A Veteran’s Perspective of Transgender Day of Remembrance

Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day to remember what? That I’m transgender? That I’m a bit different? That I am not even accepted by my own family or friends? Do I really want to remember that because I am transgender I risk being shunned by my children and parents, or denied employment or face eviction at higher rates than the general population? I don’t need a day to remember that… when I look in the mirror every morning and every night I get a feeling of anxiety and of internal suffering because the person looking at me in the mirror reminds me that I often feel like a puzzle with several pieces missing and that any effort I make to fix that within myself comes with a potential sentence of being shunned from a society I spent 20 years defending. However, being shunned and ostracized isn’t the worst thing that could happen to me. I could be murdered just for wanting to be at peace with myself.

21 years ago, I accepted a quest to become something greater than myself. In an effort to challenge myself and to give back to my society, I joined the U.S. Marines. I bought into what the Marine Corps was selling: I was one of the Few and the Proud, the Best of the Best, an elite warrior from the sea.  I proved myself so dedicated to that role that I was selected from the enlisted ranks to become an Officer….a leader of Marines. I believed that I was a defender of liberty.  I held fast to the concept that in the eyes of God, all men were created equal and that we had certain inalienable rights. I was a disciple that America and her military men and women were righteous standard bearers and the most effective promoters of our Nation’s ideals. Yet I harbored the fear that I would be discovered as a fraud and a fake. There was something inside me that I could not define, and no matter how great my success in the military, I was still inadequate. This cancer ate away at my self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-dignity. Despite the fact that I was awarded 3 Meritorious Service Medals, including two for efforts in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom I still felt fear over losing my job and being humiliated among my peers and family should my true self be discovered.

In Iraq, the fear of discovery was more palpable to me than the fear of crossing the line-of-departure on a patrol. However, never did I have to fear for my life for my self-identity. Yet, here at home that is a real and present danger. The simple fact that I am transgender is enough of an excuse to allow someone to murder me and claim they were “shocked” or “embarrassed” by my right to exist.  In Iraq, Al Qaida was accused of heinous atrocities of hate; here perpetrators are killing trans-women with much the same vitriol, but without the same media backlash or public uproar. For example, Tamera Dominguez was repeatedly struck with a vehicle; Ashton O’Hara and India Clarke were beaten to death. Bri Golec was stabbed to death…BY HER FATHER….her own flesh and blood…because of her gender. I returned from a war zone where people were brutally killed for their tribe or religion affiliation, and we called their executioners fiendish murderers; yet here in my home country, people are brutally killed because of how they present their gender identity and often the defense is “trans panic”- the idea of temporary loss of judgment or control due to the duress of finding out someone is of a different gender than originally assumed and the fear of association. It is a shame.

The driving factor behind this brutality is the idea that trans-women are less than women… less than people. That we are anomalies of nature and are somehow “broken.” A devaluation of our human life exists, especially in the minority community. We are regarded as less than human because we do not fit neatly in a binary box of gender and are disenfranchised from our rights as citizens because of it. Transgender Day of Remembrance is vital because it reminds us that these victims are more than statistics, and they are more than exploitable news stories: they remind us that each victim is a human who was supposed to be blessed with certain inalienable rights. Despite how they or anyone else saw them, they were to have been treated as a citizen of a nation who values the ideals of equality and liberty. Instead, they were given horrendous, frightening, and early deaths. Transgender Day of Remembrance reminds us that as long as we continue to reject equality as a self-evident truth we, as a nation, will continue to marginalize those who do not fit neatly inside the constraints of society’s narrow perceptions and violence upon a minority group will continue to keep our country from fulfilling its promising potential.

I remember today because I fought for freedom of the oppressed once overseas and I stand tall now to do it again here at home. I remember because each life matters, because the ideals of equality and liberty matter, because you and I matter, because the future I hope for matters; but most of all I remember because I do not want the blood of my innocent sisters to be in vain.

Kimberly Morris

Major Kimberly Morris (Ret.) is a 20 year Marine veteran and is an active member in her local transgender community. She enlisted in 1994 as a Reservist in the Marine Corps out of college and received her commission in 1995 through the OCC program. Trained as a Communications Officer she has served in all components of the Marine Corps and has successfully completed tours in Recruiting, I&I, and Acquisitions. She led a Communication Company in Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. She holds a Master’s in Business Administration from the University of Phoenix. Her awards include three Meritorious Service Medals, the Joint Commendation Medal, the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal.