Ty S. Warrick
U.S. ARMY VETERAN, 22.5 YEARS OF SERVICE
TY ON A LIFETIME OF FEELING TRAPPED, AND REFLECTIONS ON WAR:
The military was a safe zone for some one like me. Basically the uniform allowed me to hide my gender for several years. The uniform is very male heterosexual. Because of that, even identifying as a woman based on the birth that was chosen for me- and I always say that because I did not chose the gender that was chosen for me, nor do I have any regrets, nor am I angry or hate any of the decisions that were chosen for me back then- but the uniform is very male oriented and based on that as a woman you can be very tough and butch and masculine without it being taken out of context that your were something other than a lesbian- which is something most people identified me as even though it was something that I wasn’t.
It is difficult because you either fall into a category where you hang out with a bunch of lesbians or you fall into a category where you find a male companion where you are both in a gender situation that you don’t want to identify to anybody else. You just let people make their own assumptions based on that friendship knowing that it’s nothing else other than a friendship. I did that for several years in the uniform. I had a male friend that was gay and he was very heterosexual acting, so our relationship was built on a common ground- we were both able to hide without having to explain ourselves.
It was tormenting because you can never really be your true self. The decision to allow others to identify you takes away from you as a person. I knew I was never going to be who I truly was as long as my friends were near me. Unfortunately you have to make decisions in the uniform that aren’t always healthy mentally, however I did start transitioning while in the uniform. Over the years it became harder and harder to hide. For me, it was a natural transition. The hair growth was there, the voice was deepening, it wasn’t really a choice body-wise because as I got older the body started changing itself, which was confusing for me because I’d spent a lifetime hiding the truth about my gender and then the body decides it’s going to do its own thing.
It was in Iraq that my body stared taking on a more masculine look- squaring of the face, body structure, more hair growth. And it was in Iraq that I really started having to hide myself more. Cutting my hair made it more apparent, so I’d let it grow out a bit to masquerade the features that were starting to appear. So for me, while a part of it was really great and a relief that I was finally looking like the person I always was, it was also very damaging for my career. The more masculine I became, the more apparent it became to people that either I was really, what they consider a butch dyke, or that something else was going on and they didn’t know how to understand it or how to identify. I found myself starting to speak softer and lighter so I could sound more like a female. It was the opposite of what I had already been doing, and now I am trying to hide what I really am again. It was very mentally unhealthy. So I knew at that point I was going to have to start considering my career as an option no longer, for the uniform. And that led me to the decision to retire in 2009.
I think when I first went to Iraq I was just like everybody else: Hoorah, we’re gonna go! Come on, life is good! But then you get there you realize that you probably had it pretty good but you just didn’t know it. And you go back [on multiple tours], not because – at least I didn’t go back – because I wanted to serve my country but because I had friends and individuals I cared about that I wanted to and hoped that we could bring home safely. It was no longer about whatever cause they wanted to call it because every time I turned around it was a different cause, a different fight. What were we really fighting for? To me, personally, we weren’t fighting for the right things, we were just losing a lot of life over something that just wasn’t that important. That’s my take on war, I think that decisions are made and whether or not they are made for the right reasons lives are going to be lost. But I don’t think the sacrifice is going to be worth it. And that is because you come home and you ask yourself- every time someone says thank you for your service -what are they thanking me for? Because what have they changed here that made my sacrifice worth it? I don’t think that being blown up, shot at, waking up in a hospital bed is something that qualifies someone to say thank you if they haven’t changed anything in their life to make everything that I’ve lost important.
I think we all realize in Iraq the things we give up, of our personal selves, for a different cause. Iraq, I think for me, made me a better person. While I carry in me a lot of emotional unhealthiness about it, I think it brought out a lot of soul searching. I think a lot of people go back on multiple tours because everybody’s the same there, we’re all screwed up. That’s my big joke. Of course I’m comfortable in Iraq because everyone is just like me, screwed up. But, coming home made me appreciate more of who I needed to be for myself and where I wanted to end up when life ended.
Iraq has taught me that you don’t fear death anymore because you see it so often, its just a part of life and living is more fearful that anything. You learn to do without. You learn to not get attached to anything or anyone. And I think that’s one of the most harming experiences in Iraq.
