Standing Out

Olivia Jaramillo discusses what happens when you come across a transgender person before you transition and they leave you in awe.

It was July of 2015. At that time I was serving as assistant Flight Chief in my medical unit and at Honor Guard whenever I served my time there. I was not out, I was still presenting this serious Sergeant front, number one on the sides and back; still hiding the real me. The Government announced that by June 2016 there would be a “firm” policy in place to allow transgender men and women to openly serve in the military. I was excited, and on many trans facebook pages the announcement was received with open arms. Along with that came an avalanche of hate in form of remarks from people saying they don’t want “freaks” serving in the military and would rather die than be defended by “prostitutes and strippers” (stereotype brackets transgender people are placed into, especially transgender women).

It reminded me of when I first enlisted in the service and how the culture in the Air Force was chauvinistic and homophobic. With times changing that culture has dissipated, and the more conservative stances are in the higher echelons of military leadership, while the new, millennial, dreaming mindset is with the young generation coming thru: It’s almost the perfect scenario of the rebellious young versus the established old.

“AFTER A WHILE, HE FINALLY REVEALS IT: IT’S ONE OF THEM ‘TRANSGENDERS’.”

Back to that July of 2015, I went to check on one of my Airman at our front office, which was a check-in for Airmen starting medical out-process for deployment. My Airman is young, raised in Mississippi. He tells me that I will never guess what came to out-process for deployment. I ask him if it’s one of many girls he always drools over, he says I will never guess. After a while, he finally reveals it: it’s one of them “transgenders”.

A million things ran thru my mind. It was unbelievable to hear that word come out of his mouth. It was like two worlds colliding; the one that had been a front my whole life, and the one that I was hiding. The way he said the word was demeaning, belittling, and offensive. My face remained neutral, and I asked him how he knew she was transgender. I just knew it would be a transgender female; otherwise, this kid would not be snickering the way he was. He said that it was the Adam’s apple, the voice, and the short hair that gave it away; that and the fact that she presented herself as a transgender woman. I went on to try and educate him a little bit on what she was and that she would not want to be called a “he” as he kept using male pronouns. This made me aware of my own situation and I decided to be very assertive with him to get the point across, but it was not coming across as I wanted it to. Later he told almost everyone in the Flight, and even the Flight Commander got into the “joke”. I approached him and told him that it wasn’t right that we were making fun of this young Airman and that she deserved as much respect as anyone else. He agreed and held a flight meeting specifically to address the issue of a transgender Airman coming in for our services.

During the meeting, almost every one of my flight members had a confused look, and some held a very open attitude towards the issue, non-surprisingly most of the females in the flight had no problems with this issue. As this meeting progressed, comments such as if they still have a penis then they’re still a man started to emerge. Some started saying things like they’ll never be real they are just living a lie. And of course, what kind of trans-bashing party would it be without the always present “I am not sharing a bathroom with them.” It was disheartening, and I quietly stepped out of the room. For the first time I was scared of the reality of people.

The next day I happened to be at the front office again, when suddenly she came in; the gossip topic herself. It took me by surprise, and I could see what everyone was talking about. She was tall, slim, her face was so delicate, a pretty girl’s face, and her Adam’s apple did slightly protrude and was almost clean-shaven bald. She went on to identify herself as the transgender who is trying to deploy. Because of being on hormone therapy, she required a medical waiver to deploy to the AOR (area of responsibility). I addressed her appropriately and tried to assist her as well as I could with her waiver application. Her eyes were sharp, full of defiance; they had that attitude that said, “I am fierce and authentic and there’s nothing you can do about it!” But what I also saw was a mix of sadness and bravery.

I am often called a pioneer in bringing gender diversity into the military, but I could not imagine what this young lady was going thru. She worked on the flight line alongside crew chiefs in a very different world from mine. She had to be tougher, tougher skinned than I am currently.

“EVER SINCE THAT ENCOUNTER AND WITH EVERYTHING I HAVE GONE THRU IN MY OWN COMING OUT, I HAVE ALWAYS REMEMBERED HER AND WISHED HER THE BEST ON HER JOURNEY.”

Ever since that encounter and with everything I have gone thru in my own coming out, I have always remembered her and wished her the best on her journey. We have all come across someone before we transitioned that left us in awe for their bravery and full of admiration for being who they really are. For me she embodied the transgender struggle to be accepted into a society that tells us we are freaks, different, and that we shouldn’t exist. For me she is the spirit of perseverance that the transgender movement has come to be known for; we are here, we are real, we have feelings, families, friends, relationships, and careers.

If you are in a situation where you have come out to your work center, show them who you really are with your actions. Show them we are as professional, competent, and assertive as anybody else. Don’t surrender to the hate, the comments, or the looks. You are not alone and no matter how tough it gets, it will only be tougher if we don’t do anything about it.

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