One year ago today, President Trump tweeted that he did not want service members like me to serve “in any capacity.” I want to say that I was surprised, but I wasn’t. I expected to be targeted for being different. Thankfully, so far the courts have blocked his ban from being implemented. And while there is a great amount of uncertainty being inflicted on the lives of thousands of transgender service members and their families as we wait for the final outcome, I am proud to serve my country and I know that my fellow service members have my back.
Let me share with you my journey of coming out as transgender in the military.
I had just celebrated 14 years of military service. I was so proud of that accomplishment. The only problem was that I had an overwhelming sense that I needed to sit my wife down and tell her the secret that I had been keeping to myself for way too long. I had been battling with a way to tell her, in hopes that she wouldn’t leave me. One day, I was cleaning and listening to music when it dawned on me that I should just come out and say it. It was in this moment that I realized that I was about to rock our entire life with the words that were about to leave my mouth.
We had been stationed at Fort Campbell for about four months when I came out as transgender to my wife and son. I was afraid and didn’t know what to expect, but I mustered up the courage and did it. To my surprise, I received so much love and support that it was almost overwhelming because I had seen so many before me struggle as they were disowned and cut out of the lives from people they had called family. This was not the case for me. Because of this love and support, I was able to embrace my true self and live freely.
My wife and I did some research and started the process for me to transition from female to male. Aside from my family, my command team and healthcare team were the only ones who knew that I was transgender. I didn’t know how to come out or if I even wanted to until I was reminded of why it was necessary.
In my battalion, there was a lieutenant who was transgender. As I started to explore my gender identity, I reached out to him for guidance. The day I came out to my unit, it was because of him. This lieutenant had been visible, so I was able to be visible. It was my sacred responsibility to ensure that transgender service members who come after me, are able to be who they are, just as he had.
News within my unit and battalion spread like wildfire. I expected the worst, but I got the total opposite. It seemed as if once people realized that transgender service members are truly among their ranks, they wanted to learn. I had leaders approaching me and asking for assistance so they could help their soldiers who may still be scared to come out. Members of my unit were adjusting to my new pronouns. I even had transgender soldiers come to me for guidance, just as I had done with the Lieutenant.
Shortly after, the president tweeted that he did not want service members like me to serve in any capacity. The tweets were only the beginning of what would be an interesting journey for many transgender service members, like myself. I figured that if they took away my ability to serve, they couldn’t take away my visibility or the fact that I had served. I took comfort in knowing that I would be more than willing step up and fight for those like me.
Unfortunately, those tweets changed a lot. I suddenly struggled to get assistance from my health care team with transitioning because it was as if they believed these tweets were the new policy. It was a constant battle.
Just as everyone seemed to finally get on track with the correct policy and my treatment plan was finally established, I had to do an emergency reassignment to get care for my child. This came with many uncertainties but we did what we had to do.
Upon arriving to my new duty station, I had an overwhelming sense of fear because I would have to come out again. This time, I was going to be working with a mix of civilians and military personnel from all branches, and I no longer had the comfort of knowing that I was not the only transgender service member within the unit. When I first got to my new unit, I struggled a bit. I realized there were some people who seemed to be a bit more “traditional” in their beliefs. One by one though, I started to casually mention that I no longer go by my birth name and use him/he pronouns. Once again, I got an overwhelming amount of support with very few hiccups
Since President Trump tweeted the ban last year, I have never been prouder to serve. On the day to day grind, my battle buddies have my back and realize I am an asset to the force, not a burden. While there are people out there who believe we are not fit to serve, I am reminded that the only thing that matters is whether or not I can do my job. I will continue to lace up my boots and serve until the day that I no longer have the option of doing so. I will continue to fight, not only for my country but also for my ability to continue to serve.
The views expressed here are the author’s own and do not represent the U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Army.