made sense, but no longer do.

His restraint is admirable, and his patience is remarkable.

Meanwhile, the Army is making him a cross-dresser.


*The Ethics Incompleteness Principle: Czech-born mathematician Kurt Gödel’s two Incompleteness Theorems, which relate to mathematical proofs, are merely the inspiration for this observation that applies to normative rules, systems, moral codes, laws and other principles. The human language is not sufficiently precise to define a rule that will work in every instance. There are always anomalies on the periphery of every normative system, no matter how sound or well articulated. If one responds to an anomaly by trying to amend the rule or system to accommodate it, the integrity of the rule or system is disturbed, and perhaps ruined. Yet if one stubbornly applies the rule or system without amendment to the anomaly anyway, one may reach an absurd conclusion or an unjust result. The Ethics Incompleteness Principle suggests that when a system or rule doesn’t seem to work well when applied to an unexpected or unusual situation, the wise response is to abandon the system or rule—in that one anomalous case only— and use  basic ethics principles and analysis to find the best solution. Then return to the system and rules as they were, without altering them to make the treatment of the anomalous situation “consistent.”

No system or rule is going to work equally well with every possible scenario, which is why committing to a single ethical system is folly, and why it is important to keep basic ethical values in mind in case a pre-determined formula for determining what is right breaks down.


Spark, graphics and facts: Washington Post

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts, and seek written permission when appropriate. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work or property was used in any way without proper attribution, credit or permission, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at

84 thoughts on “Ethical Quote Of The Month: Sgt. Shane Ortega

    • Is the reason the Army doesn’t need this gentleman that you are offering to take his place?

      Or do I misunderstand you and this is just a poorly worded call for reducing the size of the US armed forces? It is a reasonable position but you really must try to be more clear in your wording or people will think men are unsuited to a military life. That’s of course ridiculous, as I’m sure you’ll agree, you don’t need breasts to pull a trigger or even to repair an aircraft.

      • I have some standards and would never consider joining the Army.

        My wording choice was exactly what I intended, the Army doesn’t need Sgt Ortega, the the Army needs soldiers who fit certain parameters that can do the jobs they were trained to do in any clime and place that don’t require medical specialist to help them to operate at a median level, the cost benefit is just not there.

    • Snowflake?

      Do you mean snowflake like a sensitive easily offended person who can’t handle the slightest stress? The comment made by Ortega would seem to indicate otherwise.

      Do you mean someone who can’t handle a little physical ardor?

      I’d submit the pictures at least give a hint that that isn’t the case…

      • I always thought snowflakes were people who thought they were special… That there was no one else just like them, maybe coupled with the fragile part. Regardless, I don’t think that it applies.

      • No, snowflake as in wanting to be recognized and celebrated as unique and special.

        Sensitive and easily offended would be “pansy”

  1. Wrong Jack! And sickening to boot. I can’t believe it’s come to such disturbing lows such as this. This is a complete travesty to expect the army to do this. To allow mentally disturbed individuals into its ranks whom normal society would never accept is in fathomable. The army doesn’t need dangerously imbalanced people like this Ortega corrupting and possibly endangering other Army soldiers.

    How could you ever expect the Army to keep an unstable and mentally defective individual such as a former Marine into its ranks?


    • I can’t be absolutely certain, but… You are you being fascetious, yes? (e.g., “How could you ever expect the Army to keep an unstable and mentally defective individual such as a former Marine into its ranks?”) I certainly hope that you are.

    • Obviously this precious little snowflake thought the Army was a better fit and I would agree. We are intolerant bigots in the Marine Corps and expect that when someone voluntarily joins our ranks and we expend the time and resources to train them to do a job we want said job to be done. Being cleared for flight duty requires that the individual is in a stable and focused state, testosterone affects are both physiological and psychological. I am willing to give a lot of leeway to someone who is injured to get better and back on the job, that is a completely separate issue. Do you think for a moment that Sgt Ortega just woke up one fine morning a decided to shift genders? Or do you find it more plausible that going into the Army this idea was already present and the capitulation to Manning played a part? As for diabetes in the Marine Corps, you can’t join, if it develops while serving you have to go through a physical evaluation board and many are then med discharged, having diabetes makes you nondeployable, which means someone else will need to pick up the slack. I am not sure how the Army deals with this but I think the diabetes comparison is a poor one overall.

    • Tex any Army jabs are intended in good nature and my apologies on any big A’s I may have missed, my phone keeps dropping the capitulation.

