From U.S. Marine to Model: The Secret of Being Transgender
Our photojournalist volunteer learned so much from this interview captured in Alexandria, Virginia. She asks that you listen to the interview to understand the entire story. The story shared reminded our photojournalist of what it means to be confident, and to never underestimate the struggles people face.
I did 20 years in the United States Marine Corps.
This has been a part of me ever since I was 6 years old. I came from a conservative background, and created a lot of barriers within myself. I am in the process of tearing the barriers down.
Throughout my life, I’ve gone through this cyclic phenomenon called buying and purging. I would go through my mom and sisters' clothing, and keep a little stash of the items I stole. I went through shame and embarrassment, because if someone found out my little secret, it would be an awkward and tough position to be in. I wondered if they would accept me if they found out, so I just threw away the clothes. I did this from when I was very young, and continued throughout college. I never kept the women’s clothes long for fear of people finding out, so I would throw it away.
It got to the point where I would go out on a weekend and buy $200 worth of clothes, shoes, makeup, and wigs. I would dress just once, and then feel embarrassed and shamed and throw out all of my new clothes. When I looked at myself in the mirror, I looked like a clown. I figured it would never happen for me. I would never be able to look like the person that I felt like on the inside.
I was a Marine, so I thought there was nobody in the Marine Corps like me.
I did find people on the internet like me, but most of the things online are based around pornography. I’m very conservative, so I wasn’t aligned with what I found online.
I was stationed in Illinois in 2010, and there was a lady I found on the internet named Rori, who did transgender makeovers. I went to get a makeover, and she did a good job.
For the first time in my life I felt pretty, and I felt beautiful.
It had such a profound impact that I’ve never threw away another item again. It was this moment in 2010 that things started to change for me.
I then moved to Virginia in 2013 as I was still with the military. I had another opportunity where I had about a week to myself. I looked all over the internet for that makeover experience again. I found this girl named Elizabeth Taylor who started a business specifically doing makeovers, and she served the transgender community. Something happened in that appointment where the little lightbulb went off above my head and I realized that after 35 years, this wasn’t going away. I was happy.
I have a family and a spouse, so at that time I viewed myself as a cross dresser.
I went online and started meeting people and going out. I met amazing, talented, kind, caring, generous, and successful people. We all shared this similar secret. I met admirals in the Navy, Airforce fighter pilots, submarine captains, CIA agents, and Navy Seals. I found professional, and well articulated people. It gave me a little bit more confidence that I wasn’t a weirdo or a freak, I was just different.
Up until two months ago, people would get kicked out of the military for being trans.
I was an officer with combat tours, medals, and all that. I could have got kicked out easily.
I started feeling the stress that comes along with finding your truth.
I went to the Keystone Conference (Trans conference) in Philadelphia. I had such a wonderful time feeling normal, loved, and part of a community of good people. It was overwhelming. All these years I was carrying this burden, and I know I could no longer separate the two worlds. I cried all the way home.
I was introduced to someone who was part of an organization called SPART*A. At the time, it was a secret organization for LGBT folks to get rid of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Once it was repealed in 2010, the transgender part of the LGBT community stayed in the group. Most of the L, G, B part of the community didn’t really have a need for SPART*A as they were allowed to serve openly. SPART*A then became a mainly transgender organization. That’s when I realized I was not alone. Within the organization, I started seeking out all of the Marines.
Out of the 300 people I took to Iraq, it turns out 5 were transgender.
I came across one Marine in my unit that I had taken to Iraq through SPART*A. She originally knew me as her commanding officer. She was the very first person I had really truly come out to.
I retired in 2014, and was then in the safe zone. I still kept my two worlds separate. At the time, SPART*A was looking for someone to chair their organization. From that, TAVA (Transgender American Veterans Association) reached out to me and asked me to be on their board of directors. I was a conduit of information. It was a fantastic opportunity for me.
At that time as well, I was selected to be in the Vanity Club, which is an international selective club for transgender women. It is called the 'Vanity Club' because it is mainly based on appearance and pass-ability. Again, I found myself in a mix of professional, kind, wonderful people who truly care about each other.
I was also invited to New York to be on a sizzle for a television show. I was still nervous to go out dressed, but I began to look forward to it and wanted to represent myself and my community.
I was very set on coming out to my spouse, but I was overwhelmed with the fear of coming out to her.
My wife went through my phone and found texts and emails about make-up and dressing up. I asked her to have a seat and I laid it all out. There were a lot of tears, and it was devastating. Her reaction was so negative and so hurtful.
Unless you know someone who is transgender, all you see is the Jerry Springer side of things.
There is a whole lot of crazy that goes on, and all you see is a frantic, crazy, and bizarre aspect. I think the biggest shame is that we are so scared of who we are, that we hide it. We hide it so very well that some people don't even know they know someone who is a cross dresser or transgender.
I'm painted as a pedophile from the issues about the bathroom bills.
It is very hurtful. I am human. I like go out and have a good time with my friends. We go to a hotel bar, have a glass of wine, and talk. That is the secret of being transgender.
One of the cool things of being in the Vanity Club is that we have an unspoken policy that we are going to get out in the public and people are going to see us. We are not going to be ashamed and scared of who we are. By being out there and being the person who God made us to be, we will slowly change minds and slowly change opinions that we are not these monsters who prowl the bathrooms. We don't want people to pick us out in a crowd, and we don't want people to know we are there. People are going to find out that all of this stuff that is talked about by the uber conservative fundamentalists is different than the reality. We are not bad people. People are going to find out that I like a glass of wine, a good book, and I'm very professional.
