“I May Never Be in Uniform Again”: A Trans Former Navy Pilot Speaks Out
Brynn Tannehill is a former Navy pilot and analyst and the director of advocacy for SPARTA, an LGBT military organization. She is also a trans woman. Here, Tannehill speaks up about President Trump's tweets in July stating that transgender people will be banned from serving in the U.S. military. Following the tweets, Trump remained quiet about whether and when his statements would become policy; some had hope that he'd abandoned the idea. But last night, the Wall Street Journal reported that the White House is set to issue guidance to the Pentagon in the coming days, giving the military six months to put the new rule into effect.
I joined [the military] in 1993, the same time that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was put in place. I was aware that I was probably trans and knew that if I ever came out, I’d get kicked out. But I believed that the United States could be a force for good in the world, that we could take care of each other, that at the end of the day we were doing the right thing.
And I wanted to fly. That’s what I always dreamed of—I wanted to be a pilot.
There was a moment at the [Naval] Academy in 1995 when I had to commit to either seven more years of service and the chance to be a pilot, or the chance to take my two years of education and transition somewhere in a more friendly climate. [I weighed] what a rough road being trans is and how much I wanted to be an aviator—and I chose aviator. But I knew that either way, there was going to be a terrible cost.
That’s the reason I’ve [spent] the past five years advocating for open trans service—so that other people like me don’t have to make these absolutely hellish choices between being themselves and the career they’ve always dreamed of.
I ended my active service [in 2008] and left the drilling reserves in 2010. That same year, I started coming out and finished transition in 2012. Since the accession policy [for transgender service members] came about this fall, I’ve been working with recruiters to try and get back into the reserves. But [today’s announcement] kind of kills my last hope that I will get to retire in uniform. I will potentially never be in uniform again.
I am the director of advocacy for SPARTA, an organization that represents and provides support to primarily transgender service members. Our membership is over 600 active duty people—people who have invested years of their lives in [military] careers and are terrified that they’re going to lose everything: their jobs, their retirement, their healthcare, their income, their social support network, housing.
At one point, we were encouraging people to come out. Now, these people are in this horribly exposed position. We’ve reached the point where truth, justice, and the American way is not as important as the corporate bottom line.
The excuse that this is about cost [also] makes no sense; I transitioned years ago and paid out of pocket. It costs nothing for me to go back into the military. The excuse is just that—an excuse. No matter what kind of person I am, no matter how good an analyst, I will always be that trans person.
This has a profound impact on people’s lives. It also has a profound impact on the missions, capabilities, and readiness of the units these people serve in. When you start taking people who have valuable skills, when you lose a member suddenly, that cuts into your ability to do your job. What happens when the only avionics technician on your detachment on a destroyer suddenly gets thrown off the ship and sent back to the United States?
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[What can Americans do now?] They can call their Congress members and tell them that this is unacceptable. They can express their pleasure at the ballot box.
These people pledged their lives to defending the constitution—and their reward is policy by Twitter that endangers their ability to lead their lives? They deserve better.
-As told to Romy Oltuski