Five Trans Service Members on the Glory and Agony of the US Military

On Wednesday, Donald Trump took to Twitter to claim transgender people will be banned from serving in the U.S. military due to their overwhelming medical costs. Although his tweets don’t constitute actual policy, they are indicative of the administration’s aims and their disregard for the lives of trans people. It now appears that Trump made the announcement because a fight had broken out in the House over a spending bill that included amendments to ban military healthcare funding for gender confirmation surgery and treatments for transgender active-duty personnel. The amendments were the work of Mike Pence. When word got back to Trump that the bill — which included funding for his proposed border wall — was unlikely to pass because of the last-minute discriminatory amendments, he simply went to Twitter and declared trans people banned from the military.

Service in the military has long been made one of the most available options for employment, financial stability and education for US citizens from many marginalized experiences; as a result, the military may be the largest single employer of trans people in the US. Transgender people have always served in the military, but until very recently they had to do so while in the closet. In 2010, the Senate struck down “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” which banned gay men, bisexuals and lesbians from openly serving in the military. However, the repeal didn’t address the rights of transgender people. It wasn’t until last summer that the Obama administration announced that transgender troops are allowed to serve openly.

These are stories of trans people who have served or are serving in the US military at several points along that timeline; their experiences rang from the positive to the deeply traumatic and everywhere in between.


Paula

When I reviewed my first Officer Evaluation Report, I was pleased to see a very positive narrative, one that declared me competent and effective in my job as a brand new 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Army. One line gave me pause, “2nd Lieutenant Schonauer is a man of impeccable integrity.” How I wanted that to be true.

At first glance, I appeared to be a strong young man, well educated, considerate, polite. I tried to let my actions speak louder than my words. I tried to be the kind of officer who looked out for his soldiers, who led by example, and who deferred his own desires in the name of mission accomplished, the actual motto of my unit, 4th Battalion 41st Field Artillery.

Despite these virtues, I struggled to be a person of integrity because I didn’t feel whole and undivided. I felt awkward, all the damn time. I walked like a puppy, tumbling over my feet, tail tucked, and seeking approval. I needed someone to tell me I was a good man, and the very moment I received that affirmation, I could not accept it. A thought churned in my mind, “If only he knew…”

If only he’d known I had been struggling with my identity all my life, that I had long felt I should have been born a girl, that I had been ridiculed as a child, abused by family and friends alike until I finally conceded the point: I was boy, and I was supposed to grow up to be a man.

That pivotal decision ultimately led me to enlisting in the United States Army in 1984. I went to the Infantry Training Center at Fort Benning, Georgia. As I was beginning my career as a soldier, I received a scholarship from the Reserve Officer’s Training Corp (ROTC). The Army discharged me from active service, and I went to school. After completing my bachelor’s degree, I became a commissioned 2nd Lieutenant and went to the Field Artillery Officer Basic Course at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, where I learned gunnery, tactics, logistics, and leadership. Upon completion of my training, the Army sent me back to Ft. Benning, Georgia, where I served with the 197th Infantry Brigade, Mechanized Separate. We deployed with the 24th Infantry Division to Saudi Arabia in August 1990 to participate in Operations Desert Shield/Storm.

On February 23, 1991 I was sitting on the top of an armored vehicle eating Hershey’s Kisses and watching volleys of MLRS Rocket fire arcing overheard, hissing like sinister snakes before exploding in the distance. Battle damage reports declared the destruction of an Air Defense Artillery sight. It was then I said a silent prayer, hoping to get killed in combat, manhood unquestioned, secrets buried with me in the grave. I imagined a memorial somewhere with my name engraved in stone.

I never did anything to overtly instigate my death in combat. As a leader, I did not want to risk the lives of the soldiers serving with me, nor did I want to do something that could be perceived as cowardly or foolish. I did my duty and came home from the war, having participated in one of the boldest cavalry charges in United States military history. We moved further and faster than anyone expected, neutralizing Talil Airbase in Southern Iraq and, upon order, moving toward Basra to intercept Iraqi Republican Guard units retreating out of Kuwait.

We began the process of redeploying home to Ft. Benning, Georgia, where my wife and son awaited my return. My son had been born while I was overseas, and as we got closer to the United States, I decided I would do my best to be a good father to my son, to help him come of age without a doubt regarding his manhood.

