I am not and have never been in the US military, but I have had a lifelong dream of serving. When I started high school I knew I wanted to become an officer someday but my parents wouldn’t allow me to participate in JROTC. I went to college in 2009. I was already struggling with the idea of being forced to serve in hiding, as if being transgender was a bad thing or something I should be ashamed of. I considered the possibility of ROTC, and at the end of my freshman year I saw news that DADT was going to be repealed.
I knew that going forward I would be living my life as the man I knew myself to be. I was urged by my professors at college to start transitioning ASAP so that I could network with the name and identity people would know once I entered the professional world. I contacted an organization that helped LGBT service members and was advised to transition first and THEN join. So I began my transition during the fall of 2010, a few months before DADT was repealed, under the impression that it would be less complicated for me to join as my authentic self rather than transitioning after I had already joined.
And then I found out that transgender people had been left out of the repeal. I was devastated. I contacted a couple of recruiters anyway, just to see if I could go through a waiver process. As soon as I mentioned that I was transgender they never contacted me again, even though I tried multiple times to get a response, or some indication of whether or not I even COULD get a waiver for being trans.
Until it was announced this year that officials are reviewing the policy, I thought military service was most likely a lost dream for me. At best I thought it was a dream unlikely to come about in the next decade. I can’t express how excited I am that it could be a possibility for me as soon as next year! I’ve already discussed military service at length with my life partner, and have decided that as soon as the ban is lifted I will be visiting a recruiter's office.
My biggest reservation is that I have not been able to pursue surgery because no health insurance I have ever had offers affordable coverage. At this point I have been living as my authentic male self since 2010, and have been on hormones for 5 years, and all of my transition-related medical care has been paid for out of pocket. I don’t want to enter the military and be classified as female just because surgery is elusive and prohibitively expensive for me, and because in the state where I was born I can’t change my gender marker without surgery. I have changed my name, and switched my gender marker to male on my Passport, at Social Security, and with all other agencies where that has been an option. Because I got my driver’s license after I got my Passport changed, I’ve even been registered for Selective Service in the state where I went to college and have lived since graduation. The only document I haven’t been able to get changed is my birth certificate and that’s because of state laws, not federal ones.
I have to wonder, as they review this policy and the ramifications of changing it, is any consideration being given regarding what documents can be used to establish gender? What about folks from states like Tennessee, who cannot get their gender marker on their birth certificate changed, even after surgery? And what about folks who won’t get genital reconstruction while in the military? Will those of us who are pre-genital reconstruction still have access to normal preventative care like OBGYN visits? Will we be told to try to enlist or commission only AFTER we have been able to have surgery of some kind? I take my health very seriously, and I know the military would too. I want to do things right the first time, if that is at all possible.
To the folks who are serving right now, both those who have come out publicly and those who are still serving in silence: you all have my abiding respect and admiration. I truly wish you all success and happiness.