I got a great comment recently regarding what it was like to be transgender in the military. She was thinking of signing up and looking for a bit of advice, and also suggested I write on this topic more. Before anything else, thank you Michelle the Younger! Believe me, it’s not easy thinking up shit to talk about all the time and keeping with the theme of the blog. This is a good one, because I can probably milk it for several posts and still manage to sound fresh. I know you all like me fresh, but seriously, no douche jokes.
As some of you may well know, I joined the Air Force in 1997 as an outward means to vector into an electronics career and inward means to escape or nullify my trans-ness. Big win on the first, horrible failure on the latter, just in case you are waiting with bated breath. I’ll kick it off with basic training, because boy did that suck. We’ll go over the various ways in a second and please feel free to laugh at my expense.
Apparently my earlier experiences with sleep away camp and the Boy Scouts had become sufficiently blurred to allow me to forget just how much I detest being shoved into all male environments with zero privacy. Living in basic training barracks is exactly like living in your high school locker room, complete with the towel snapping, enthusiastic flatulence, ball busting, and bulging tighty whities. In short, pure hell. Yes, I was that kid who avoided showering with the guys, so imagine my delight when I found they liked to shove 50 sweat hogs into a shower the size of a standard office cubicle. Thank god I wasn’t one of the ones who had to worry about getting an erection. While I was not quite a Tobias Fünke level ‘never nude’, auditioning for ‘The Full Monty’ was high on my list of personal nightmares. Ugh.
My more frequently encountered problem was more insidious. I’ve now spoken to a disproportionately large number of trans folks who have great difficulty discerning right from left. I don’t know what this means, and aside from pissing off anxious passengers trying to give me directions while driving, it’s not that big a thing. In basic, however, this ability is key. Transportation around the base consisted of ‘forming up’ in 4 columns of size sorted airmen. For some insane reason, I was chosen as one of the column heads, which meant there was no one in front of me to take my cues from. This didn’t go so well at all. After several instances of hearing, “Column Left, harch!”and turning right into the fellow next to me and conking heads all Stooge like, they started watching me close. This should have been funny and promoted a bit of slapstick laughter, but no, it only got me screamed at frequently. Sgt Hopkus, a mustachioed ball of intense fury and blood curdling rage, learned my name first; never good.
Once I got his attention, Hopkus was up my ass pretty deep. Luckily I found this kind of funny, though learned quickly to keep the good cheer off my face. On one occasion I was certain one of us was going to die. I was wool gathering when he taught us some new command for peeling off the main group and leading our column inside. I totally missed this, so when he called it the first time I just stood there looking at him. He didn’t take it well and turned beet red and screamed at me for five minutes before announcing we’d try it again. As he began, it occurred to me that I still didn’t know what to do, so I looked to see what everyone else was doing. He didn’t like that; apparently I was supposed to turn my head and say something. This time he got very animated and started with the threats. Ah, the threats. Outrageous things like I would not be fed the remaining 5 weeks and be on permanent all night door guard. The third time was a charm and I fucked up again. I was supposed to say “stand fast!”, but instead yelled, “stay there!”. Holy shit! I had no idea someone could get that mad and still live. His screaming deluged me with buckets of saliva, and if I understood right, a foot induced orchiectomy was imminent. I was really, really tempted to muck it up a fourth time just to see what would happen, but managed to restrain myself. Good thing because apparently the brouhaha upset the rest of the flight considerably and I had to hear about it for the next week.
While I have a good dozen similar basic training stories, most of which end with saurian roars and spittle in my face, I’m going to wrap up this post with just some things to keep in mind if you are trans and thinking of enlisting. A few tips if you will for the basic training portion.
1. If your natural state resembles Chewbacca, let it all grow back in before you ship out. There is no opportunity for body grooming and everyone will notice you going from smooth to hirsute and probably make a big deal out of it.
2. Same goes for manicures and pedicures.
3. If you have taken hormones and experienced breast growth understand two things. First, if they find out and you had not disclosed upon enlistment, you can get booted right then and there. Second, you will be saddled with a clever little nickname like ‘Boobies’ or ‘Tits McGee’.
4. Bring nothing of your true gender with you. Everything you walk in with will be pawed over and questioned. The old ‘my girlfriend stuffed those in my bag’ will only have them watch you all the closer.
5. Your mail is not private. Ask trans friends either not to write you or do so leaving out any mention of trans all together.
6. For gosh sakes, learn your left from your right!
7. No matter how hard it seems, it’s really not that long and you can make it through. Seriously, if I could, you should sail right through.
By the way, it’s a standing offer, good anytime that if you decide to go into the military, especially the Air Force, and want some extra advice, please never hesitate to use the Contact Michelle feature to write me direct. It’s the least I can do.