I joined the Oklahoma City Police Department in April 1992, determined to be an effective police officer. I also began serving with the Oklahoma Army National Guard and later in the United States Army Reserve, achieving the rank of Captain (O-3).

The lie I had been living became a heavy burden in the year 2000 when I finally told my truth. I thought about my evaluation years before. It was likely my commander would not have regarded me as a person of impeccable integrity had he known I was transgender. Here was the irony of my life: regarded as a person of stalwart character while living a lie but suddenly found untrustworthy when I finally told the truth. The United States Army Reserve sent me a letter in November 2001 requesting I resign my commission or face a Chapter 15 Court Martial. It was a battle I knew I couldn’t win, so I resigned, received my honorable discharge, and moved on with my life. I managed to keep my job with the Oklahoma City Police Department, serving almost 14 years post transition. I retired in May 2014 after 22 years of total service.

During the summer of 2016 I worked with the National Center for Transgender Equality in Washington DC. I got to witness history in the making, attending a Palm Center Symposium at the Washington Hyatt Regency celebrating the end of the trans military ban. It was like a dream standing with dozens of other active and former transgender service members, all of us proud to be who we are, proud of our service, and living our truths.

Paula is a Desert Storm veteran, an advocate, educator and author, and a retired Oklahoma City Police Officer. Follow Paula on Twitter


Sophia

This story includes depictions of the aftermath of sexual assault.

This is my story of how Donald Trump’s proposed trans ban will just push people back into the closet and the consequences that will ensue.

Before graduating high school in 2008 I knew my life was stuck. I lived in a home with an abusive stepdad, years of bullying at school had caused me to neglect studies, and I had no hopes for college. On top of that I was depressed and weighed down with gender and sexuality issues. Since the age of five I knew I had been born the ‘wrong’ gender but like many in these shoes, the fear of being unaccepted kept me in the closet.

Throughout my childhood and early teen years I was constantly mocked for being too feminine. I spoke like a girl and had the voice to match. Sometime during my teens I decided to conform to what I was expected to be; I began forcing myself to speak in a lower tone and I even began playing football. I hated the experience but the result was that I wasn’t mocked for being ‘girly’.

Fast forward to the months before graduation and almost on a whim I decided to join the army. In my mind I’d be cementing my legacy as a strong male, and it was also a great way to escape a painful household. In late October of 2008 I was shipped off to Fort Jackson to begin my training to be an All-American Hero.

Basic training actually went surprisingly well. I wasn’t much respected by my peers but I excelled at a physical level. I pushed myself to limits I didn’t know I could achieve and shortly before graduating I was running a 13:38 two mile, one of the best in my squadron. For a short period of time, I was proud of what I had achieved.

However no amount of finesse prevented me from abuse. I was raped in the military but too afraid to tell anyone because I am gay. When you’re constantly surrounded by a group of people the magic of the closet tends to wear off. I did my best to contain the signs that I was battling my gender/sexuality, but some inevitably escaped past the barrier. Many took it as a sign of weakness and in a barrack filled with hypermasculinity it was obvious that I was ‘different’ and so I became the target of their need to spit toxicity.

When I was shipped off to where I would be stationed, I made a few friends, and early on I was having actual fun. I did well in my studies and things for the first time felt that they were going great. Deep down I was a jumbled mess, but on the surface I was making it.

This all changed.

It started with a fellow soldier verbally abusing me. He’d call me a “fag,” a “sissy.” Over time this grew worse and it culminated in my being physically assaulted. One night while staying at The Red Roof in near where I was stationed (on weekends we could leave base and many of the people in my training group would flood the dingy motel to drink and fuck and stuff) he barged into my room after I had gone in there to pass out. He began his usual verbal abuse and then he demanded I find him a drink. I gave him my bottle of Captain Morgan and he took a few swigs. I remember he started playing with a lighter and a piece of metal from his pocket, which I think was a piece of a wire hanger. Then the mood in the room changed, suddenly and viciously.

That night I was left a bloody and bruised mess, and my mind was left shattered.

For the following two weeks I had incredibly painful injuries from the rape; it got so bad that I couldn’t focus on my training and my grades slipped. I was terrified to tell anybody I was raped, because in the pre-DADT repeal military environment, I expected I’d be the one who was punished for it. I was scared no one would believe me; after all, I had been drinking that night.