      • As an Army vet myself, Steve, I heartily concur with your statements. This Frankenstein floozy has no business in military service… any branch. You have to be able to trust the men beside you, whether you’re a combat infantryman or a cook at a Pentagon snack bar. Anyone who’d have themselves physically and chemically desecrated to assume the semblance of another sex has serious psychological problems that are liable to be manifested during critical moments of stress. God pity any soldier who was stuck with this- whatever- as his squad leader in action.

        • Thanks but I don’t agree with yours, I think some folks are born cross wired and so long as they can get the job done I don’t much care, that includes unit cohesion. I have my doubts that it can work, that it will make the service any better or is financially responsible. I find far to much of air of special snowflake in this case and suspect fraudulent enlistment, just seems unlikely that at 28 and in a another service he decides to change genders to male.

          I also think a lot of time will be spent dealing with medical issues instead of getting the job done and that is not acceptable.

          • We’ll have to disagree on that “born crosswired” stuff, Steve. That “genetic predisposition” line has pretty well be shot down in flames. Even the professional perverts aren’t trying to peddle it anymore. I maintain that ANY person who cannot come to terms with his or her manifest sexual identity is mentally (at the least) unhealthy and a danger to others in a military environment.

  2. The problem is that for those who transition, there is still a need for constant amounts of medication on a daily basis. How do you expect someone to get that medication to the front lines? What supplies get bumped so Ortega can get his hormone treatments?

    Those are valid questions – not manufactured excuses. Doubly so because the military’s purpose is to kill people and break things, not to be some laboratory for social change.

    • T’were I writing the policy it would be one of not recruiting persons who need medication and not placing anyone who devolves a need for medication while in the service on the front lines under the theory that there are enough necessary risks without adding the unnecessary one of being unable to get needed drugs.

      But that’s not the policy, as stated above they allow diabetics. The powers that be decided lack of drugs is an acceptable risk, that means they’re already shipping in medication so putting Mr Ortega’s into the mix doesn’t change anything.

      • Not all diabetics are allowed to stay, most are not, the exceptions are generally those who are near retirement.

        Of the diabetics that I have known in service all but one had to get out. The one who stayed went through a PEB and was place on permanent limited duty until retirement. He was luckily in a nondeployable billet when diagnosed.

        • Let’s put it this way. Whatever policy on diabetics need for medication they happen to have would be the most appropriate way to also deal with a transsexual who needs hormones. Your other issues with transsexuals aside and without having to concede any other arguments about them, would you agree to that much?

        • Those who already suffer from the condition are not allowed in at all. Those who suffer from a variety of issues are not allowed in at all. I myself couldn’t join up if I tried due to vision issues (it corrects, but without my glasses I am useless). I would think anyone who is already transitioned and requires medication should fall into the same category and not allowed in. It’s another story when diagnosed with a problem after being already in, though I wonder if that’s as much a question of not losing their investment. I did know one USAF officer who started to suffer from diabetes late in his 20 years, but the military did not declare him diagnosed, because apparently if they had there might have been disability payments involved (or at least that’s the story he told). My main problem here is that some of these problems are just the body breaking down. Transitioning is a voluntary process. I don’t see why someone should be allowed to change voluntarily from not needing medication to needing medication on the government’s dime.

          • Arbitrary rule. They can follow it, of course, except that it bleeds into bias. If they didn’t already have the “no trans” rule, then this one could be taken at face value.

            • Bullshit, most health issues will disqualify an applicant, it is not arbitrary, it is to build and maintain a military force, that is the purpose, not to receive free treatment. Why would we knowingly accept folks who have costly medical issues when there are plenty who don’t? Why would you advocate such a thing?

              • Is this a cost issue, then? The point is that if this is a gender neutral policy that happens to make it impossible for trans individuals to serve, swell. Fair is fair. If it’s a policy being interpreted specifically to block trans soldiers because the army finds them icky, not swell. I can’t tell from the accounts which. It sure sound like your issue was a fall back.

                • It’s a cost and effectiveness issue, Jack, a soldier dependent on medication or some other artificial item is a problem. That goes double for ground forces, where everyone is expected to at least be able to fight if it comes to it, and triple for the USMC where every marine is considered a rifleman. Exceptions get made for high degrees of skill, like Grace Hopper serving well past normal retirement age due to her unique computer skills, but that’s the exception, not the rule.

