photo: Leo Reynolds via Flickr

With the repeal of the abominable “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy comes some well deserved celebration. Yet in the midst of all of this we must remember that still not everybody has an equal right to serve our country. The policy and therefore the repeal covers Gays, Lesbians and Bisexual individuals but not the Transgendered.

“Transgendered” is a sort of catch all for those who don’t conform to gender “norms” and range from cross dressers to professional impersonators to transsexuals to the intersexed and all sorts of variations among them. I hate the term “transsexual” not least because people like Jerry Springer have turned it into a cartoon, depicting us as a bunch of loud mouthed, unshaven drag queens, fooling poor, unsuspecting heterosexuals into having relationships for the pure enjoyment of causing emotional pain. Sure, he likes to say “it’s just entertainment” but somehow I don’t expect anybody who exploits racial divisions to ridicule a whole class of people to ever be given a television show. That’s why I use the catch all term. That and the fact that it really shouldn’t matter what “flavor” a person is. In my case, I was born with an XXY chromosome, a condition known as Klinefelter’s Syndrome. I was born male but with many feminine characteristics and also sterile. I was extremely lucky. Too many people with chromosomal anomalies also get a stir to their brains as well. The only thing I got was mild autism and an undeniable belief that I was living in the wrong body. . . .

Fast forwarding a bunch of years, there came a time when times were hard, due to certain Reagan policies and I had an extended term of unemployment. Eventually I joined the service as a way to further my education and as a way to keep eating regularly. I entered the Navy with a 95 on the entrance test and I could pretty much write my own ticket. Having always been an aviation fan, I chose aviation as my career. Originally I wanted electronics but I wouldn’t be able to actually enter the service for a full year, so I chose airframes, a rate which I was very happy with. I did really well in the Navy. In boot camp, I was company yeoman and I was nominated for the Navy League Award and got accelerated advancement to E-2. In AMS “A” school, I also did well, missing top spot by just two tenths of one point and I got accelerated advancement again to E-4. I got through my FRAMP and PJT schools as top person in both and in record time. All told, it was just seven months from enlisting until I arrived at my final command, ready to go to work as an F-14A airframes and hydraulic systems technician. Though sent originally to the flight line, I impressed the airframes shop supervisor so much that in less than a month, I was in my work center. In less than two years after I joined, I was an E-5, collateral duty inspector, work center safety representative, flight deck qualifier, night shift airframes supervisor and the go to person for field maintenance when a bird broke down away from our hanger. Things were going very well indeed for me. I even had a house that I shared with a good friend who was likewise an airframe technician in my unit

Then one day, just before I had voluntarily extended myself for a year, my roommate, who was about to transfer out, was arrested for the second drunk driving offense in as many years. Quite apart from how law enforcement felt about it, at that time, almost any other sailor would have lost at least a pay grade and probably would have done some brig time but my roommate was also very talented and successful. In fact, a couple of years before that, maintenance control had tried to force us to live in different homes because they didn’t want anything to happen to both of us at the same time. They wouldn’t even let us go on cruises together after the first one when maintenance back on the beach suffered so badly. Anyway my roommate knew that I identified as transgendered and he never had a problem with it. Shortly after his arrest however, suddenly everybody knew and I was dragged in front of several different officers. The decision was taken that somehow I couldn’t be trusted working on aircraft anymore, (this was just a couple of years after the Navy blamed Clayton Hartwig for the tragedy aboard the Iowa and said it was because of unrequited gay love), so they sent me to do ASDO duty until my service was up, where I would just post watches and answer the phone from midnight to eight on weekdays. Not a bad gig but boring as hell. My one bit of guilty satisfaction  is that after I left, the airframe shop had to go to a 12 on 12 off shift and it was always open, trying to keep up with the work. All because they wouldn’t let me work on airplanes anymore.

This went on for three months and then we had a change of command. The new CO was a rabid Christian and an LGBT loathing, uptight jerk so there was no question about what my fate was going to be. I was told I was going to mast two hours before it actually happened and both of the people I wanted to call as witnesses for me were away at the time. I was represented by a chief who had been in my unit for about a month instead of the two who had known me for years. I was told that I would be discharged within 90 days. After about a week, it was again decided that I couldn’t be trusted around airplanes again so they wanted me to do clean hanger spaces instead. This was calculated to humiliate me further in the eyes of my peers and so I refused to do it. I was written up of course but what were they going to do? Throw me out? Eventually my Master Chief who was a decent person came to my rescue. The squadron was scheduled to do a couple of weeks worth of workups ahead of it’s next deployment and he needed me to qualify the new final checkers for flight deck operations, so I went aboard ship with everybody else.

A few days later, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and we were ordered to the Persian Gulf. A few days after that, I got orders rescinding my discharge for the duration of the war. I spent the next 101 days working flight deck operations in the day and supervising the airframes shop at night, plus standing a couple of watches during that time. Almost immediately after the mother of all surrenders, I was flown off the ship and I began my trek home. From Riyadh to Turkey, to Germany, to England to the New Jersey, to Louisiana, to Texas and finally to California. Then I had to take a bus to where I’d parked my car. I went home to find that my landlord had posted an eviction notice because I hadn’t been around to pay the rent. Deciding that I could deal with it the next day, I went to bed.

I was woken up the next morning early by my division chief who insisted that I come in to work, (even though I was technically on leave). I went in and they sent me to immediately get my final medical, then it was on to do my checking out all over the base. One officer at PSD refused to sign my orders because he said I needed a haircut. Of course I refused and eventually he had to relent. What did I care? As long as I was in, I was getting paid. In short, less than 12 hours after I finally got home from the unforeseen deployment, I was out of the Navy. I got:

An other than honorable discharge

I lost two pay grades

I lost half a month’s pay for three months.

I lost my leave time.

I lost my education benefits and savings.

I lost my medical benefits.

I even lost my transportation privileges. I had to get me and my stuff back home as best as I could.

This was of course before the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy but it wouldn’t have mattered much if it had been after it was instituted. To this day I don’t think that there is a blanket policy on how they deal with transgendered service members. In my case I got an administrative discharge which means they neither had to refer or prove any charges. I defy anybody to look in the UCMJ and find where being transgendered is a violation of any rules. At least it wasn’t in the 1991 UCMJ.

Somebody much smarter than me once said “Until we are all free, none of us are.” I’m not suggesting that crossdressers be allowed to wear the uniform of the opposite sex but I am suggesting that they not be thrown out for expressing themselves on their own time. As for transsexuals and the intersexed, those are medical conditions, though not ones that keep people from succeeding in the services. Why do we treat some medical conditions differently than others? Why will the military correct a congenital heart condition but throw out somebody for having traits belonging to both sexes?

So I say, go ahead and celebrate! Every incremental step in civil rights is an important one and one worthy of celebration. Just remember that we are not all free and while DADT has now been repealed, when it began, it actually improved the lives of LGB persons who were no longer given bad discharges that removed their benefits. DADT homogenized the status and treatment of LGB service members, instead of leaving it up to the capricious whims of unit commanders. But now transgendered service people are two steps behind our gay cousins. We still get discharged under other than honorable conditions for the “crime” of simply being different. A whole lot of people are saying “Who cares?” There are many gay activists for example who will use the transgendered person’s money and energy but will never come back to help us out with our issues, nor do I expect them to do so this time. Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a good thing. But it’s not the end. At least it isn’t for many thousands of us.