It ain't over until I sing

  • by Monica F. Helms
  • Wednesday August 2, 2017
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It amazes me sometimes on how often we have to go back and fight the same issues over and over. I retired from activism in 2013, after 15 years in the trenches. We had gotten consistent and respectful treatment of transgender veterans in the Veterans Administration and open service for trans military people appeared on the horizon. I thought, "Wow, I can start enjoying my twilight years."

To borrow a line from "Godfather Part III," "Just when I thought I was out ... they pull me back in." Enter, President Donald Trump, or as I call him, Cheeto. On November 9, 2016, I realized that retirement from activism had become a pipe dream. And, on the morning of July 26, that became painfully apparent, when Trump tweeted that transgender people cannot serve in the military in any capacity. It became an S-word storm.

A 2011 survey done by the National Center for Transgender Equality and National LGBTQ Task Force showed that 20 percent of trans and gender non-conforming people had served in the military, compared to 10 percent of the general population.

Does that mean that we're more patriotic than cisgender people? Probably not, but it's a good thing to throw back in the face of the haters. Trump and his family have never served in the military, from as far back as when the family first came to America. He received five deferments to keep him from serving our country during Vietnam and he has the guts to question the ability of others to serve?

In 1970, my draft number was low, 79, so I knew I would be drafted. I didn't want to go to Vietnam, so I went to the Navy recruiter and joined to avoid the Army. I further volunteered for submarines, because I knew they were a safe place to avoid being shot at. At the time, the submarine service had a short, but honorable history, and I would soon be part of that. I look back at my time on submarines as a turning point that changed my life for the better.

Today, women can serve on submarines. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual people can serve on submarines, and now trans people can serve on them as well. Many of us already have.

Trans and gender non-conforming people have served this country since the Revolutionary War. Many women wanted to serve America in the military, but in order to do so, they had to present as men. Some, such as Albert Cashier, continued to live as men for the rest of their lives. Cashier was a Civil War veteran who died in 1915, and was buried with full military honors.

Another notable woman who entered the Army as a man was Cathay Williams. A former slave, Williams entered the military as William Cathay and became a Buffalo Soldier, fighting the Apaches in New Mexico. She served for two years, getting out after an illness caused a doctor to discover her birth gender. The U.S. Army considers her the first African-American woman to have served in the military.

The first publicly-known transsexual, Christine Jorgensen, served in the Army for two years. When she came back from Denmark after her operation in December 1952, she threw the testing of the first hydrogen bomb off the front page.

Today, there are over 130,000 trans veterans. We all served this country in the military, most getting out honorably. Our ranks go from privates and seamen, all the way up to senior officers. We have done almost every job the military has, and have obtained the highest security clearances this country can give a person. And this president says we're a distraction?

In the Atlantic, I pushed 16 nuclear missiles around to keep the Russians from blowing up this country, killing everyone, including Trump. I protected the rights of everyone in this country, yet trans service members don't get those rights. Today, those trans men and women serving in the military are doing the same jobs of protecting this country and the rights of the people in this country. Why does the president want to take those rights away? They're keeping Trump safe, so he can spend taxpayers' money golfing in Florida.

The president said that money was one of the reasons that trans people should be kicked out of the military. It has been estimated that the most the military would spend on health care for trans service members is $8.4 million per year. If he wanted to save money, maybe he should kick out men with erectile dysfunction. They cost the military $84 million. Trump's trips to Mar-a-Lago have cost the taxpayers over $21 million. I think we should kick him out.

I fought for the rights of trans people to serve openly in the military. I see I may have to fight for it again. It's important to note that if trans people are discharged from the military, it will only be temporary. Trump and his minions won't be occupying the White House forever. When he's gone, trans people will be back serving our country honorably. Trump thinks he has the last word. Not quite. It ain't over until I sing.


Monica F. Helms created the transgender pride flag and lives in Atlanta. In 2015, she was the recipient of San Francisco Pride's Heritage of Pride, Pride Creativity Award to honor her contribution to the transgender and greater LGBT community.