Trans American Military Stories 

By Diane Anderson-Minshall

Originally published on Advocate.com September 21 2011 5:00 AM ET

As
lesbian, bisexual, and gay soldiers (not to mention future recruits) celebrate
the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the transgender community will continue to
serve in silence — if at all.  The
repeal is, according to many transgender people, the community’s bridesmaid
moment.

The
Transgender American Veterans Association reports there could be up to 300,000
transgender military veterans in the U.S. today. In 2005, when the TAVA put a
wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Solider, there was a transgender person
representing every U.S. military conflict since WWII.

Still,
the very psychological diagnosis that allows transgender folks to get medical
care — Gender Identity Disorder — makes them ineligible to serve. And those
who’ve gone through corrective surgeries are listed as having “physical
abnormalities.” Anyone who is caught wearing clothing of the perceived opposite
sex receives a court martial.

According
to “Transgender People in the
U.S. Military: Summary and Analysis of the 2008 Survey
” by the
Transgender America Veterans Association the vast majority of
transgender vets are trans women (of those using VA hospitals, 13% identified
on the FTM spectrum, while 82% identified somewhere on the MTF spectrum)
although trans men were three times more likely than trans women to have been
asked by an officer about their sexual orientation (33% versus 11%).

Some trans vets have
become notable anti-war protestors (like Midge Potts, a 38-year old Gulf War
vet who was become a vocal opponent of Middle East occupations). But like
Potts, many of the 300,000 transgender vets are still proud of their service.
We talked to four of them.

Calpernia
Sarah Addams
 

Age: 40 (“But only about 18 years into life as my true
self. I still feel like a teenager!”)

Served: U.S. Navy, attached to the Marines during the first
Gulf War. “I served a four-year enlistment beginning in 1990. During my time as
a Field Medical Combat Specialist in the Navy Hospital Corps, I served in
Chicago, Memphis, North Carolina, Saudi Arabia and on a tiny, remote Alaskan
island.”

Now: An actress, singer, musician, activist, author,
writer, and producer in Hollywood, California. “You have to do more than one job
to make it in Hollywood.” Addams starred in Woman’s Picture and
in the Logo reality dating show, Transamerican Love Story.

Home
life:
“I am single, open to dating but
really focused on my art these days.”

Coming
out:
“Toward the end of my enlistment, I fell
in with a group of what I called ‘wilderness lesbians‘ and began to explore my
sexuality and gender for the very first time in my life. The support of those
women helped me embark on a path to self-discovery right at the moment my
enlistment was up, and within the year I was back home in Nashville, working as
a female entertainer and beginning my transition.”

Why
the Navy?
“I was a smart and creative
child who unfortunately grew up in what I call a Christian fundamentalist cult,
where education was energetically discouraged because it would ‘lead me away
from God.’” College was off the table, so Addams shipped off to Navy Basic
Training within a year. “I joined to get away from an oppressive upbringing
with no future. At age 18, I had never seen a movie in a theater, never been
allowed to listen to modern music, and had never been allowed to socialize with
my peers. The Navy jammed me in amongst my peers and made all of us work
together to better ourselves, and in the process I learned about the world outside
the cult in which I was raised.”

How
being trans affected her military career:

“When I was a toddler, I remember running through church wearing a paper nun's
hat screaming, ‘I'm Sister Batrille!’ because I wanted to be Sally Fields'
character from The Flying Nun on television. I had no words for
my feelings like transsexual or transgendered, I just knew that I often
fantasized deeply about being a girl and crushed on boys. I was a sensitive and
perceptive child. I knew from earliest ages that my feelings were bad, so I did
my best to hide them. The job I chose in the Navy was in the Hospital Corps as
a combat medic (NEC 8404), perhaps one of the few military jobs where
someone perceived as male was allowed to show empathy and nurturing.
I was often told that my voice had a particularly soothing quality to children
in the emergency room, and I was never ashamed to hold someone's hand if they
were in pain or frightened during a difficult medical procedure. I gave
professional comfort to many men, women, and children in some of the most
difficult and vulnerable moments of their lives, and I will always consider
that among my most worthwhile achievements.”

On
whether trans people ever be allowed to serve openly:
“I don't know if the Armed Services will ever allow
transgender or transsexual members. I'm very pessimistic in general as to what
I expect from the world. We've only just recently ‘repealed’ don't ask, don't
tell, and I put that in quotes because there are still cases pending against
soldiers, sailors, and marines because of their sexuality. Transition is among
the most difficult times of someone's lives, so in any case I would recommend
that someone finish transition before joining the military. I'd have wanted to
be very secure in something as basic as my body and social gender presentation
before I went through the trials of boot camp, the Gulf War, and harrowing
emergency room medicine. I don't forgive society for treating GLBT people like
third-class citizens, even if they begrudgingly give us partial legal rights
now. They're not sorry, and I haven't forgotten.”