There are many things after retiring that were a struggle. My birth certificate is now male gender with no amendments. My spouse is female, we are legally married, but we fought for almost three years to get benefits for her because the government would not change my gender marker to male- regardless of birth certificate, regardless of birth records. We fought it. And we won. In the end, we ended up winning but it took three years to do it. That was probably the worst part of the transition. The department of defense has a policy that when you enter the military under one gender marker, they will never change it. But after three years we did get those benefits in 2009 after we took it to our senator and filed a formal complaint with the department of defense.
I felt like my entire life was a masquerade party. It still is. Speaking to you, knowing that this is possibly going to be published, there is a whole new circle of friends that have no idea that I once lived my life as a woman. But reverting back to Iraq here- there comes a time in your life where you have to say whether or not they’re important enough to not speak out. Because I know there are a lot of – I won’t say intersex, but there are- one in every 2,000 children born are intersex- but there are many other men and women in the uniform that are suffering from not being able to be the gender on the outside that they feel they are on the inside. What does that say for our program now, as Painted Paws? I don’t think that outside of a handful of people that follow Painted Paws and everything that we do, know about my past life. They know I’m a veteran. They know of my service. All of my records have been changed to Tyler Warrick, my gender’s been changed to male, but they have no idea who I used to be or my life prior to this. So what does that say about this program? I guess I just don’t worry about it. I mean, I am here to help veterans that need it and families that need it and don’t have as much as the rest of us and that’s the bottom line. Maybe it will bring more GLBT support or maybe it will lose a good portion of our heterosexual community. But then again, I’ve dealt with that my entire life in the military and growing up. Life is all about choices. I could have chosen not to meet with you today, I knew that this was going to come up. But maybe meeting with you today is going to help somebody else not wait until they’re almost forty years old to be who they need to be.
It’s a very unhealthy life to live- feeling trapped all the time. Constantly explaining yourself you become, not necessarily a liar…but what is the difference between lying and not telling the truth? Your Commander asks you if you’re a homosexual and you say no and that’s the truth but you’re clothed as a female and you are living with a female- does that make it a lie? There are so many different variations of what is the truth in the uniform. Your Command in Iraq, they could care less who you’re sleeping with, which is how it should be anyways, but at the same time, if anything happened they’d be the first Command to hand you a dishonorable discharge when you get back. Somebody has to be punished for the things that went wrong. I’ve seen that a lot in Iraq. I’ve seen it before we went when we were in training, I’ve seen it when we came back- soldiers that were found out there that wound up with dishonorable discharges when we got back. Am I wrong for never speaking up or am I right for protecting my own uniform? So yeah, trapped. Even in Iraq, you’re trapped, even more so because you’re there with them 24-7. You can’t hide it anymore. It’s not like you get to go home after duty and take the uniform off and be your true self. There, you’re on duty 24-7 and you’re constantly trapped and hiding and hoping that nobody tries to find out, that nobody says something that causes an investigation that- will you lie to get out of or will you tell the truth? I was always under the radar with that. Transgender was not accepted as much as being a homosexual, which was really weird because that wasn’t accepted either.
Your entire life is hiding, Now I’m completely transitioned, I’m identified as male on my records. Everything including birth has been corrected based on chromosome and yet I’m still hiding, there’s never really any not hiding. It’s hiding in the opposite direction. Now I’m not hiding that I’m male, I’m hiding that I was once female. Which is sometimes painful….and a lot of times I just don’t care.
I lost hundreds of friends- not close friends but friends- after I retired and came out. It was really difficult, I told my closest friends first and during one incident I told one friend about my choice to completely transition and live my life as a male and she came back to me, I still love you but you’ll always be my girl. Now while I know she meant that as an enduring acceptance, it was very insulting. So, that’s really what I’ve encountered with military friends. Life has in its own way given me a different life with new friends. So everything has started over. My life started over from female to male, my life started over with new family and friends, and just about everyone I’ve served with for over twenty years- excluding maybe four people- are no longer in my life. Was it worth it? Absolutely, I have no regrets. I do know that several people stopped speaking to me personally, which was their decision because they could not accept, they felt like they had been lied to throughout our friendship and I accept that. Without trying to understand what it was that I was living through, it was a complete cutoff at the knees- you lied to me for ten years, how can I trust you now? So, I understand that and accept that. But I am sure many of them have not told the truth about many things about themselves and others have stood by them regardless. So today is just about me being true and honest and not caring whether I wake up tomorrow and my friends are standing there supporting me or not. Because I no longer need that to feel accepting of myself, which I think a lot of us do: we need friendships, we need relationships and we need outlets to feel accepted and I think that once you get to a point where you don’t need any of that, life changes for you. So coming out was very difficult, losing a few friends that were my closest friends when I came out made it worse for me not to tell other people because I did tell a lot of people prior to leaving the uniform and once the uniform was completely retired I actually just stopped speaking to a lot of people. You can only be told so many times how biblically against the law it is before you stop wanting people to know the truth about you. Religion does play a big part in it for some people. I’ve had people that I’ve been friends with for twenty years tell me that I’m an abomination and a sin against God. Well, I did not chose to be born intersex, so I will allow them to use their bible to hate and they’ll be miserable and unhappy and I’ll be happy and enjoying life and not caring.