I went to the hospital on base to talk to a doctor but when asked if I’d had any anal penetration, I lied. He didn’t even bother to check my rectum. He believed me at my word, which led to a mis-diagnosis of ulcers. He prescribed medication. Months later, I learned I’d also acquired an STD.

Meanwhile, the rape brought up memories of childhood sexual abuse, and I broke under the pressure. My mind and body snapped. I began losing all control of my urinary functions, I was bleeding out my rectum, I became incredibly suicidal, I would scream in my sleep, often waking up my entire floor, and I was so depressed that even in the military environment I couldn’t and wouldn’t force myself out of bed.

After a minor attempt on my life at base I was shipped off to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington DC. I was stuffed into a place called Ward 54 and for the next 13 months I spent a majority of my time institutionalized. Those 13 months are their own horror story, in many ways even worse than what happened on base.

The harm people suffer in situations like mine is worse when they can’t be honest. I now deal with permanent physical issues due to what happened on base. My time in the army was cut drastically short and as ashamed as I am to admit it, I never completed all of my training. I didn’t graduate AIT. Even now some people still sneer at me for that, as if I’m undeserving of my monthly pension.

I tell all of this because Donald Trump’s blanket ban on trans people won’t stop them from joining. I’m proof of this. I was gay and trans at a time when admitting it could get you discharged. All he’s doing is pushing people back into the closet. And it’s in there that fear resides.

Many people already don’t report when they’re abused. That multiplies tenfold when you’re in the closet. I couldn’t bring myself to admit to what happened to me and because of that a rapist walks free, I’m disabled, and the military is even further away from remedying a major issue. My not telling probably resulted in there being another victim. That is the danger of the closet: I was raped, but I was afraid that if I told, I’d be the one in trouble.

Whether Trump’s ban is in place or not, rape in the military will happen, but his ban will inevitably result in more rapists walking free and more victims suffering. Even to my worst enemy I would never wish what happened to me to happen to anyone. Not even to Donald Trump, a man I despise beyond words.

Please consider helping Sophia afford her much needed surgery by supporting and sharing her GoFundMe page. You can also follow Sophia on Twitter.


Bunny

Executive Director of Trans Assistance Project, Deputy Executive Director of Trans Lifeline
In 1999, about a week after I turned 17, I joined the Army. The recruiters came to my high school and told us that they’d pay for us to go to college AND we’d get to blow stuff up. I was this poor-ass kid from the rez who was in AP courses all through high school but had never even considered that college could be an option. Nobody in my family had ever been, nor did they know about scholarships or grants. My mom had to sign off on my enlistment (a requirement for minors) and since my dad was long gone, I was on my way. Later that summer, as I was being yanked off a charter bus at Ft. Benning, GA, training center for the United States Infantry, I very quickly realized that my skinny effeminate ass had made a huge mistake. DADT was in full effect, but if I had a dollar for every time I was called a faggot while at Benning, I coulda bought a brand new truck. If I had a dollar for every time I was sexually assaulted while there, I could have bought a couple cheeseburgers from McDonalds.

Despite the best efforts of my peers and superiors, I graduated and bounced from station to station, eventually landing at Fort Carson, CO. Whenever I could, I’d get the fuck off base and head to the gay bar. I wasn’t out as a trans woman yet because I just didn’t have the experience or the language to truly understand myself, but at least the folks at the bar didn’t want to kill me. On base I was routinely forced to defend myself against physical and verbal attacks from my platoon-mates and my superiors. One time my platoon sergeant grabbed me by my collar and headbutted me because I attempted to file a formal complaint against three guys in my squad. I’m paraphrasing but I remember him saying that he’d “fuck my sissy ass to death before I ever got his boys in trouble.”

By 2003, companies in my brigade were being regularly deployed to combat missions in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Xenophobia, racism, homophobia, and extreme nationalism were RAMPANT at that time due to all the war rhetoric (see: Freedom Fries). I was terrified that if we got deployed, I’d get murdered by one of my guys. The abstract threat of an “enemy combatant” carried very little weight when I regularly had proud wifebeaters and fag-bashers point their rifles at me while laughing. A few months earlier one of my only friends in the platoon, a black guy named Lindsey, got Section 8’d and disappeared to a military psychiatric hospital — presumably retaliation for making an official complaint about the openly racist work environment. I knew that if I tried to file a formal complaint I’d probably receive the same treatment. Instead, I told my company commander that I was gay, in hopes that, by violating DADT, I’d be discharged. Instead, I was called a degenerate, a disgrace, and a coward and was told that they would see that I “never get out.” It’s hard to try to describe the terror that I felt in that moment, as I exhausted official channels, knowing I’d have to take matters into my own hands.

