Trans American Military Stories 

BY Diane Anderson-Minshall

September 21 2011 5:00 AM ET

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
. 

AddThis

READER COMMENTS ()

Quantcast