I joined the Army years ago for two reasons. The first was for a job as a newly married 19 year old but the second was because the military was supposed to “make a man” out of me. It didn’t, of course, though I learned many things there. As much as I wish I had transitioned at a younger age, due to my upbringing and due to the culture of the time, I simply was not mentally ready. Joining the army took me to West Germany, a nation that doesn’t even exist anymore (there’s just one Germany now). In Germany I began to question all the things I’d been taught about gender, sexuality, and myself.
The army didn’t break down my walls but it began the process of destroying the mortar of the bigotry that held me in fear. It would take a great deal more to break down those walls but it began with the US Army. And so, in truth, the Army began the process whereby I was eventually able to see the woman within, and am now coming to grips with.
I honestly wish that things had been different, that I had been better informed, less brainwashed, and living in a culture that was more accepting. But I can’t change the past. All I can do is draw lessons from it, live today, and look forward to tomorrow.
One thing to remember though, is that lots of transgender people go the military route. A new study shows that military vets are twice as likely to be transgender as the general population. (The actual report can be found here.) That’s a remarkably high number! And Veterans Affairs has had protocols in place for dealing with transgender veterans, which they continue to develop and refine.
Many of my trans friends are veterans. And very publicly visible, this last year Kristin Beck, who spent 20 years as a Navy SEAL and participated in the raid that got Osama Bin Laden, retired and began her transition.
So while I have a special place in my heart for the military and for veterans generally, there’s another whole place just for transgender veterans. While each of our stories is unique, I wonder how many of us began the process of truly questioning yourself because of your time in the military? That might even be a good book to write someday.