I was raised as a catholic. I am Native American. So I chose, when given the choice, to choose a very free Native American faith, which is very peaceful. It’s about father sky and mother earth and never taking and not giving back, it’s about accepting all without boundaries.
Two Spirited people, what we call [intersex] in Native American, is a gift, very accepted in life, a very wise person without prejudice and discrimination. But for me, it’s about sharing that there is more to life than just a religious aspect. I think it’s going to be important not just for me but for others to understand. I think it’s important to show families that we live a normal life- whatever normal is, to whomever. I think me being here shows a very healthy marriage, with my wife who has a grown child. We’re no different. It’s important so that families are educated so that they can understand their children more, versus trying to put them in a box. You don’t fix homosexuality, you’re not going to fix someone whose transgender, you’re not going to change someone who is intersex, they will change themselves- and religion is in the middle of all of this. If everyone really reads the bible, there is a huge part of the bible that people don’t read about acceptance of homosexuality and hermaphrodites.
Iraq is a world of its own. If you don’t find yourself there, you wont find yourself coming home. Because it doesn’t get any more real than that. The reality of this is who you are, this is who you want to be and this is what life is. It’s all right there in Iraq. And it’s all our choice to bring it home and follow the same truth we found there. For someone who hasn’t deployed it probably won’t make any sense, but for someone who has deployed, they complexly understand that. Because you search religion, do you want to believe in God or you don’t want a religion? What do you want to do when you get back? The things that you put off for years many people have now accomplished those things because they’re not sure that they’ll ever get another chance. So, all of that is in Iraq. I think that with all of the bad and negative that comes out of it, there is a lot of good too. We have a lot of soldiers, amputees and GLBT members out there that are making strides based on their experience in Iraq. So if you say Iraq was only for horror and negative replacement of your life, I would tell you that’s not true, because look how far we’ve come.
PTSD. PTSD to me is like cancer. It’ll either kill you or you’ll learn to live with it as long as you can. What’s it like to live with is all I can explain because I haven’t lived without it since I came back from Iraq. Every day is a new day and no day is guaranteed. Because today, while I can be calm and feel normal, tomorrow might be chaos and disorganization. I have a lot of anxiety so I don’t sleep a lot. I can sleep for three or four hours and go for another twenty-four hours without batting an eye, whereas most people need their sleep, I can go-go-go until I crash. I have to sleep with a TV just to keep noise in the house because the quiet will drive me insane. The reason the quiet will drive me insane is because if it was quiet in Iraq you were getting ready to be bombed, hit or attacked in some way. So the quiet is not a good thing for me and I’m sure it’s not good for many others. I wear sunglasses because the sun in Iraq- it’s very…. When I take the sunglasses off my eyes either water or they blur, the VA did give me special glasses to wear even at home, so we’ve changed all the lights in the house to very dim lighting so that my eyes don’t stress because it causes seizures and blackouts due to the IED that hit when I was out there. So as you can see my eyes are there, they just hurt with too much light.
There’s anger issues. I can be laughing and if somebody really irritates me my mood will change instantly. You never know when it’s going to happen- well my wife does now- oh boy, let’s get out of this place, cause obviously this place is not good for you…we laugh about it, because this is my bubble, I am like the boy in the bubble. Before I was very calm and I enjoyed people and society, now I see everything. I see from the time they enter my vision to the time they get out of it. I watch everything that they do. I’m constantly multitasking. I know they’re not a threat to me- but why do people have to go into the grocery store and the vegetable isle and want to touch everything, really? You know they haven’t washed their hands, that’s one of my biggest things… germs, sanitation. I sit there and I go, I did want that pineapple but did you look at her… she probably hasn’t washed her hands in like a week. So now, the pineapple’s out and I can’t get the pineapple- you can laugh because, you have to laugh. Me and my wife, we’ve found the humor in my PTSD issues. It’s kind of like, you go and see someone in the toothbrush isle buying floss who has two teeth. Those things annoy me…who are you fooling, really? Triggers are a big thing for PTSD- noises, traffic, crowded places, it’s too much to watch all at once so I can’t be in that environment. If I can’t hear myself think, I probably shouldn’t be in that place. I think the best way to survive PTSD is to find the humor.
