No longer serving isolated and aloneTrans Progressive Thursday, March 15th, 2012
Commentary: Trans Progressive
Monday, March 5, 2012, I went to the Veterans Affairs (VA) San Diego Medical Center to change my gender marker from male to female. The previous Friday, the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) informed trans veterans that the VA had clarified their policy, and were now using the U.S. State Department’s standard, developed for changing gender markers on passports.
If it were only the procedures that were so progressive it would be straightforward to change one’s gender marker in one’s Department of Defense (DOD) records. For military retirees like me, it’s rather difficult to figure out the specific department one forwards the request to, let alone what documents are required and the process for initiating the change.
But, of course, the process isn’t easy within the four DOD military services because trans people aren’t allowed to serve openly. The repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) allows lesbian, gay and bisexual servicemembers to serve openly and proudly, but the same isn’t true for trans servicemembers.
Recently, OutServe Magazine printed an article about transgender active duty and reserve servicemembers. In the OutServe Magazine article, they indicated they have more than fifty trans servicemembers in their chapters.
I very recently spoke on the phone with Andy, an OutServe member who is a female-to-male trans servicemember. Andy is clear in his identity. He’s an officer in the military who will likely be discharged soon for service-related physical disability. If he were to complete his 20-year military career as he had originally planned to do, he would have more than five years of service left to complete.
When I joined the military, I believed myself to be an ex-transvestite; when Andy joined the military, he believed himself to be a lesbian – both of us hid our histories and our identities when we joined. I knew for the last four years of my military service that my transition from male-to female was a strong possibility; Andy has known for the last three years of his military service that he’s a trans man. During the time I was married to my now ex-wife and in the Navy, I hid my trans-related history from my children; Andy’s children don’t know the word transgender is a word that could be connected to him. Whereas I was a “Jane-girl” who appeared so feminine that my military peers presumed I was gay, Andy is a “Tom-boy” who isn’t suspected of being anything more than perhaps being lesbian – something that is legal to be now that DADT has been repealed. When I was married with my children, I was presumed to be a heterosexual male – I had what us LGBT servicemembers called “marriage privilege,” and my sexuality wasn’t questioned. Similarly, Andy’s children provide him “family privilege” that protects him from being perceived by his peers as trans.
When I talked to Andy on the phone, I could hear the male timbre of his voice that is the result of the prescription testosterone he takes … testosterone prescribed by a physician not connected to the military. At the VA Speech Therapy clinic at the San Diego VA, I had to learn to pitch my voice in a more feminine timbre if I wanted to better pass as female; Andy in turn has to now pitch his voice at work to a more feminine timbre so his voice passes as female.
While I served, I was alone … I felt isolated … I had to hide. Intellectually I knew there must be other trans people serving in the military, but there was no way I knew of to connect with any of them. Andy has OutServe. Andy is able to safely connect with some of his other trans peers in the military, and he described that connection as “Wonderful.” But in his daily workplace life, as a military servicemember, Andy, too, must hide an important detail about himself.
I have a dream that one day ordinary equality will be fully embraced for trans people in America, and that this ordinary equality will include the opportunity for trans people to serve openly and proudly as military servicemembers. Andy’s current silent service to country, along with the current silent service to country by all of our broad community’s trans servicemembers, deserves no less.
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