What
part of your military service is most memorable for you?
“My time in the war was so surreal that it's
difficult to focus on it nowadays. Instead, I often dream that I'm back on the
remote Alaskan island where I drove an ambulance through snowstorms up and down
the sides of a volcano, or shivered in
my parka as I searched for a vein shrunken deep under the skin by the cold, or
flew to a tiny neighboring island to rescue a downed Chinese
airliner
 full of injured passengers. Pewter grey ocean framed by
elemental clouds lit from behind as they must have been at the very beginning
of time while we lived our lives surrounded by the rusted ruins of military
operations reaching back to World War II.”

Would
you do it all over again?
“For me, in my
unique circumstances, the military took me out of a soul-killing home situation
and exposed me to the world at large. It taught me strength, discipline,
self-reliance, and skills that carried me through all the rest of my life.
Today, even as a cabaret singer and actress, I walk onstage knowing that I have
hefted an M16 assault rifle across desert sands in defense of my hospital and
pressed my bare hands against the gushing lifeblood of a wounded soldier. And
after that, what is there, really, to be scared of?”

Read
more about Calpernia’s time
in the military
or in Alaska as a Navy
medic
. 

CALPERNIA ADDAMS 390x (GETTY) ADVOCATE.COM

Autumn Sandeen 

Age: “I’m between 50 and 55 years of age.”

Served: United States Navy,
1980-2000 on four ships — the USS Mahlon S. Tisdale (FFG-27), USS Ford
(FFG-54), USS Gary (FFG-51), and USS Coronado (AGF-11). “My service on the USS
Gary was during the Persian Gulf War — even though I showed up in the Gulf two
months after the ground war ended, I'm considered a Persian Gulf War veteran.” Most
of her Navy career was spent in Long Beach and San Diego, California as a fire
controlman. Fire controlmen work on the electronics and electro-mechanical
equipment (such as radars, computers, synchro-servo systems, and hydraulics)
used to point missile launchers and ships’ guns.

Now: After retiring from the
U.S. Navy, Sandeen was evaluated by the Veterans Administration for disability
and is now disability retired. However, the San Diego, Calif. resident writes a
weekly column for San Diego's LGBT Weekly, and for the blog Pam's
House Blend
.


Home life: She’s divorced
and has three children. “I'm still supporting my oldest son while he's in an
apprenticeship and school program for a career,” says Sandeen, who has made
headlines in recent months as one of the GetEqual 6, and GetEqual 13. “We
handcuffed ourselves to the White House fence — the veterans in uniform — for
the repeal of DADT.”

 
Did your departure from the military have anything to do with your
gender?
Not exactly. I
retired normally after 20 years of service. However, after I figured out I was
transgender, and might transition after I left the military, I decided to stick
it out until retirement. I knew that there was a lot of stigma to being a
transsexual, so I wanted to have at least some income coming to me after
leaving the military. So in a sense, my
departure from the Navy did have something to do with my gender, but not in the
way you were probably thinking.”

 
On why she served: The recession
of 1980. “I was 21 and had no job skills, so I joined the military to have a
job and obtain some marketable skills.”

 
Coming out as trans: “I knew before I joined the military I was transgender. I first
knew at age 14 I was a transsexual, and then talked myself out of it due to
being raised in a Pentecostal church. And because I wasn't attracted to men I
thought I must be a transvestite — I was under the impression that to be a
transsexual that one had to be heterosexual in my target sex.”










 
 
Will the military ever allow trans
soldiers to serve openly?
“Yes. But I believe it'll be a generational change.
It took 17 years for the repeal of DADT, and I believe it'll take somewhere in
that range of years for trans people to be able to serve openly.”

 
Most memorable part of service: “Being sexually harassed in
my last year of military service because of my feminine gender expression,”
Sandeen recalls. “If you look up Autumn Sandeen and HRC, you can find my DADT story relating
to my sexual harassment up on the web.”

 
Would you do it all over again?I don't know. Being
disabled, I fell into a huge safety net because I retired from the military,
and because I was evaluated as disabled by the VA — and my bipolar condition is
considered a service-connected disability. Yet on another level, I wonder what
my life would be like if I transitioned at a younger age. The reality is I can't go
back and change my life — even if I wanted to — so I don't really worry about
what other arcs my life could've taken. It's an interesting question, though.”




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Calahan Miller 

Age: 48  

Served: Army, September
1983 to January 1986. Completed Basic Training and AIT School for Light Wheeled
Vehicle and Power Generator Mechanic (MOS: 63B) at Ft. Jackson, SC. First Duty
Assignment: B Company, 141st Signal Battalion, 1st Armored Division, Barton
Barracks, Ansbach, Germany. Last
assignment: HHC USAEPG, Ft. Huachuca, Arizona. Honorable Discharge with
the rank of E-4 (Specialists).

Now: Lives in Los Angeles and is on disability
for obsessive compulsive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.

Home life: Miller has been with a partner for
nearly a decade, and the two helped raise her son (who is now an adult). 

 Why the military? “I wanted to serve in the military primarily
because I grew up as an Air Force brat, so the military life is what I knew. I
knew I could get money for college and I knew I could travel. When I signed up
I requested an overseas assignment in Europe.”

