TransGriot Note: I used to write a column (called TransGriot BTW) for a monthly Louisville based GLBT paper called The Letter. I just discovered a file in which I saved my copies of those final drafts of my columns before I sent them to my editor. So from time to time I’ll share with you those early TransGriot the Newspaper Column musings. This one is circa July 2004.
Since our country turned 228 this month, I wanted to say thank you to transgendered veterans for their service. I have much love, respect and admiration for them as a student of history. You haven’t heard much about them, but they do exist and proudly served in all branches of our armed forces.
To give you an idea just how prevalent the transvet phenomenon is, the first internationally renowned transperson, Christine Jorgenson, was a World War II Army vet. Phyllis Frye, my activist mentor back in Houston served in the Army. I have T-friends who did tours of duty in Vietnam as combat pilots, tunnel rats, and Green Berets. Monica Helms, the current president of the Transgender American Veterans Association is a former Navy submariner. I have a T-girlfriend who was in the Air Force, and my best T-girlfriend was a Gulf War I carrier pilot. I have another T-friend who was in the special forces during that same conflict. Even Calpernia Addams, the T-girlfriend of slain Fort Campbell soldier Barry Winchell served in the Navy.
So why all the transvets? Many transpeople try to escape their feminine gender traits by working in the most masculine profession that they can find, such as police officers or engineers. Military service tends to draw the lion’s share of people to its testosterone charged ranks. The reality is that instead of resolving the suppressed gender conflict, the hyper masculine world of military service exacerbates it.
TAVA recently coordinated a May 1 march in which fifty transvets and their supporters traveled to the various Washington military memorials to honor their fallen comrades. They were a multiethnic group ranging in age from 27 to 77, and they served during World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Gulf War I, and the peacetime interludes between those conflicts.
They started at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the Mall, traveled to the newly opened World War II Memorial, visited the Iwo Jima Memorial, and finished the day with a trip to Arlington National Cemetery. They participated in a tearful wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by an honor guard of TAVA members. Once the precisely structured ceremony concluded, they returned to the hotel for dinner and to share their insights about the historic day.
One person who shared her thoughts was NTAC Chair Vanessa Foster. She stated that “Beyond the historic implications of the laying of the wreath as well as the march itself, the ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was devastatingly touching. The irony of the moment with the current war in Iraq was not lost on one. What was truly heartwarming was the lack of snickers, remarks, double takes, and other reactions from the non-transgender crowd when the wreath laying occurred. The reaction was no different, no less reverent than for any other enlisted person. That is exactly as it should be.”
You’re absolutely right Ms. Foster. The TAVA march allowed transvets the opportunity to show non-trans folks that they also put their lives on the line to defend our country in war and peace. They are patriots who deserve our respect and support, and transvets took those leadership lessons learned in the military and became successful advocates for our community.
Thanks for everything you’ve done to make this country a better place to live.