Trans American Military Stories 




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
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.”