 
Did you know you were trans when you signed up? “I struggled with my gender identity beginning at
the age of 15. I didn't know the term transgender until, in 1994, I was
introduced to an FTM through a co-worker. When I got my first home computer in
1999, I began exhaustive research,” says Miller, who began his transition in
2001, when he was 37. “While I was in the Army, when I was in uniform, on duty,
my gender was more androgynous. In uniform we were not so much male or female
as we were all soldiers.” The only time Miller wasn’t just a soldier was when
the servicemembers were required to wear their formal “dress greens” — which
meant females wore skirts. “Ugg, I hated that,” he laughs.

Gender in the military:
“My job as a mechanic. Working in the motor pool was a non-traditional
job for a female. While I worked I didn't have the constant reminder of my
body's gender, while I worked I felt male. Out of uniform, off duty, was
another thing,” recalls Miller, who struggled with gender issues on a
day-to-day basis because he was living as a lesbian and in a lesbian
relationship. “Additionally, because I was a military service member and ‘a
lesbian’ I had to keep my personal life a secret, by not acknowledging it and
outright lying about it. All the while hating that I was stuck in the female
body, because if I had been born in the right body and been the man I knew I
was then I wouldn't have to hide and lie about who I loved.”

Will trans people ever be allowed to serve in the military? “I do not think the Armed Services will ever allow
transgender soldiers as long as being trans is classified as Gender Identity
Disorder, or Gender Dysphoria, a mental illness or medical disorder, listed in
the DSM-IV.”

Most memorable time in the service: The good and the bad. The bad: the investigation into Miller’s relationship
with a female service member. “I had met and began a relationship with a
soon-to-be-divorced woman at my first duty station. Her soon-to-be ex-husband
had found some letters written by me to her and set out on a mission to destroy
us. They launched an investigation and tried to pursue criminal charges. 
Luckily the contents of my letters where vague and therefore not proof of any
transgressions, and so it was dropped because all they had was the accusations
of a scorned ex-husband.”







And the good: “I really liked the military; I liked my job,
I liked the structure and routine of the military. I was in great physical
shape, and more often than not felt comfortable in my skin.”

Would he do it all over again?
“Yes,” he says emphatically. “I would.”

CALAHAN MILLER 390x (GETTY) ADVOCATE.COM

Cheryl Costa 

Age: 59 (“I’ve
been Cheryl for 22 years, was Carl Costa for 37 years.”)

Service: U.S. Air
Force 1970 to 1972 – Telephone lineman: Lackland AFB, Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam,
Yokota, Japan. E-4 U.S. Navy 1974 to 1979 – Qualified in Submarines – Navigation
& Radar tech; Groton, CT  E-5. U.S. Navy Reserve 1979 to1981 –
Electronics Instructor;  Binghamton, NY E-6

Now: Now a senior
information assurance engineer in the aerospace industry, Costa lived in
Washington, D.C. for 26 years but has called Syracuse, N.Y. home for the last
five.

Home life: Costa
is “now married to an awesome lady — as a result of the recent New York
legalization of same-sex marriage!”

Did your departure from the military have anything to
do with your gender?
“Yes in a way. I was
trying to have a career but my marriage of that time went south and I lost
confidence in my ex to keep her mouth shut, concerned she would rat me out to
my superiors just to be mean.”

On why she served: “I
was a poor kid in an upstate New York mill town, who wanted to see the world,
have some adventure, and perhaps have a high-tech career. My electronics
instructor in high school encouraged me to get out of dodge and join the
service to pursue the high-tech career and educational opportunities.”

Did you know you were trans? “Oh yes, I knew from an early age, but in the mid-1960s there was no
such thing as an open and out LGBT community,” Costa recalls. “I was 16 when
Stonewall happened. I watched the news footage, from the New York City TV
stations, of the big-haired queens jeering at the cops from the police lines —
I could only whisper to myself, ‘Go get them girls!’ I realized that to do this
life change I was going to have a good job and good skills. I resigned myself
to doing that and being a poor kid, the U.S. military was the way to do it. I
hid my nature hoping for a day when I could be open and out about it.” Later as
a civilian, Costa was part of a local support group and in 1985 the tabloid Weekly
World News
outed her and other members of the group. “After that I
had nothing left to lose. I executed my changed over the next four years.”

Will transgender soldiers ever be allowed to serve? “I would hope so — eventually. My experience with
trans persons is that most of them are among the brightest people I know. Give
them a chance to be who their inner spirit tells them they are and they'll
blossom into loyal, highly productive, and creative people.”

Most memorable military moment: “I loved the submarine special missions, the Tom
Clancy sort of stuff,” she recalls. “It was interesting and adventurous. Those
missions tested your mettle and technical expertise. Wish I could be a part of
it today.”

Would you do it all over again? “Yes, in a heartbeat!” she says. “Had I not feared
negative exposure and the risk of discharge under less than honorable
conditions, I most likely would have done a long career in the service. I loved
the work, the travel and enjoyed the lifestyle.”