That summer I left under the cover of night, throwing as much shit as I could into my truck and hitting the road. Through MySpace, I’d met these punks in Tucson who promised to put me in contact with some lawyers that were working with conscientious objectors. I tossed my bank cards, tossed my phone, and went off the radar for about four months. While there, I met my first non-internet trans person, my ideas of gender expanded, and I came a little bit closer to understanding myself. Unfortunately, the army eventually found me and threatened to charge me with desertion, which was (and still is) punishable by death. I was told that US Marshals were going to be sent for me within 24 hours but that if I returned to the base of my own accord, that they would take it easy on me. So, much like I disappeared from the army four months earlier, I disappeared from Tucson. I was demoted from E-4 to E-1 and was put on special disciplinary detail until my enlistment contract expired. On the eve of my last day, a formation was called and I was positioned up front next to the Company Commander, who gave a rousing speech about how people like me were destroying this country. I laughed and he, turning on his heel, punched me in the side of the head, almost knocking me out. That evening I was brought before a JAG officer and was told that if I kept quiet (declined to press charges), that they would reinstate my rank and give me a full honorable discharge. I accepted the offer.

The point of this story is to illustrate how shitty things used to be. How safety and job security were privileges not afforded to those of us who didn’t fit the mold of the ideal masculine soldier — no matter how well we did our jobs. I routinely maxed out my PT scores and shot expert on nearly every weapons system. If those were the only metrics we were judged by, then I would’ve been considered an exemplary soldier with a long military career ahead of me.

I had enthusiastically signed up for a military where I thought I would build a future for myself, but ultimately, all I got was debilitating PTSD. I had pledged my life, my body, and my health to a country that failed me and countless other queer and trans soldiers. Yet, last year, when Obama repealed DADT, it signaled the official end of codifying queer and trans servicemembers as “less than.” The era where sergeants could assault their soldiers with impunity just because they were different was coming to an close. I’m sure this small action increased the lifespans of countless servicemembers.

Now, as we re-enter what I will always consider The Dark Ages of military culture, I fear for the 10-20 thousand trans soldiers who will have to re-navigate the institutional violence that they were just given a reprieve from. I fear that the reasoning behind this new policy shift — that trans people’s healthcare needs are a “financial burden” — is just a harbinger for our loss of access to trans healthcare in general as the ACA continues to be attacked. I fear the escalation of anti-trans rhetoric and violence from the Trump administration and its rabid supporters. I fear that a population that is already at risk for suicide, by dint of being both veterans and transgender, will now have to deal with the fact that they may lose their careers — all because our draft-dodger president is trying to appeal to the radical Christian Right. To have the Commander in Chief get on Twitter and say that trans people are essentially subhuman – well, that’s a disgrace, and it’s dangerous, and it’s certainly not representative of a country that I would have ever put my life on the line for.

Trans Lifeline is a direct service organization that is operated BY trans people, FOR trans people. We run a crisis hotline staffed by trans folks, meaning we are uniquely equipped to listen and provide support for other trans folks in crisis. Additionally, through Trans Assistance Project (a project of Trans Lifeline), we provide bureaucratic and financial assistance for ID/Document changes, as well as legal/financial assistance for undocumented/immigrant and incarcerated trans folks.

Trans Lifeline operators have logged over 60k hours on the phone with trans folks in crisis, while through Trans Assistance Project, we have given out over $46k, no questions asked, so far.

We trust trans people. We support trans people. We are trans people.

Follow us on Twitter: Trans Lifeline and Trans Assistance Project


Bryce

I woke up Wednesday morning to seventy message notifications on my phone, about sixty-five more than I am used to having on any given morning. Friends and colleagues were messaging me to ask me if I was ok, if I had seen the news. At first I was confused, but my confusion quickly turned to outrage and sadness when I looked at the news. The President had used his usual morning twitter tirade to declare that transgender people are unfit for military service due to the alleged “burden” of the cost of medical care for transgender troops.

