Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
For transgender personnel in military, honesty can end careers

< Previous Page

"I knew everything that was on the table, but at the same time it was completely worth it," he said. "It was like taking my first breath."

The effects were almost immediate for Wilson. The injections deepened his voice and molded his face structure and body shape. His muscles and strength grew, along with light facial hair. Because the therapy triggers a process similar to puberty, it also brought about severe acne.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

The onset of his transformation came as gay men and lesbians in the military were starting to reap the benefits of the 2011 repeal of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell," the federal law that barred them from serving openly. The change - which had no bearing on transgender service members - offered a slight relief for Wilson, whom many mistook for a lesbian. But he also felt a degree of resentment.

"I knew that the lesbian and gay community were getting all these freedoms and all their privileges," he said. "There was still that silent T that was completely ignored."

Although transgender service members were avid supporters of the repeal, activists who led the effort were careful not to inject the plight of transgender service members into the debate.

"There was a certain reticence to discuss it in any official way with stakeholders for fear of complicating the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell," said Allyson Robinson, a former Army officer and transgender activist. "There was a very clear awareness among all the organizations that worked on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell that this issue was going to remain outstanding."

Colleagues noticed Wilson’s physical changes, but no one seemed to care. He confided in a few people in the military last year, including Allen.

"I said, no harm no foul there," the 20-year-old said in a phone interview, describing his reaction. "To me you’ve always been Wilson, whether you’re a male or a female."

That distinction became strikingly blurred last summer when Wilson volunteered for a year-long deployment in Afghanistan. When he arrived at a Navy medical processing center in Virginia, he was assigned to male barracks and given male uniforms on the first day. That afternoon, medical personnel noticed paperwork indicating a female and ordered a pregnancy test, but inexplicably kept him housed and clothed as a man.

"I was like, all right, this is going to get very awkward once they see something," he remembers thinking.

story continues below
story continues below

Later that summer, when Wilson arrived to a base in South Carolina for combat training, he again was assigned to male barracks. Wilson’s deployment paperwork started reflecting the gender everyone from that point forward assumed him to be. And because his former name, which he has since changed legally, is androgynous, no one asked questions. The men who shared his living quarters assumed he was a man. Wilson said that all the shower facilities he used after basic training included private shower stalls.

The three weeks he spent in there were among the happiest in his life, Wilson said, as he rambled through the woods wearing heavy body armor and carrying weapons, just one of the boys.

"It felt like being part of this brotherhood that you hear about so often when you talk about the military," he said. "It was invaluable."

- - -

On Nov. 16, he was put to work just hours after arriving in Afghanistan. During 12-hour night shifts that began at 4 p.m., he was responsible for intercepting communications by militants in order to guide Special Operations troops carrying out missions. For the first time in his career, the intelligence he was gathering was being put to immediate use and resulting in constant expressions of gratitude. Feeling indispensable in a critical job, Wilson started worrying less about being discovered.

"At that point, I had no concerns about it," he said. "I felt confident about my ability to do my job and I was hopeful that would be enough if everything did come out. That that would be enough to stay."

The secret was exposed in late November when Wilson’s commanders in Afghanistan spoke to his superiors in Hawaii to make arrangements for a promotion he was due. Officials in Hawaii used female pronouns to refer to Wilson, while their counterparts at Bagram were referring to a male petty officer third class.

"My Afghanistan leadership was like, ‘I have no idea who you are talking about,’ " Wilson said. "We don’t have a female with that last name. I think you have the wrong shop."

After Wilson came clean, commanders in Afghanistan decided to send him home. Within six hours, he was packed and loaded onto a plane. As the sun rose that morning, his prevailing concern was who would fill his slot inside the ramshackle intelligence fusion cell.

Next Page >

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.