Depression. I think that comes out of nowhere. Maybe something will remind you of something, an event where you lost somebody or where you couldn’t save somebody and then it takes days to come out of it. With PTSD things run over in your head- over and over and over and over and you can’t get out of it, you get stuck. So while some would say where I live, I’ve isolated myself, I say, I’ve just taken myself out of the stupidity of our society. I don’t consider it isolation, I call it peace. Because when I walk out the door, I know the trees aren’t going to do something that I have to sit and say…really?
Anxiety. High, very high. Constant movement, always keeping busy.
Sara, she’s done well, and it’s not been easy, I’ve probably turned her world upside down. Because the person she met and fell in love with has changed. The other day she made a comment that the military should teach their loved ones to mourn the loss of their spouses and loved ones once they come home because the people they sent off to war are not the people who come home. So for her, she had to mourn the person she fell in love with to accept the person she married. Part of me wishes that I had seen that change but the truth is you don’t see it with PTSD. And sadly you don’t get to be the person you used to be because life has changed for you, and for your family and your loved ones and your children and you want people to understand that. But as much as you want people to understand, I don’t think people will understand a war veteran if you haven’t gone to war. I’m lucky. I had someone who stood by me while in uniform, stood by me through my transition and is still with me today. And we joke about that too- I say I don’t know why you’re still here and she says, you know eventually life insurance will pay out.
We do joke about it but the seriousness of it is that if I could change some of the things that have happened I would, but would I want to change anything about myself now? No. War, PTSD and transition, they have molded me to where I am today. Whether it may be some crazy lunatic that some people might see when I am angry, or someone that has a much tighter grip on reality than others do, which is how I feel. I do like when my wife tells me things like, normal people don’t worry about people touching every piece of fruit in the vegetable isle like you do. I say well, they should! Or, normal people won’t stop in the road when they see a box in the road. I understand that it’s not normal that to completely avoid construction, I will drive somewhere that’s fifty or sixty miles out of the way. But if it helps me not freak out, then that’s normal to me.
Now you do have people who have PTSD who are taking every med in the book and are completely happy, so maybe there is something to be said about that but I’m not that person. I think reality is a better place for me. Sara and I have been together since 2007, following my final tour from Iraq. A lot of people say their spouses and their family members come home and they don’t even know they have PTSD. Well, that is true. We come home, we’re still unwinding, there’s no time. But when you come home, you go on leave, there’s down time…guess what? Things start to happen. You don’t see it coming, it just comes. I jumped on a car in WalMart in Colorado Springs when someone told me to go back to Iraq and get shot like the rest of people in uniform. I kind of flipped out and I think that’s when Sarah realized I have some issues. I’m never going to forget that statement because that was a turning point for me to accept the fact that I have some issues to work through. I still have issues. But that was the first time Sarah had seen it. Other people had seen it in the uniform and on the job when I would get angry at somebody. I worked in the schools department the last few months in the military and people would come up and want to go to a certain school and obviously I would need sensitivity training because if they weren’t smart enough for the school, I would politely let them know that that probably wasn’t a good option.
It’s kind of like a new soldier being attached to your unit in Iraq bringing a mood card with them. They would say hey Sarge, I pulled out my stress card and I think I need a 15 minute time out and I’d say oh yeah, sure, take the magazine out and give me your bullets, see how that works out for you out here. So there were a lot of stresses when we had soldiers out in Iraq come out with mood cards, like a mood ring… In basic training, the military gave them out. I shouldn’t be laughing because it’s horrible. But you have to find the humor in it, right. Somebody brought one to Iraq and wanted to use it for a time out because they felt stressed. They were getting ready to go on a convoy and I understand outside the wire, you’re worried about being shot at or blown up, but don’t bring out a mood card because it’s not going to save you. I mean the enemy is not going to go okay, I know you’re stressed, so take 15 and then I’ll shoot at you…think about it, the logic. I think to myself, we’re in the middle of a war, and the military is handing out mood cards in basic training.