While POTUS has become infamous for his twitter rants against anyone who dares to speak out against him – most notably, immigrants, Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and even high-ranking members of his own administration – this twitter rant was different, the issue of transgender military service is deeply personal for me. These days my friends and family refer to me as Bryce, my students call me Mr. C, but many years ago I went by a very different name – Specialist Celotto. I’m a transgender man, and I’m also a U.S. Army veteran who served in the North Carolina Army National Guard and the District of Columbia Army National Guard.

For four years I wore the uniform and was a military police soldier. I was just seventeen years old when I enlisted, fulfilling a lifelong dream I’d had since childhood. My grandfather served as a Marine during World War II in the South Pacific, and my mom lost friends in the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center. These factors motivated me to enlist, and serve my country. The military was a natural fit for me; I was a three-sport varsity athlete in peak physical condition, and I had participated in JROTC throughout high school.

My experience in JROTC even meant that I was already familiar with some military customs and drills. I felt at home in the military; I had never felt at home anywhere else before. The daily physical training, the high expectations set by my drill sergeants and senior leaders, and the friendships I developed with fellow soldiers from all walks of life established this sense of belonging. The feeling of being “home” for me particularly came to life during the Army Values ceremony that all soldiers go through at the end of basic training. The Army Values ceremony celebrates a recruits transition from recruit-to-soldier. That night, at the end of the rigorous nine-weeks of Basic Training, I stood shoulder to shoulder with my peers around a massive bonfire as our drill sergeants walked around shaking our hands, congratulating us and presenting us with our special Army Values dogtag. I felt in that moment that I would be part of a family for life; a family that did not see your race, religion, creed, sexuality, nationality or even gender identity – it was just about being a soldier.

I cherished that sense of camaraderie that can only be uniquely forged in the United States military. Seventeen year old me, then Private Celotto, had big dreams: serving twenty years or more, deploying overseas, maybe even going to Officer Candidate School (OCS). However I slowly sensed those dreams slipping away when, just a year into my military service, I began questioning my gender more. I asked my immediate friends to use male pronouns when referring to me, I cut my hair, and I became more uncomfortable with my female biological sex.

The majority of my friends in the military were not surprised when I disclosed I was considering transitioning, some of my colleagues even confided in me that they saw my gender transition coming. One friend in particular, a traditionally conservative Republican from middle America, was a vocal supporter of my transition, and my ability to continue to serve. He always had my back, because to him I was just SPC Celotto, and I did my job well. He trusted me with his life if it ever came to that in combat. After a lot of deep personal reflection and having these many conversations, I knew that moving forward in order to be the best person, and soldier, I could be I had to truly become Bryce.

Becoming Bryce, and keeping my military career, proved to be tricky. I furiously worked to maintain this balance for a few more years, and did so somewhat successfully. After four years the policy that barred transgender people from serving in the military at that time caught up with me. Despite having a supportive command, despite receiving high performance marks on my physical training and other training exercises, my military career was ultimately cut short. After four years of service of trying to keep it all together, it all came crashing down I was called into my Senior NCO’s office. Sitting there was my company first-sergeant and company commander.

They informed me that despite the fact I was a top-notch soldier, and that they did not want to do this, they did not really see another path forward given what was then the current policy that barred transgender military service. I was told I would no longer be allowed to serve in the D.C. Army National Guard. That day it was made clear that my service no longer mattered, for no other reason than my gender identity. I was devastated. Everything I had always wanted, and had been actively working towards, now seemed impossible. I questioned what I would do next. How would I recover? I occasionally used my drill paychecks to help my mom pay bill — how would I be able to continue supporting my family? Where do I go from here?

Years after my military career came to a screeching halt, the Obama Administration announced that transgender people could serve openly in the military. The announcement in June 2016 by Obama era Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter, was a landmark decision that codified what I and many others knew all along: transgender people are fit, capable and more than able to serve their country openly. While it may have been too late to salvage my own career, Secretary Carter’s announcement proved to be a beacon of hope for thousands of other transgender service members. In contrast, the announcement made by President Trump this week is an attempt to squash that very beacon of hope that was put forth in June 2016. President Trump’s sudden and seemingly unprovoked policy shift is an attempt undermine the service of active-duty transgender troops, and an attempt to scorn the honorable legacy of many transgender veterans – myself included.