  3. You speak as if a person can “change” his Sex, just by taking synthetic hormones and having disfiguring surgery. You can “appear” to be opposite tothe sex that you were born, but you can’t change it. If you stop taking the hormones, your appearance will revert to your original sex. You cannot change your genetic makeup or DNA to change into a different sex than that which you were born with. I don’t understand why people don’t “get” this. It’s scientifically impossible. So the only answer is that you have a giant mental problem which needs to be addressed. It doesn’t make it impossible for you to serve in the Military, but it makes it darned difficult for your fellow service men and women.

  4. The sex was already other than the appearance. Any change accommodates the sex, not the other way round. Who we are — very much including our sex — is a combination of genetic code and the environment in which we develop (including chemical and surgical alterations), and that combination is almost infinitely variable. The combination influences our behavior and identity throughout our lives. It is not only scientifically possible: it is essential to life. I know this is difficult for you to follow and that you would like all your biases to have cut and dried support but the fact is that humans, as well as some other organisms, not only exist as XY males or XX females, but can have a chromosomal arrangement that is contrary to their phenotypic sex, that is, XX males or XY females. You can “get” it, if you try.

    … And having an experienced three-tour soldier in your outfit should make it it darned easy on everyone else.

  5. Tex, how many folks have you served with that have had continuous (not service connected) medical issue that interrupted their duties that were allowed to stick around?

  6. Transgendered people are such a tiny minority. Why would acceptance of such a tiny minority be inevitable? The general public could easily ignore them.

            • It does? He is doing administrative work, he is not admin but a crew chief. If allowed to fly again he won’t be able to deploy so what is the point? There is no reason to accommodate him, he needs to go, it is about the mission not the individual.

                • Because of the ongoing treatment, even those males who are being treated for low t can’t, but that is correctable, he could if he were willing to stop the required treatment but if I remember what Zoe has said that is very detrimental.

                    • You kidding me right? He gets caught on a urinalysis and didn’t self report a change in med status as is required and is found not medically qualified by the flight surgeon and you think since he was already doing it that it should continue? The flight surgeon down checked him based on a checklist, why the hell does he get a special pass? So your fine with someone who has been found not medically qualified to be in a position to risk the safety of others?

      • Steve, on this issue, I sorta agree with you and sorta don’t. Transgenders are right around .3% (that’s POINT three) of the 9% of the population that are LGBT. My guess would be MINISCULE would be a good word for the Armed Forces. Like you, my belief is that ability to perform the mission is the ONLY qualifying or disqualifying criteria for the Armed Forces. Unlike you, however, I do not see any reason to assume that he cannot perform the mission, given that he is a crew chief. It’s possible I’m wrong, but I don’t see it right now.

        • Maybe I haven’t been as clear, I don’t care what he is, I care that the job that he is assigned is being done. I care that when he didn’t do what was required of him and he was found medically unqualified that he claims special status and discrimination.

        • Dragin very nonchalantly trotted out that “9% of the population are LGBT” statistic, when no reasonable authority of any kind would say such a thing with any kind of certainty. What numbers have been culled, worldwide, tend to skew much lower than that. Just throwing that out there.

          • Isaac, I “trotted that number out”, as I have done several times, here, without the disclaimer, made by every reputable source, that there is simply no way, given the responses of the LGBT community to get a reliable count. Nine percent is a “best guess”. You don’t like it, make your own. Personally, I think it is too high, but that is why it combines Lesbians, Gays (what’s up with that, by the way? I always thought Lesbians WERE gay.) bi-sexuals and transgenders, with transgenders getting the dubious honor of counting cross-dressers. Like I said, if you don’t like MY wild guess, make your own.

            • The highest percentage I’ve found from any credible, untainted source is still less than three. Most such sources place it at less than two. Naturally, it is in the interest of the Homosexual Lobby (as with most constricted voting blocs) to present as high a number of clients as they can without losing too much credibility where it matters.

              • “Naturally, it is in the interest of the Homosexual Lobby (as with most constricted voting blocs) to present as high a number of clients as they can without losing too much credibility where it matters.”

                Rather than get into a pointless argument about whose numbers are right, let me rephrase: Their numbers are MINISCULE , compared to other minorities. We should not (but are) changing vast segments of our populations belief systems to accommodate them.

            • Yeah, but Steve, he’s been down-checked because the Army in it’s infinite wisdom has decided that anybody who wants to change their sex is nuts. Not the case, necessarily. The ARMY shrink says he is not.

              • Testosterone is a schedule 3, is known to have both physiological an psychological affects on males and females. Anytime you receive outside treatment when in the military it is required to be reported, when on fight duty all prescription drugs and doses are to be reported.

