Nearly a decade ago, in Lavender’s July 2004 issue devoted to GLBT veterans, I interviewed transgender vets for the piece, “TransMission Impossible?” Like other gay and lesbian veterans, they spoke as civilians. Still in the throes of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”, no one on active duty could speak out without destroying his or her military career.
There is little record of transgender enlisted personnel, since all were in deep hiding, both from the military and their comrades, and found that despite their own difficulties, gays and lesbians were not always open to the concept of transgender.
But exist they did, as evidenced by TAVA (Transgendered American Veterans Association) formed in 2003. There were a scant 150 members then, but they ranged in age from 29 to 77 and had served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and other theaters up to the present. At the time of the article, 50 transgender veterans joined in a March to the Wall–the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial– an historic event marking the first public acknowledgment of transgender American veterans.
It is difficult for non-trans people to comprehend transgender–“gender dysphoria”–since it seems to be a direct repudiation of self. Not so to the affected individual, who knows that he or she has been born into the wrong gender, a problem that can be adjusted. Added to that is the fact that outward appearances give no easily recognizable clue to an individual’s gender identification; not body type, ostensible masculinity/femininity, or profession, nor does gender have any direct correlation to one’s sexual orientation.
A timely read, Kristin Beck’s Warrior Princess (see “Books”, page ) explores one individual’s transgender journey. Six-foot, athletic, Chris Beck was popular, esteemed by his fellow U.S. Navy SEALS during a twenty-year career that earned him a Purple Heart and Bronze Cross. But Chris had known from childhood that he was not a boy. This very knowledge and certainty of the trans person profoundly confounds those who have never questioned their gender. This “otherness” can not only baffle, but enrage; witness the widespread trans-phobia and violence against trans people.
Knowledge and exposure to what is different will be the means to bring about and acceptance. Kristin’s story offers understanding and healing, both for her readers and herself.