It took many years of soul searching, working different jobs, finding the extra support to go back to school, and leaning on the support of friends and family but I finally answered those questions I had asked myself that day sitting in my commander’s office. I have since recovered, in a sense, from losing my military career. I’ve gone on to earn three college degrees — including a Masters Degree from Brown University — I’m a public school teacher, and I recently married the love of my life. I eventually figured out “where to go” post-military, but I would be lying if I said I don’t still sometimes think about what my life would’ve been if I’d been allowed to serve as my authentic self during my time in the Army National Guard. I sometimes still find myself dreaming about being an officer, I still browse military websites, and I keep up with the latest of what’s happening in regards to National Defense policy. The military has never left my blood. The values I learned of honor, respect and leadership, the training that emphasizes taking care of the soldier on your left and on your right, and the notion that family is everything — those components of the military are forever embedded in my veins.

In one of the 70 messages I received Wednesday morning I was asked “What would you say to President Trump if you had the chance.” Here is my answer to that question: I served this country. I did it honorably and proudly. Thousands of other transgender people like me have done the same. We are drill sergeants training the next generation of soldiers. We are Senior Non Commissioned Officers (NCO’s) leading soldiers through rough and smooth times. We are submariners, officers, aviators, and so much more. I volunteered to put my life on the line when I was seventeen years old. I did not dodge the fight.

Now I’m a high school teacher and use many of the skills I learned in the military to teach my students compassion, humility, critical thinking skills and analytical skills. So Mr. President, this message is for you: We [transgender people] are human. We belong. We are Americans. We are fighters. We will keep fighting. We will never surrender to your hateful, brash tactics. We will never surrender.

Bryce J. Celotto is a 25-year old Army National Guard veteran, and a public school teacher. He served for four years in the North Carolina and District of Columbia Army National Guard, achieving the rank of Specialist (E-4). During his time in service he was awarded the National Defense Service Ribbon, and assisted with several security operations. He has worked on LGBTQ advocacy and policy for six years at various national, state and local non-profit organizations. He is a former board member for the National Center for Transgender Equality, and was a 2016-2017 Point Foundation Scholar. Most recently, he graduated from Brown University where he earned his Master of Arts in Teaching. You can follow him on Instagram


Moira

Nattie complained, half-serious, that now that we were back from deployment, all of our friends were getting pregnant and leaving the ship. “Don’t worry,” I said. “I promise I won’t get pregnant.” She looked at me for a second and then burst into laughter.

I had known without knowing I was trans for years, of course. I’d even come out to a small number of people while in the service – generally the ones to whom I was closest, but also a select few in my chain of command. People who knew the SecDef was looking into lifting the ban, but didn’t know when it would come or how it would work.

The official announcement came out in July, and so did I. I told my entire division, right after morning quarters. Most of them were surprised, to say the least. Then we went to work. I wasn’t really sure how it went over.

Then the next day, Amber told us girls about the new dance class she’d been taking and how cool it would be if we’d all join. Including me. Not explicitly stated, just assumed. Jess shared makeup tips. Kaylee wanted to know whether I was coming to Girls’ Night Out. Moira was one of the girls now and that’s how it was, and hey, when were they moving her into female berthing already?

No one was sure how “out” I was, so they let the word spread at my pace … which turned out to be as fast as I could, at least among my friends. I knew I would be starting treatment “soon”, and that being closeted just wasn’t an option – practically or emotionally. I wasn’t ashamed of who I was, and I didn’t have to hide anymore, so why would I keep it a secret?

So I continued to come out, at least until I was tired of it and figured we could just assume “everyone” knew now (maybe forty people knew. Out of a thousand-person crew. That’s close, right?). And I started the transition process. And most importantly, I continued to do my job. I never stopped, of course, except maybe that one day when we girls put “Hollaback Girl” on repeat and danced in the office and ignored the guys, but I’m pretty sure we had a good reason for that. I kept getting better at my job, learning new equipment and procedures, earning more qualifications, and incidentally accepting more responsibility. Until one day after hours, when I was standing duty, someone came by needing our senior watch stander’s signature, and I turned around and realized, “Oh hell, that’s me, who let this happen?”

Because that’s how it works in the military. People rotate in and out of a command all the time. You’re either training your replacement or replacing the person training you. I’d become the person replacing our old senior technicians, myself and two other sailors, and now we were the ones the kids looked to for training. I wasn’t trying to catch up to anyone anymore, I was trying to catch others up to me. Unfortunately, the change to Navy policy meant there was a big disruption on the horizon. You can probably guess what that was …

Yep, the Navy changed the tour lengths for sailors of our rate. You see, we all serve onboard our assigned command for so many months before permanently changing station to our next assignment. That length of time is based on our particular jobs and Navy policy, which had just undergone a shake-up. Now everyone in my division was going to be rotating off the ship six months sooner, and that meant no one who had been on the last deployment would be on the next one. Good news for us … less good for a fairly green division in a critical area. What they needed was someone to be around for a few months longer, just to see the division through deployment. What I wanted was more management experience. So we worked something out, and I ran yet more paperwork.

So, my coming out as a trans woman caused so much trouble in my shop, my leadership wanted me to stay on the ship for six months longer to ensure a smooth deployment.

I’ve heard the excuses for why trans folks are supposedly unfit for military service. They use the same ones for why we’re unfit for any other job … or life in public at all. Those excuses are nothing but nonsense. My friends and coworkers are fully accepting of who I am; in fact, they’ve been engaged with and supportive of every step in my transition. Work hasn’t suffered; rather, my division is regularly praised for its success. The “disruption” we allegedly cause is non-existent – a minority of anti-trans people projecting their bigotry onto others.

With that in mind, it clearly is not on trans people to justify our presence, in the military or any other aspect of public life. It is on the bigots to justify why they should be allowed to impose their hatred on the rest of us. “Because we want to” just isn’t good enough, and it’s clear that they don’t have any other reason.

Moira is an active duty service member in the US military using a pseudonym for her own safety.


Are you following us on Facebook?

Profile gravatar of the team

auto has written 352 articles for us.

17 Comments

  1. Thanks so much to AS and the five contributors for this! It was great to read about the diversity of experiences, spoken from the heart, of you all, and to be able to have a bit more personal context for this awful announcement and the response to it. [full disclosure: I’m a Canadian living in Canada]

  2. Thank you for including these detailed stories–I appreciate getting to read them all and for their honesty.

    I don’t want to detract from this, but I have a request: please include bisexuals in “In 2010, the Senate struck down ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ which banned gay men and lesbians from openly serving in the military.” Bisexuals were actually included in the language of DADT and were also discharged for being queer. Cliff Arnesen, a bi vet, was given an “Undesirable Discharge” for being bi in the 60s; he later testified on DADT and is well worth looking up.

  3. Not American, but military brat. I know the services are a touchy subject and my experience wasn’t always great but I do know that the military are family.

    I also know that the most painful thing in the world is the idea of your family rejecting you. I hope trans service members know that Tiny Hands Donny isn’t speaking for the services. Your family are still your family.

  4. Thank you for including such diverse stories–both positive, negative, and everywhere in between. Serving in “the military” has as many meanings as being “gay” or “queer” or “trans”–it’s shaped by so many factors, including your branch, stations, MOS, commanders, fellow soldiers, and your own identity and relationship to your identity. It’s always nice to see the Autostraddle team acknowledging and affirming the nuances and details in stories that often get boiled down to just one storyline or example in mainstream media.

  5. Hey all. I just wanna send a thank you to everyone who has supported me in recent days. I’ve received quite a few kind messages and it means more to me than I can put into words. Contributing to this article was liberating. For years I kept my experiences above a secret from almost everyone but a few trusted people. The biggest trusted source being my partner. There wasn’t a place to insert that into the article above, but I just want everyone to know that while I still struggle with ptsd and other physical issues, my life since transitioning at 26 has drastically improved. I’m now in a committed relationship with my GF of almost 2 years and things between us are great. I say this because I wanted to write something uplifting to show that trauma while never fully overcome, can lessen. I’m sure many people who have read this article have experienced some form of sexual assault in their life and it is almost always devastating. After leaving the army I spent 6ish years living in an apartment by myself and with almost zero friends. I was a recluse and I was suffering. I bring this all up because again, it can be overcome. If you are also suffering please know that it won’t last forever. The scars might but the pain doesn’t have to. Or at the very least it doesn’t have to be the focus of your life. Having battled suicidal thoughts and even a few serious attempts, if you’re in similar shoes and need to talk, my inbox is always open. I just want you to know that you’re not alone. I repeat. You are not alone.

  6. Very good article. That last story was particularly notable for me since it’s from a trans person who is not only serving in the military, but successfully transitioned while in the military, showing that not only are there trans folks serving in the military as we speak, but transitioning while in the military does not hinder our military in any way.

Contribute to the conversation...

You must be logged in to post a comment.