Saturday, November 10, 2007

We are not....

....who you think we are!

In recognition of transgender veterans.

I am honored to frequently lecture at colleges and universities, to social service providers and faith groups, about transgender understanding. As I do so, I ask that they remember, at the very least, just two things about us. One, that this is not about our sex lives. And two, that we are not who they may think we are. These are the two most prevalent myths and misconceptions about our existence. I’ve already written about the issue of sexual orientation, this essay is inspired by this time of the year when we honor our Veterans.

Eyebrows usually get raised when I talk about transgender women, in particular, who were wrestling champions and football linebackers, who were or still are police officers and firefighters. Most people have the impression that we were all shy little boys dangling off of mom’s apron strings, playing with flowers and dolls. Nothing could be further from the truth.

One of the larger support and advocacy groups in the transgender community is TAVA, the Transgender American Veterans Association. Yes, we have served our country in all the service branches, in all the battles and wars. (At this point, I’ll acknowledge that I was fortunate enough to not be forced into military service – the All Volunteer military was implemented the very year I became eligible for the draft. This was at a time when Vietnam was still very active. Given the choice of military service, I did not enroll.)

I once met a retired vice-admiral who spent the bulk of her career as a submariner. I was at the lounge when two friends found out that both had served not only in the same field, but also the same base in California – just a couple of years apart. At a dinner, I witnessed another conversation between two transgender women who had served in the Mediterranean during the tense days around Beirut, with one, serving in military intelligence, confirming the other’s inquiry about the missile that had been fired at her ship. Would you believe two transgenders who served in Vietnam, in Special Forces, who had been paired together for a time as a search and destroy unit – who later found each other as women? Despite the severe psychological stressing and deep profiling one must endure to become an Army Ranger, Green Beret or Navy Seal, there are many transgenders who have been a member of the Special Forces.

There are a myriad reasons and theories behind what I term “ultra masculinity” within the gender conflicted soul. One, we live in such mortal fear that someone will discover our “secret” – who then would ever dare to suggest that Rambo needs to wear a dress? It’s a good place to hide. For some, it is part of their own personal exploration. They’ve been given a male body, so they seek out very “male” activities. Of course, as each one doesn’t work to resolve the internal conflict, they move on to ever more dangerous, risky or “macho” endeavors. Which don’t work either. And, sadly, for some, there is a bit of a death wish. This not only would resolve their internal conflict – and that’s the number one cause of transgender suicide…resolving the conflict – but also forever keeps their secret.

I offer my thanks and admiration to my transgender sisters and brothers who have given themselves to military service. I wish the country that you served - perhaps are currently serving - treated you with more respect, understanding and support. And to all, please know now, that we are not who you may think we are!

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