Active duty and retired trans military members recently held a meetup and picnic in Balboa Park. They swapped stories, talked about training and weapons, and did some good-natured kidding about interservice rivalry. The event was sponsored by the Neutral Corner Inc, along with the Transgender American Veteran’s Association, the Service Members/Partners/Allies for Respect and Tolerance for all, and the LGBT Center’s Transmilitary support group.

These have been challenging times for trans military. Within the space of a year, they’ve gone from being allowed to serve openly, to facing a banning proposal and sacrificed careers. San Diego hosts over a dozen naval and marine installations, so LGBT military issues are prominent here.

Numerous individuals at the event spoke frankly about gender transition within the military. Names have been withheld to protect confidentiality and job security.

Transmen and transwomen in the military deal with many service related challenges. How does one handle specific regulations about male and female hair length and uniform? Will one have access to necessary pharmaceuticals? How does one deal with potentially hostile peer reactions, especially in training or combat? When there are single sex housing, bathroom, shower facilities, where and how do you place a person in transition? How do male and female physical fitness requirements apply to trans recruits? Are pre-operative trans people deployable overseas? How does a name change affect a member’s security clearance?

Gender transition in the military also mirrors some of the same challenges in civilian life. There is endless paperwork of name and gender change in records, psychological counseling, and confirmation surgeries such as mastectomies and hysterectomies for female-to-male, or orchidectomy for male-to-female.

Because of the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the military now has a number of skilled surgeons. They are adept at procedures of phallic and vaginal reconstruction, as well as other plastic surgery. However, trans service members cannot access this care as doctors are only allowed to use these skills on injured patients.

In San Diego, many retired transgender military have reached out to help other service members. Veterans can alert them to special funding programs, employers who give preference to hiring ex-military, and use of the GI bill to go to college. They can also hook them up with local trans social groups, activities, and legal or community organizations. And they offer this advice to peers who are still in the closet: Don’t do this alone. Reach out to the larger trans community.

Retired Army Major Veronica Zerrer of Neutral Corner has this message for those trans men and women who were looking forward to joining the military, but now face the re-imposed ban: “Don’t despair. Don’t think for a moment that just because of the ban we are less American. We are American fighting men and women, we’ve been trained to never give up. And we will never give up our right to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

The Transgender American Veteran’s association is online at www.transveteran.org , the Service Members/Partners/Allies for Respect and Tolerance at www.spartapride.org, and the Hillcrest LGBT Center’s Transmilitary support group at http://www.thecentersd.org/programs/transgender-services/

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