My biggest challenge right now is figuring out where I need to be on the spectrum.
Do I need to go all the way and live full time? Someone told me that going full time is like starting your own personal tornado. Do I need to have that much potential destruction happen in my life to live a happy and successful existence? I am trying everything I can to ensure that if I do go full time, it is a necessity. I asked my friend how someone knows if it is time to cross that bridge and go full time, and she explained that you will know when the bridge is burning down around you. I don't want to get to the point where everything is falling apart around me. I am trying to lay things out on a timeline, and I am going to therapy to find out if my motives are right. I want to make sure I am not being reactionary and emotional.
The goal is to live a happy and healthy existence, but I know there is a lot of risk.
This isn't the same as taking Prozac. I am changing my appearance. People who know me, know me as a rugby playing, combat U.S. Marine. As of now, I do model shoots. How do you go from combat U.S. Marine to model? Even in my mind it is hard to wrap it all together, but I am the same person. That same person who was able to lead a combat for the U.S. Marine Corps should be the same person who can have an intelligent conversation and use the bathroom without doing something illegal.
Due to my family situation, I live as my true self about 10% of the time.
I started hormones as well just to see if this what I wanted. As soon as I started hormones, I felt so much better. It helped my angst go away at first, and now it is starting to come back. I see myself moving beyond living as me 10%, but I know that is going to come at a loss. I have not come out to my kids yet. It is funny, my daughter would always ask me for make-up tips for prom. It would set my wife off because she thought my daughter knew about me. Obviously, there is something intuitive there. What daughter would ask their 40 year old dad to do their make-up? Part of the process is telling my children. They deserve every right to know the true me. I want to take down the wall, because there has been a wall there.
Since February, I've come out to my best friend in high school, my best friend and roommate in college, and one of my cousins. They have all been very happy and supportive for me. The have been very inquisitive. We have had positive dialogue. Knowing they still love and support me has been huge. As much fear as I've had coming out to them, is as much joy as I've had now. I've carried this burden of shame with me around my entire life. Coming out was such a positive thing for me.
There is still some concern around coming out to my kids.
I have one that is in college, one in High School, and one in grade school. How will the responses of their friends be on them? I need to make sure there will not be residual effects. I think there are a lot of misconceptions as it is already. People always ask if I am gay, or if I am going to have a sex change. People always think it is an automatic progression, and it is not. For people who are trying to find their way, it is a challenge to not go out and do it all at once.
Society is set up in such a bi-gender way, that something as simple as going to get a drink at Chili's can be dramatic if you get carded.
If you fly, you have to show your boarding pass. The first couple times I did it, it was petrifying and scary. I have now gotten to the point where I don't care.
A TSA told me I handed them my husband's ID one time instead of my own. I had to tell them it was me, and I that just grew my hair out. Can you imagine having to explain your gender to someone over, and over, and over again?
Initially I had looked to Caitlyn Jenner for inspiration, but more-so Kristin Beck.
I punched the man card as well...I was a U.S. Marine, combat, and company commander. Joining the Marine Corps was not about getting rid of my feminine side, but about bolstering my self worth and self confidence. I had no self esteem or self worth, because I was rejecting the fact that I was transgender. It took me so long to come around to it. I played rugby for 3 years, I was a 4 year letterman in High School in baseball and basketball. I was the athlete, the student body Vice President, and the fraternity guy who can drink a keg of beer. I'm sitting here with those experiences, but I am not that person. What Kristen Beck did for me (because I came out before Caitlyn Jenner), Caitlyn Jenner did a lot for our community as well as the general public. Here were these athletic and societal icons saying that their life is more important than what people think about them.
The trans community serves in the military at twice the rate than the general public.
80% of the trans community around DC has served at one point or another. The statistics for the transgender community is horrendous. There are very high rates of people being out of work, and using and abusing drugs. These are the results of being rejected by society.
The assistant Secretary of Defense, Navy commanders, business owners, and billionaires don't fall into those statistics here in DC. I think the only other place that can compete with the DC trans community is California. I know Illinois, Atlanta, and Dallas have a huge community as well. There is a lot of risk involved in those communities, and I am happy I don't have to worry about someone taking offense to my existence. Being in DC is fantastic for me.
Caitlyn Jenner has given a visibility that would have taken a great amount of time to reach, but I don't view her as my hero.
I look at Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, and Kristen Beck. They have been the ones who have really put themselves out there, even when they did't have the money to make everything right for themselves. I think the the trans community has a love-hate relationship with Caitlyn Jenner because of her privileged background. However, I think she has probably gone through the internal struggle as much as the rest of us. I will be internally grateful to her for getting the dialogue going. I think she is classy and elegant, and I think that is the type of image that America needed to help understand the trans community.
I've been a Republican all my life.
Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp are my heroes, but I've let the Republican party. For the first time that I have seen, the Republican party has made it a policy to reject people like me. How can I embrace that? They have gone on record saying they are going to do whatever they can to make sure people like me don't exist. I can't see how anyone can hop on board with that, but Caitlyn Jenner does. That is like wearing a meat suit in a lion's den.
It is not about what people think is good for the country, because we are not going away.
The more of us that become confident and accepting of ourselves, the more you will see of us.