Today I turned 54. Which has kind of a surreal feeling to it because I expected to be dead by forty. Prior to that age I was perfectly okay with not making it past that point. Because it was a constant struggle to continue finding reasons to live while struggling to suppress the characteristics that make up who I really am.
The reasons I expected to be dead by forty were multiple. It wasn’t because I felt trapped in the wrong body as so many trans people describe as their experience; it was because I felt trapped in life by society and it’s values about who I was supposed to be as a male. I had no mental connection to this entity of being a male.
“Department of Defense Instruction 6130.03, which names as grounds for rejection “psychosexual conditions, including but not limited to transsexualism, exhibitionism, transvestism, voyeurism and other paraphilias.”[Citation]
As a youth I was denied the right of feminine gender expression by my family. I was sexually abused as a child by a male relative and an older neighborhood boy. In the military, I was denied the right to express both my sexual orientation and my gender expression. My marriage contained similar constraints, because I was expected to only love the woman that I had married, but my sexual orientation demanded that I be free to love both men, women, or anyone in-between. All of these institutions had severe built-in penalties for transgressions.
Each day during my later military years, I used to wonder which one would be my last. Spending each of those waking hours living in fear of discharge, I never expected to make it to retirement. These weren’t baseless fears, because I’d witnessed a male service member being discharged within 48 hours for being gay at Fort Hood, Texas. I knew how quickly it could all unravel and go down. Over the years, I watched countless other gay people be deposited outside the gates.
While making it to retirement was Plan A, committing suicide before I could be discharged was Plan B. Each trip to the rifle range became not a question of if I would hit enough targets to pass, but rather a question of if I should stick the barrel of that M16 in mouth and just get it over with. Just end that daily struggle. Living in such constant fear leads to asking yourself such dark questions.
So on this day of turning 54 there’s a lot of inner reflection taking place. There’s also a certain amount of rejoice that I didn’t succumb to any of the dark moments while trying to survive those tough times. Because I’ve been freed from my secrets. Everyone now understands that both my sexual orientation and my gender identity are fluid and can’t be contained by any institution. The military no longer owns me. My contract has been fulfilled. The gender binary also no longer owns me. Because I’ve broken it for the good of all those like me.