Underneath my cover, I walk a straight line, returning salutes as I pass. A sergeant salutes and says, “Good morning, Sir.”
A warm glow flushes my cheeks, and I reply, “Good morning!” Closer to work a familiar face draws near and salutes; “Good morning, Ma’am.” A heavy feeling of discontent weighs on me, and I return the salute with the grudging reply, “Good morning.”
I grew up in Arkansas, and knew that many outsiders perceived women there as “barefoot and pregnant” rednecks. That stereotype drove me to move out of the state and join the Army. I wanted to be on an equal footing with men. I found new confidence along the way as my drive to exceed expectations helped me rise through the ranks. Yet, I always had the feeling of being a second class soldier because of my gender.
Males have confidence ingrained in them at an early age. Men are encouraged to stand up for themselves and speak their mind. When they don’t, they are often labeled effeminate or called derogatory terms such as faggot or princess. The “stereotypical male” role is enforced by men as well as women. A woman speaking to a man that seems effeminate will treat him differently.
I elicited slurs such as “tomboy” or “lesbian” because I was seen as a strong female. Although I wore these labels proudly, I never felt as if I measured up to the boys in my class. As a female, I was encouraged by my parents to play sports and follow my interests in math and science. They were very supportive and allowed me to pursue what I wanted. Society, on the other hand, looked down on my pursuit of more stereotypically male interests. After all, women are expected to want to marry and have children.
I always knew that I was not just a strong woman. I have known from an early age that one day I would grow up and be a man. It wasn’t until the past few years that I came to realize that I could do something about it.
Patriarchal dominance in society keeps women from reaching their highest potential. In the military, denying women roles in combat ensured men always held the positions of highest authority. Women were enshrined as something less, trapped beneath a glass ceiling. This is changing now with Secretary Panetta’s historical lifting of the ban of women in combat. However, the mindset of some will never change. Mitigating generations of dogma about women will take time and effort. Bringing young women up to see unlimited role models and opportunities will be a big part of ushering in the next generation of leading women.
As a trans man, I recognize the male privilege that surfaces when I am recognized as male. I am seen as knowledgeable about the mechanics of my truck even if I have no clue what is causing my starter to not turn over. I can buy a new car without having someone try to pull the wool over my eyes. I can call the plumber, and he speaks with me as an equal. Rebecca Solnit observed this too, and wrote:
“Men explain things to me, and to other women, whether or not they know what they’re talking about…every woman knows what I mean. It’s the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world. It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men’s unsupported overconfidence.”
Internalized privilege generates the confidence that I exude when returning a salute after being called “sir.” I have no preconceived lack of ability. I can be called upon to run an operation without my superiors thinking I need help. Sometimes, I think all of this may be just in my head. But then, I’ve seen this first-hand far too many times when male officers were chosen over me even though I was more qualified.
I did not transition to gain male privilege. Some lesbians, however, perceive me as a traitor. Inheriting male privilege is a by-product of transitioning from female to male. Hopefully, one day the world will rid itself of the patriarchal mindset. Women are different than men, but everyone should have the same opportunity to excel. Misogyny has no place in our military, and I am gratified leadership is moving to affirm this.
In that moment where I am called “sir”, though, I feel like I can take on the world.
Losing My Past
Explaining the past is difficult for anyone who is transgender. Stories of playing softball for your alma mater become blended with your brother’s experiences playing baseball so you don’t “out” yourself as transgender. Explaining how you busted your knee in high school football becomes a story about playing a powderpuff pick-up game with friends.
Sports are largely separated by gender. The same is true for the military. This will slowly change with women being allowed to serve in combat roles. Today, however, if you went to Marine Corps boot camp in San Diego it labels you as male since no women are sent there for training. You cannot talk about boot camp without exposing who you were – your gender assigned at birth – just as discussing your time on submarines or serving in the infantry would out you.
