Taking Social Cohesion to Task: Perceptions of Transgender Military Inclusion and Concepts of Cohesion

Academic Article


  • AbstractRecent political debates over the inclusion of transgender servicemembers in the US military center around the impact such inclusion will have on unit cohesion and effectiveness. Missing from the debate, however, are the perceptions of those who do the soldiering. What are their perceptions of cohesion? Do they, like political leaders and the general public, believe unit cohesion leads to military effectiveness? In other words, how much does the narrative at the elite level—that insists excluding minority groups is a military necessity—match the perceptions of those who serve? Drawing on an original survey of 151 current and former members of the US military, our results suggest that servicemembers’ perceptions mirror those in the general public: political ideology is correlated with beliefs that minority groups disrupt unit cohesion. We find that conservatives are more likely to believe that the inclusion of transgender soldiers will negatively impact cohesion and undermine unit effectiveness. Moreover, conservatives are more likely to endorse a conceptualization of cohesion that hinges on the social—“people like me” or “band of brothers”—dynamics of cohesion rather than more professional, task-oriented conceptions of cohesion. However, military experience affects these perceptions: respondents with combat experience, who held/hold a higher rank, and who are currently serving are more likely to endorse a task-based conception of cohesion that ties cohesion to professionalism and competence, rather than social identity.
  • Authors

  • Spindel, Jen
  • Ralston, Robert
  • Publication Date

  • 2020
  • Published In


  • civil-military relations
  • exclusion
  • inclusion
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Start Page

  • 80
  • End Page

  • 96
  • Volume

  • 5
  • Issue

  • 1