Op-ed: What It's Like Being Trans In Military Academies

'There are two types of hiding: the kind that requires you to lurk in the dark spaces of the day, behind shadowy places ... and there is hiding in plain sight.'

BY Brynn Tannehill

December 16 2013 8:07 PM ET UPDATED: December 18 2013 10:57 PM ET

Air Force Academy Cadet graduates walk onto the field at the start of the graduation ceremony for the U.S. Air Force Academy at Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs has recently been working to overcome backlash from a revelation that a therapist with a long and active history in "ex-gay" ministries was leading the academy's mandatory cadet counseling program. Academy brass contend that the therapist in question, Mike Rosebush, Ph.D., does not directly counsel cadets, but he reportedly developed the academy's "Character and Leadership" coaching curriculum, which every cadet who hopes to graduate from the academy must complete. 

The academy issued a joint statement with members of the institution's gay-straight alliance, Spectrum, contending that the academy was a "safe and welcoming place to be [gay lesbian, bisexual, queer or questioning]," and insisting the articles reporting on Rosebush's involvement "do not take into account the extensive support our LGBQ cadets have received from Academy leadership or the reality of the Academy’s inclusive environment.” 

LGBT people are likely to notice one letter conspicuously absent from the acronym used to refer to their population — and that's because military policy still bars transgender Americans from serving openly in the armed forces. When "don't ask, don't tell" was repealed in 2011, it had no impact on the military medical regulation that deems a transgender identity or any gender-confirming clinical treatment indicative of a mental illness that makes one unfit to serve. 

But that doesn't mean there are no transgender people in the military, or even at the nation's hallowed military academies. As a former midshipman, Navy veteran, and activist who happens to be transgender, I am in contact with several transgender cadets and midshipmen who continue to be in the closet at these institutions.

In the wake of the latest Air Force controversy, I reached out to these students and asked them to share what conditions are like for them as closeted cadets and midshipmen at various military academies. Read their first-person responses on the following pages.