I think it's safe to say that I am aware of my emotions. When I saw my friend Marine Staff Sergeant Eric Alva standing behind President Obama as the latter signed the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010, I, along with countless others, exuded euphoria!
The blood, sweat and tears that had gone into ending years of discrimination against lesbian, gay and bisexual service members appeared to be washed away. Eric and I had spoken together at several Human Rights Campaign (HRC) dinners. We advocated for repeal by stating that sexual orientation does not negatively affect someone's ability to serve. We had been a part of making change happen.
But what I didn't realize was that we had been shortchanged. My own ignorance had prevented me from fully appreciating what work was left to be done and who had been left behind.
For a couple of years, I had also been part of an HRC speaking duo with Allyson Robinson. She and I loved every moment of our performance. She would carry the audience along her roller coaster, inciting laughs, silence and tears, drawing upon every poignant moment to elicit raw emotion in reaction to her powerful story of telling her father -- an Army sergeant major -- that she is transgender. On cue I would pick up from the tender place where she had left off to tell my personal story and ask for financial support of the organization to make equality a reality. It was beautiful. We were quite the team, and we knew we were doing good work.
I distinctly remember exclaiming from the stage one night, "And we have seen the repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell'!" Rapturous applause ensued. I was grinning with delight and felt my own tears of exuberance well up. It was such a triumph to realize that we had won.
And yet we hadn't quite.
I can't remember the day I learned that transgender people were still banned from serving in the United States military. But I do know I met that fact with shock. How shortsighted of me to not consider them in our work. Why had I not known this before?
The weight of disgust I felt during the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) tragedy when "transgender" was removed from the bill came striking back and lodged itself in my throat. I remember I cried with anger at that time as well. How could it be possible that some human beings could be so prejudiced against others? I just don't get it.
When Allyson confided in me that she would be leaving HRC to lead the efforts of ensuring LGBT equality in the military, I was of course thrilled for her. And I saw my chance to help.
As a storyteller I offered to create Webisodes to give transgender people we know in the U.S. armed forces a platform to be heard. Advances for people who are not heterosexual have come a long way, in large part due to TV, film and the media. Today in America three out of four people report knowing someone who is gay or lesbian, whereas only one in 10 people reports knowing someone who is transgender. Surely if they shared their personal and professional experience, transgender people in the military would win the hearts and minds of Americans too.
And so TransMilitary was born.
In the first few weeks of research, I quickly became aware that the country where I'd grown up, the United Kingdom, has allowed transgender people to serve since 1999. This was before LGB people were able to serve. The contrast was immediately apparent. Why not create a series that juxtaposes two allies?
Moving forward with fierce ambition and a fearless heart, TransMilitary found a team and a home at Martian Entertainment.
Hearing, listening, absorbing every single story I am told by transgender service members is a privilege. Every single story moves my soul. Recounts of knowing yourself when you are 4 years old, only to be told you are wrong. Muffling screams for help as a teenager. Knowing exactly who you are, but your body betraying you in puberty. Joining the military with patriotism, a sense of adventure, and a desire to be a part of something bigger than yourself, only to then be silenced, again.
I get fired up. A lot.
Thirteen countries worldwide -- including Britain, Australia and Israel -- allow transgender people to serve, but not "the land of the free and the home of the brave," America.
I am blown away by the trust transgender service members have put in me and my team to tell their stories. They profoundly, articulately and unabashedly share details on camera. And this outpouring comes because this is the first opportunity anyone has given them to speak so loudly, to really speak and, more importantly, to really, truly, be heard.
One of our American service members told details of being given a pregnancy test, a male uniform, and being spoken to with male pronouns -- "he" and "him" -- by the same people, on the same day. This guy was deployed, promoted and awarded but is now being discharged. Why? Because he was assigned female at birth.
Yet one of our British service members sat down and explained to his commander that he is transgender. He explained that he had been born biologically female but always knew his gender was male. This guy was given a "needs assessment form" to plan the date of receiving his male uniform and eventually was moved into male barracks. The UK military supports him in his transition, and he continues to excel at his job. Today he serves with "a massive smile" on his face because he is seen as the man he knows himself to be.
These stark contrasts tell you that something must change.
Transgender people are not looking for special accommodations, treatment or attention. They are simply wanting to do the job they love.
During this time of building the most meaningful and significant relationships of my life, my own gender has come into question at times. After posting a photo of myself in my elementary-school uniform, a dear friend who had been following TransMilitary on Facebook messaged me saying, "Hi Honey. Not that it matters, but I did not know you were transgender. I love you even more."
I smiled at his caring intention and wondered if that extra bit of love would be taken back when I gave him the truth. Following my response, he said, "You'll have to explain it to me next week. I thought the pic of an 11 yr. old boy was you. But after reading the definition of cisgender on Wikipedia I am even more confused."
But his concluding words are sentiments that every human being should be told: "Can we leave it at who you are, and you to fully understand that I love you just the way you are, bi-sexual, cesgender [sic] or whatever."
So am I transgender? No, I'm not. Neither am I from a military family. I have an aversion to violence, conflict and guns. I may not be able, or even want, to fire a weapon, but I will go down into the trenches and fight like hell for all people to have their equal right to serve.