Military Service and Trying to Be a Man

A reader asks, “why did you go into the military? Did you want to make a man of yourself? If so, why?”

This is a two part question (three parts really), so I’ll address all three in turn.  First, the reason I joined the military is nothing so interesting, nor so noble as to fight for the American Dream.  That’s not to say that I’m not patriotic, I’m just not the female Captain America.  When I was in basic training, one of our first nights when they got all of the new flights together for orientation, they ended it with a video of various military weapons systems (helicopters, missile sites, tanks, destroyers, etc) doing a show of force (i.e. firing off all their weapons, chaff, etc at one time) with the song “God Bless the U.S.A.”playing, and I cried patriotic tears watching that.  I got made fun of by all the guys in my flight for a week because of those tears, but I was still proud of them.  That said, no, I’m not so patriotic that I joined for that reason, nor was it an attempt to be a man.  I was out and taking part in activism back in high school, starting with my junior year.

The real reason I joined was two-fold.  First, I was having a hard time keeping a decent, paying job, and was reaching the point that I risked homelessness.  I’d been homeless and forced to live in a shelter before, and I really didn’t want to do it again.  Even today, whenever I struggle with job issues, that’s something that is at the forefront of my mind.  And at that time, my grandfather (who had served in the Army between Korea and Vietnam) suggested I join up with the Air Force.  I talked it over with my aunt Rainy (who has been more of a mom to me than my mom, her sister, ever has, despite us not really knowing one another until I was 19), and she said it was a good idea too, and that that branch specifically was best for me (she was a Marine until kicked out for being a lesbian in the days before DADT).

I also spoke with some of my trans friends from online, specifically one I knew from back in Colorado where I grew up.  She had gone into the reserves (or the guard, I forget which), and transitioned there and still served with her rank and all.  She mentioned that the VA would cover the costs of hormones and some of the other costs of transition.  That right there sealed the deal for me, and I went to the recruiter the next day.  I knew I would have to wait until I was out, but I only planned to serve one term, get my life together, and then get out and transition.  And around the time I got out, the VA sent out a directive reminding all of their clinics that they were required to perform such treatment and it would be enforced in all centers.  Of course, I waited a year to get started with them (I got my letter from a civilian therapist I knew from my days while still in), and am still trying to get them to take care of it.  The whole gatekeeper process again.

As for the issue of trying to be a man, that really wasn’t an issue with my joining.  I won’t deny that I had to hide, as best I could, but I didn’t do it in an attempt to deny who I was.  And I was really unable to hide.  If it weren’t for the fact that people never think about gender and assume all gender non-conforming behavior to be about sexuality, I would have been figured out long ago.  People regularly thought I was gay, and when I spoke of my relationship with another trans woman (leaving out the bit about her being trans) named Jenna, they all assumed it was one of those “my girlfriend who lives in Canada” made up girlfriend kinds of things and that I was gay.  When I came out to one of my friends (while still serving), he said that he never would have figured it was about gender, and that he, like everyone else, assumed I was gay and that I was making Jenna up.  Later, after separating and coming out to the rest of my friends, I got the “wow, I just thought you were gay” sentiment from a number of them (and one “that is so cool, you’re so brave” sentiment from a guy I knew but didn’t hang out with as much).

That’s not to say that I didn’t have my “trying to be a man” moments, but they were far more subtle.  For example, I have never referred to my father as “dad” or anything else stereotypical.  When I was really young, I used to call him “day” until, when I was about 3 or 4, he told me that I had to stop calling him that and call him something else, because I was a “big boy” now.  I stopped calling him anything at that point until I was probably about 14 or 15.  At that point, I started wondering about the phrase “my old man” and how you would adapt that to referring to the person directly when speaking to them.  So I started calling him “old man”, which I did until recently.  This past Christmas, I was unable to go visit as I was working through the holidays, so my dad and step-mom mailed me my gifts.  As I was opening them, I realized just how much thought he put into them, and a surge of happiness washed over me (this was about my 5 month mark on hormones and the start of my very brief period of mood swings).  I suddenly, out loud, said “I love my daddy!”

I’d never called him “daddy” before, and it was weird, and it kind of bothered me that I’d suddenly said it.  So I thought about it and thought about it, and realized that I liked it, that it felt more right for me as his daughter.  It was at this time that I also realized that calling him “old man” was my subtle way of trying to be a guy, of denying who I was, without even realizing it, because I’d started doing so back when I was still struggling to come to terms with it and questioning my sexuality (because I also wondered if I might be gay, because feminine guys and guys who want to be girls are all gay, right?).  Unfortunately, I didn’t realize this when I realized who and what I am, and even when I wore skirts or other women’s clothes, I still called him “old man,” and still did up until just a little while ago.

So no, aside from that one thing, I’ve never tried to “be a man.”  Besides, I’m only mysterious as the dark side of the moon, I’m missing the other three things required to be a man.

What about you, dear readers?  If you served in the military, what were your reasons for doing so?  Did you ever try to be a man (or a woman) when you were really a woman (or a man)?  If so, what was it that you did?  Did you do it subconsciously, as I did, or as a deliberate attempt to deny your true self?

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