Trans Soldier “Smith” Almost Came Out The Day Of Trump’s Ban, Shares Harrowing Story

"Both my gender and being a soldier are integral to my identity. Having to choose one is like picking which leg I want to take off."

On July 26, President Trump announced his intention, via twitter, to ban transgender Americans from serving in the military. That same morning, a trans enlisted man—who wasn’t cleared by the Army to speak to the media and has asked to be identified as “Smith”—was in the gym at the midwestern military base where he serves.

Smith identifies as male, but up to this point had been presenting as a female lesbian to everyone but a select group of close friends and family. After he finished his workout routine in the gym just before noon, he’d made the decision to finally speak to behavioral health services about his gender identity, setting in motion his public transition plan.

But before he made any moves, a text message from his mother alerted him to the president’s latest Tweet storm. Initially unconcerned, he logged on to see what the fuss was about.

“I saw it was real and then I was trying to just finish [my workout], but I’ve got this feeling of panic, like, OK, who have I told? Who have I not told? Who did I make a joke with, and did they take it seriously? Just going through a list in my mind to try and do damage control.”

As he assembled for drills shortly after, Smith hoped his colleagues had somehow missed the news, but of course, this wasn’t the case. “Everyone was either stoically ignoring everything or they were really, really excited—because [the announcement] meant one less diversity briefing and it would make all the liberals angry.”

Smith describes the atmosphere on the base as “almost gleeful,” though he notes this attitude was confined to those in the lower ranks, stressing that upper leadership were not partaking in the mood. He notes that overall the higher ranks have done a good job integrating trans troops.

But the the ignorance and bigotry towards trans people that was present deeply disturbed Smith. It had revealed a hatred he hadn’t thought was present, leaving him feeling uncharacteristically vulnerable. “I’m thick skinned. I disagree with people all the time politically, and I can work with that. But it’s unnerving when people like me are being used as a political pawn. It’s not like a normal job—my life literally may depend on these people. As a trans person, it makes me feel very disposable.”

The official directive in response to the initial three-tweet announcement arrived nearly one month later and was signed by Trump on August 25. The legal standing of the ban, however, still remains very much in question. But even in its earliest and most speculative form, the news has managed to derail Smith’s plans for coming out publicly.

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Smith is rethinking his entire future. Just a couple months ago, he saw himself as an Army lifer, but now fears that he may need to choose between being a soldier and living authentically.

“Both my gender and being a soldier are integral to my identity. Having to choose one is like picking which leg I want to take off. Sometimes I don’t feel I’d be able to do my job with the risk of being outed hanging over me. But I try to take inspiration from the many LGBT soldiers who have served while remaining in the closet, and channel my frustration into the motivation I need to outperform my peers.”

When NewNowNext asked the Army for a comment on Smith’s story, Army Spokesperson Valerie Mongello sent a short email reading: “The Department of Defense has received formal guidance from the White House in reference to transgender personnel serving in the military. More information will be forthcoming.”

Trump has reportedly signed an executive order that directs the departments of Defense and Homeland Security “to determine how to address transgender individuals currently serving based on military effectiveness and lethality, unitary cohesion, budgetary constraints, applicable law, and all factors that may be relevant,” but it’s impossible to know how this will impact someone in Smith’s position.

LGBT organizations, including the American Military Partner Association (AMPA), have universally condemned the ban. “This vicious assault on actively serving troops has turned from reckless tweets into an unabashedly discriminatory policy aiming to purge the military of thousands of transgender men and women,” AMPA President Ashley Broadway-Mack tells NewNowNext. “We unequivocally condemn this ban as an unpatriotic attack on our nation’s brave transgender men and women in uniform, in addition to those who want to serve. Any qualified and willing American should be able to serve their country, regardless of their gender identity.”

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Smith, however, remains hopeful that transgender servicemembers can and will eventually be allowed to serve openly, in part because he’s been accepted—without issue—as an out lesbian by his peers. He believes the success of integrating gay and lesbian soldiers into the armed forces indicates that the Army and other branches of the military can successfully accept trans troops—if they are only allowed to do so.

“I want there to be a perspective in the consciousness of the public and especially of other servicemembers of how this ban is affecting someone in my position,” Smith says—anonymously though certainly not silenced.

Evan Urquhart is a freelance writer covering LGBT issues.
@e_urq