Uniform and Grooming Standards for Transgender Officers
Law enforcement agencies are paramilitary organizations. These entities are highly ordered and detailed in the expectations of their membership. As a part of this, “uniform and grooming standards” are published by many organization(s) in written form. The form is usually in a “duty manual” or in “general orders” that each member is required to read, understand, and comply with. In part, these directives are to insure uniformity especially amongst sworn officers or support staff. This helps to instill consistency, discipline, good order, and can enhance a sense of esprit de corps. Most law enforcement agencies publish uniform and grooming standards that are gender specific. Unfortunately, most of those agencies have not maintained pace with accepting changes in the gender spectrum reflecting the general public. Therefore, most have not revised their polices or procedures to reflect variations within their own gender-diverse employees. Agency executives, such as chief of police, elected sheriff, or appointed director of a law enforcement agency may be ill-equipped to support transgender or gender-diverse employee as they have no guidance to assist them. The employee is then left to make decisions about their professional presentation which may cause angst for the transitioning employee, peers and supervisors and may result in discipline for the transitioning employee as their gender presentation changes or evolves because it does not strictly comply with the existing published binary gender policies.
Gender transition does not happen overnight. It is not an immediate event for the transitioning employee. Each person’s gender transition, especially the physical aspects of the transition, is unique to that individual. Transitioning decisions require time, planning, evaluation, formal or informal review, and reassessment. Timing is important in that the employee may announce their intention to transition but not be capable of immediately conforming to the new binary grooming standards for their transition. For example, uniform and grooming standards are different in some respects for male and female officers. Uniform trousers and shirts are fitted differently for males than for females. Intermingling of gendered uniform articles is prohibited. Earrings may be permitted for females, but not males. Long hair is approved for female staff, but not male staff. Nail polish is permitted for female members, but not allowed for male staff. Makeup is allowed for females but not allowed for males. And the list goes on.
The easiest way to resolve these matters is to adopt gender-neutral uniform and grooming standards. As of June 2022, three known U.S. agencies have adopted gender-neutral policies – Portland, Ore., Sacramento, Calif., and Washington, D.C.1
Most transgender employees seeking gender transition may do this with or without the knowledge of their employer and mostly before the disclosure of the employees’ intention to transition. There may be instances when the employee’s health concerns require formal or informal accommodation to allow time to conform to the written standards. This flexibility may be required due to physical changes related to gender-affirming surgical procedures, or use of prescribed medications. Body changes are not unique to transitioning persons. Examples in officers of any gender could be bariatric surgery, weight gain over a lifetime, mastectomies for cancer, other cancer surgeries, breast reduction or augmentation surgery, or following deforming trauma.
For LEOs and staff who are transitioning from male to female (MTF/AMAB) facial hair is generally something that will be removed through laser or electrolysis treatments. Both types of hair removal require the LEO to allow facial hair to grow out for a few days prior to each treatment. Shift schedules, days off, court appearances, and other work-related considerations may make these procedures challenging.
Law enforcement uniforms have come a long way over the years. At the turn of the century, uniform and equipment tailored and manufactured to fit women was just being developed. The left-over-right front closure men’s style trousers and shirts no longer were the exclusive style. Right-over-left front closure women’s trousers and shirts were added to uniform specifications. The cut of both garments afforded a better fit for women, allowing for fewer gaps and tailoring and tapering of both garment styles. Smaller waist sizes and wider hips allowed these garments to fit better and to give a more professional appearance. Over the past decade, women’s trousers have been developed to not only fit more properly but to allow a posterior zipper configuration. This innovation enables women to use the restroom facilities without having to fully remove their duty belts and trouser belts to lower their trousers to relieve themselves. Note: Removing the duty belt in insecure environments is unsafe and ill-advised because it leaves the officer vulnerable to attack. It also places safety equipment out of the officer’s immediate reach.
Women’s uniform shirts are also tailored with darts to better accommodate breasts, whereas male uniform shirts are fitted for a more flat-chested couture. These features are accentuated with the wearing of ballistic body armor, especially armor worn concealed under the uniform shirts by either gender.
Similar issues arise in tailored fit of body armor during gender transition. When in transition, uniforms specifically designed for male or female officers, may not always fit the body type of the wearer as their bodies develop and change over time with hormone usage or surgery. Consideration should be made to allow officers to find the best fit possible for their body type at the time the uniform is worn and not to restrict officers to gender-specific uniform styles which, when ill-fitting, will present an unprofessional appearance and may also be a safety hazard. Officer safety is always a high priority and concern for officers and their organizations. Body changes, as previously discussed, can be caused by many things but wearing a uniform that isn’t well fitted because of those changes that allows for freedom of movement and full range of motion can be deadly. A priority in uniform fit is the reduction of irritants such as chaffing and binding at necklines, sleeves, bust lines, and waistlines and restricted motion in shoulders and leg stride caused by too tight-fitting uniforms. A too tight uniform can potentially impede an officer’s ability to apprehend and control a suspect in a physical confrontation. Bunching and bagging of too loose-fitting uniforms around the neckline, shoulders, bust line, and waistline can cause snagging or catching on things external to the officer and can also be used when gripped by a suspect to control the officer in a physical confrontation placing the officer’s life in jeopardy. Officers in well-fitted uniforms are comfortable physically and experience less psychological distress allowing them to be more confident in their appearance and presentation and are therefore better able to do their jobs safely and effectively. Remember, these types of body changes also occur in the cis gender LEO as discussed above.1
Ballistic body armor worn by uniformed law enforcement involves two types of carriers (which cover the armor itself). The first is the concealable carrier which is worn under the uniform shirt to afford maximum coverage for the wearer but creates a less militaristic presentation. Many law enforcement agencies do not allow their personnel to wear external carriers, which are worn over the uniform shirt. There are pros and cons to these types of body armor.
For officers who are going through gender transition in the workplace, having the option and ability to wear an external carrier can be important. The medical concern is often comfort in post-operative settings.
Assigned Male at Birth (AMAB) officers may have had breast augmentation surgery. Wearing a tight-fitting ballistic vest carrier, like the concealable body armor style, may lead to overheating, lack of ventilation, and issues with compression, friction, and damaging effects to new tissue as well as discomfort.
Assigned Female at Birth (AFAB) officers may have had breast reduction or double radical mastectomy surgery that will create a need for a temporary body armor accommodation. Again, wearing a tight-fitting vest carrier like the concealable body armor style may lead to overheating, lack of ventilation, and issues with compression, friction, and damage to healing tissues as well as discomfort.
In both examples, anecdotal information from TCOPS officers who have been allowed to wear external ballistic body armor carriers have reduced the officer’s pain and discomfort and facilitated return to full duty.
As a AFAB officer transitions either through “binding” or surgical procedure the prominence of breast tissue is reduced producing a more masculine chest. The female-fitted vest that the officer wore prior to transition may no longer fit properly.
Female-to-male TGD officer, wearing properly fitting male designated external ballistic body armor carrier.
Femae-to-male TGD officer, wearing properly fitting male designated concealable ballistic body armor carrier.
Male-to-female TGD officer, wearing poorly fitting male designated external ballistic body armor carrier.
Male-to-female TGD officer wearing a properly-fitting, female designated concealable ballistic body armor carrier.
- U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office). Gender-Neutral Uniform and Grooming Policies. Community Policing Dispatch. June 2022; 15(6). Available at: https://cops.usdoj.gov/html/dispatch/06-2022/Gender_Neutral_Policies.html.