There are many transgender people serving in the military today. We serve in silence. Some of us go to great lengths to hide who we are while in the service. Once out of the service, a lot of us go to great lengths to hide our new gender. After transitioning, we do not want others to know of our past because we want others to accept us for our new gender. But hiding our background creates a whole new set of fears and anxieties.
By gaining the male characteristics that I had always wanted, I lost my history as a woman. It is as if I never existed before my transition. I can no longer share some of my most joyous moments that expose me as having once lived my life as a woman. When someone asks where my daughter’s mother is, I cringe and say it is complicated. I want to tell them that it was me that gave birth to them, but I choose to remain silent. In my silence, I feel guilty that I am doing a disservice to other transgender persons by remaining invisible and passing as male.
I do not voice my transgender status in my local community. It is a personal choice, and I have had to come to terms with it. It is not just me I have to think about; it is my family as well. Being transgender is still stigmatized in society. I know we need to change the hearts and minds of Americans, but the price to pay to make change happen is very steep. Since I am new to this town, I want to gain the community’s respect before I come out. Beyond the city limits, though, I want my voice as a trans man to be heard.
At my daughters’ school Valentine’s Day party, red and pink hearts, balloons and streamers dotted the classroom. My Valentine’s Day sweethearts are my twin daughters. I gave birth to them, yet I can no longer share that joyous moment with other mothers. While watching the kids pass out candy and cards, two mothers were talking about their pregnancy experiences. One spoke of how difficult her daughter was to deliver. The other said she had a pretty easy time. My thoughts raced; I wanted to connect with them, but how could I? I wanted to say having twins was amazing. Feeling both of them wrestle around inside me was such a strange sensation. I wanted to say I had a C-section. That they came early because the doctor accidentally induced early labor. But I didn’t. I couldn’t.
I am Dad now. And nobody knows that I used to be their mother.
So instead, I said, “We had twins.” That was all I said and all I could say. From there, one mom said her sister had twins and that she used to breast feed them both at the same time. The other cut in and said she just doesn’t know how those mothers do it, and that she has the utmost respect for women who have twins. I wanted to be a part of that magic.
A trans woman veteran named Paula told me,
Those of us who are no longer serving in uniform have an obligation to tell our histories truthfully if we ever hope to change the regulations for those who are in uniform and can’t tell their truths. The public needs to know our stories and putting faces and real people on the issue of ‘transgender service’ will be vital to winning just as it was in repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’
However, outing yourself is complicated at best.
A friend of mine, an active duty trans man in the Army, tries to embrace his past in hopes that it will help others that are questioning their gender.
I’m trying to embrace myself and my past – both civilian and military. I tell people why I left [the military] and my story, and it outs me. But I want to come to terms with myself in every point of my life, and am hoping that my story helps other people someday…Overall, though, being honest and open seems to be my best bet. I’ve gotten nothing but respect in return…nothing malicious yet.
Explaining one’s past is a personal choice, but the decision nonetheless causes a great deal of anxiety. I am still conflicted about choosing to lose my history as a woman. Hopefully, I will overcome my fears and embrace my past so others can see the true me.
Hiding Behind the Mask
A new name and a new beginning is where I thought I began my journey. Along the way, I realized that sacrificing my honor was not worth the facade I built. I found a way out and was nearly ousted for following my true self.
My true story begins on my medical retirement date after 15 years of honorable service. Throughout my career, I won awards and received high marks for my dedicated and exceptional work. However, that was not enough to shield me from scrutiny. I have been the subject of two investigations; each desperate attempts by my commands to sabotage my career prior to the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT). I’ve sat in a room with an investigator, a blank sheet of paper, and a pen while he pressured me to give up names of friends that I knew were gay.
My command has searched through my medical records, looking for proof of me being transgender.
They found nothing definitive.
Being forced to live my life behind a mask left me frustrated with the military. I have faced harassment at every level of my career; a Drill Sergeant trying to take advantage of me in basic training, a First Sergeant forcing himself on me as a lower enlisted, a different homophobic First Sergeant going on a crusade to have me kicked out for being gay, and a Lieutenant Colonel bent on proving that I was transgender.