              • I will also say that although it doesn’t seem to be the case here that gays, transsexuals and other protected classes can be in addition to status complete loons. What was stated was rule out was one diagnosis, it didn’t say that he wasn’t unstable.

  7. I think several of you are coming at this from the wrong perspective, as a freedom and individualistic loving American it can be easy to look at this from Ortegas view and say “how unfair” and in a way be correct. But I think the proper perspective is results based, does this individual on balance add anything to the mission? No, then shit can them. If yes is it sustainable and cost effective? If still yes, retain. The chain of command and physical evaluation board will do this, well if politics don’t get in the way that is.

    • You’re right about it being circular. If the pictures Jack posted are of this guy, there is NO reason he cannot do his job. I’m sorry, but the news of Percy Sledge dying today is frying my brain, so logical argument may be beyond me right now. All I will say is that, as a combat veteran, I would serve with him. Whether he would be willing to serve with me, an old, broke-dick tanker, is up to him.

      • As I am sure you recognize it is not the muscle mass that is the hold up, it is the flight physical which is. He is saying it is the testosterone that he pop on, maybe it is since it’s side effects can be extreme including lose of focus, mental instability, stroke, and heart attack. This is a powerful treatment that is forcing the body to change in radical ways.

  8. For the record I am not a gay male. I identify as pansexual or queer. Gender does not equal sexual orientation. That is an often assumed misconception. Just because I am part of a gay choir doesn’t mean I am gay. I am part of the LGBT community. Before you make assumptions you may want to contact the person in regards.

    Shane Ortega

    • Thank you, Sgt. I’m rooting for you. I don’t exactly understand the distinction you’re drawing, but I don’t care about gender, sexual orientation, or anything else. I am grateful for your service.

      • The acronym gets larger every year, it seems. The simple answer is that it gives a sense of inclusion to people who are generally treated poorly and disincluded. There is safety and strength in numbers, and it also builds a community.

        Do we need the acronym to grow? No. We could just as equally find a label that describes inclusivity, but I don’t know if that’ll happen. One day it will probably be LGBTQTCOMGWTFBBQIAMTHEVERYMODELOFAMODERNMAJORGENERAL or something equally burdensome.

        • The acronym gets larger every year, it seems. The simple answer is that it gives a sense of inclusion to people who are generally treated poorly and disincluded. There is safety and strength in numbers, and it also builds a community.

          I can understand why the t’s want to be associated with the LGB’s, but why the other way around? I mean, first of all, the t’s are so few in number. And, the T’s have a bona fide mental disorder, while the LGB’s had successfully lobbied to have LGB declassified as a mental disorder.

          • Part of it, I think is that because T people hold a very blurred sexuality in the eyes of the general public, a lot of people who are T are considered de facto gay. You look at a trans man; is he likes women, is he gay or straight? If he likes men, is he gay or straight? It comes down to figuring out where those lines are…. But very often I’ve found that bisexual people are referred to as ‘gay’ because their inclination to sleep with men for whatever reason trumps their inclination to sleep with women. I assume trans people deal with a similar issue,

            It also doesn’t help when people…. Who will remain nameless…. lump every kind of sex that isn’t penis-in-vagina-within-the-confines-of-marriage as ‘perversion’, when you start to “other” people, you can’t be surprised when they band together until you become “other”.

  9. Here we go again, its the gay marriage debate all over again. If I thought for a second Ortega and the ACLU wanted equal treatment, I would have no objection. Sgt Ortega should be free to do whatever he choses and define himself however he chooses, but choices have consequences and redefining his sex excludes him from duty. He knew that before he made his transition, so the transition was obviously more important than service. Ok, good luck thanks for your service. Clearly this isn’t about fairness its about a special treatment, for a special class of people and a political agenda.

    Lots of people are screwed by the system and fall through the cracks. But for one group we have to move heaven and earth, rewrite the English language and persecute anyone who disagrees with their self-definition. Its not about fairness its about power, but most people are good natured enough to believe it is about equality. If I had my way Ortega would be free to define himself however he wanted and everyone else would be free to accept or reject that definition as they saw fit. But that is not the objective.

    Just like gay marriage, the objective is to push through a radical redefinition of terms. Then this group (lets call them the left) will deny that it has changed the definition. The left will then argue that the transgendered just want to be treated like everyone else and accepting the radical change in definition won’t effect anyone. Next step is to demonize anyone who objects, with the familiar argument “no decent person could object.” You know the rest.

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