Trans American Military Stories 

BY Diane Anderson-Minshall

September 21 2011 4:00 AM ET

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.”

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