I have survived them all.
For me, there was no outlet to confide my secrets. Fear of repercussion sealed my lips. Today, there is a network of LGBT soldiers and allies to confide my frustration. OutServe-SLDN provides a much needed support system. I never trusted anyone during my military career, even psychiatrists or psychologists. Therapy simply proved that I had anxiety and depression, but the real reasons were never revealed.
Now that I am retired I feel a tremendous weight lifted from my shoulders. I can be who I truly am and more importantly, I no longer have to hide my family. As a single soldier, it was much easier to hide my feelings and blend in. Having children with my partner brought a whole other level to hiding who I am.
I felt like even more of an outcast after a year of my secret transition to becoming male. It’s not just me that suffered though. My children did as well. I chose to live far away from the military community in order to distance myself from prying eyes. At home, my neighbors have no clue that I was born a female. My children are young and un-prejudiced enough that they accept me unconditionally.
Since starting testosterone my voice has dropped. With it, my children wanted to change from calling me Mommy to calling me Daddy. For them, it was a logical transition. I have a boy brain, and doctors are helping me have a boy outside. After a year into hormone replacement therapy, daddy is a natural designation for them. Unfortunately with that change, I didn’t dare bring my kids anywhere near the military. I avoided any military functions where family participation was encouraged. Shopping at the commissary or post exchange with my kids was not an option. The simple word “Daddy” could have jeopardized my entire career.
I left my life at the gate every day when I came to work. The current policies on transgender individuals affected my career and my military family. Since I chose to stay away, I missed opportunities to build cohesiveness with my unit. Transgender discrimination hurt not only me and my family, but it also hurt my military team.
The cohesion that is built between soldiers in everyday tasks depends upon honesty and openness. It binds an organization together to function as a unified and integrated unit. When parts of that organization were suppressed and I was not allowed to share significant parts of my life, a distance was formed. I never felt as if I was part of the military family. I didn’t feel as if I could count on my fellow soldiers to back me up if I ever came out.
There is no regulation that requires one to go to military functions; however, forming a bond between soldiers is what makes a military family.
I never allowed myself to form that bond for fear of being outed as either a lesbian or now as a trans man. Bringing my partner to military events would bring unneeded scrutiny to my personal life before DADT. Lifting DADT allows me to bring my partner to events, but I still am trapped behind my mask. This mask fades every step I make through transition, and I am lucky enough to have found the door to this closet.
About the Author: Evan Young is originally from Little Rock, Ark. He graduated basic training in 1989, transitioned from a sergeant to lieutenant in 1998, and rose to the rank of Major before retiring. In 1998, Evan graduated from Northwestern State University of Louisiana with a B.A. in English. From there, he continued his studies while on Active Duty and graduated from Nova Southeastern University in Florida with a M.S. in Computer Information Management. He earned his public affairs credentials in 2004 and broadcasting management credentials in 2007. He served in the Reserves, Guard, and Active Duty. He was the Hawaii National Guard Public Affairs officer and a Media Officer at NORAD and US NORTHCOM. He was a signal NCO at Fort Polk, Louisiana and at an attack helicopter brigade in Germany. His awards and decorations include the National Defense Service Medal (2), Joint Service Commendation Medal, Army Commendation Medal, and the Army Achievement Medal (3 awards), Alaska Community Service Medal. Evan began transition in 2011. He retired from the Army as a Major in 2013. Evan is the National President of the Transgender American Veterans Association (TAVA) and Board President of the Arkansas Transgender Equality Coalition.
About TAVA: Transgender American Veterans Association (TAVA) is an organization that serves transgender veterans by actively advocating directly with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on multiple issues that are unique to veterans that are transgender. TAVA has liaisons within the VA that can directly assist in matters that may otherwise take immense time and effort to solve. Not only does TAVA work with the VA, but we also work with other local transgender organizations so that transgender veterans have support in their own community. TAVA provides comradeship for transgender veterans. TAVA is your voice that will be heard when no one will listen to you.