When we first got together, I was still obviously in a female form. We met through a mutual friend, but when we started dating I told her. I didn’t want her to think that she had found her lesbian partner. She was previously married as well to a man and had a son. Sara is more gender neutral, not a hardcore lesbian or bisexual, she doesn’t identify with that. So when I told her—which was crazy because I didn’t even tell my previous spouse throughout the twelve years we were together, but I did tell Sara and I think for me that was important because I didn’t want her getting attached to something that was never going to be. She accepted it. I think she was curious. She is obviously very intelligent, much more intelligent than mine. I’m not joking, her IQ is much higher than mine – it allows her to analyze things and come to a much better conclusion. I will punch someone in the face and she will talk through it. She has her masters in meteorology and is a retired accountant now. So I told her and I was expecting her reaction to be a whole ooh, aaah! I can’t believe that’s true! but it was just the opposite. She was like so when are you going to start that process and what was it like growing up? She was always more curious. And then there’s always the anatomy check. Before you go to that next level, there’s always the fact that there’s more down there that if you’re thinking you’re going to be with a woman. I wouldn’t want that to come out unannounced. We kind of joke about that…she’s like how did the military miss that all of those years? Well that’s because it retracts and looks just like an enlarged female down there except when you get excited and something else comes out, so they never knew there was anything behind it.
With my previous spouse, the relationship was always a male, female relationship so anatomy checks wasn’t exactly the same as what it would be with a woman who wanted to be with a woman, who is more curious about a woman’s body. I guess when they go, who’s the top, who’s the bottom, I was never the bottom. When those things happen, it was something I always hid. I hid that for twelve years with her. It just shows you she didn’t do her reciprocation in the bedroom. I never really exposed that part of myself to her. I never trusted that it was safe. And I was right, because when we broke up prior to leaving the military, the first thing that she wanted to do was turn me in, so I was right not to tell her. People didn’t suspect because I didn’t involve her with anything having to do with the military. Which is really different because when Sara and I met, I did involve her with a lot of things Military- company BBQs, and events that the two of us enjoyed like dancing, and there was a circle of friends I did bring her around, eventually. They were like, oh, okay, so there is somebody in life. I never really talked about it in uniform, people new that there was somebody, but it wasn’t something that I talked about.
In our twelve year relationship, she never new I was born intersex, I never told her. I don’t know that I didn’t do it for many reasons- not just the trust, I think that at that time the uniform was the most import thing in my life and I didn’t trust anybody to not out me because of how many people outed each other in the uniform. It’s sad, that your best friend would throw you under the bus if it saved her ass so why would I feel that would be any different in the relationship. Obviously that relationship didn’t end well. It was doomed, doomed from the beginning. If I’m going to be honest I would say that after the first four or five years we were together, I knew it was over and going to Iraq was like a vacation. But Sara was different, completely different, she came into my life at a time that I was ready to accept it and deal with it. But again, I refer that back to Iraq because that’s where I did my soul searching. Was I happy in my relationship at that time, or was I unhappy? What was I going to do when I got back? What was I going to do about my gender when I got back? Would I out myself? Many things I thought about-do I out myself now so that they discharge me based on this? How would I be discharged? Could they discharge me based on this? GID, Gender Identity Disorder is probably what they would label it as. That would be a general discharge, not a dishonorable discharge because they consider that a mental health issue. I did have other choices. Or do I just put in my pack and say I’m done with this and let the military evaluate me and medically discharge me from my injuries from Iraq? I elected to take my 20 years and go to the VA and do everything I needed to do.
My family life as a child- there were nine kids in our family to start with- TV wasn’t an option back then- but I’m third to the youngest of nine kids. And it’s weird because our family has a lot of homosexuality in it. Out of nine kids, five of us identify as either bisexual or gay. It’s like the odds were there. I think my gender came from- I was born not even a full year, not even nine months after my older brother was born- and I think the gender for intersex came because the hormones were all still there, from the birth of my older brother, Ray. So when I came along, it was like wham- the best of both worlds I guess. I’m not close to my family, my biological family. That is my choice not to be close to them. I joined the military for many, many reasons and my family was one of them, what they did, who they were, it was not who I wanted to be, for myself. I didn’t have a bad childhood, don’t get me wrong- there was love in the house, and I never had to do without. We weren’t middle class but we weren’t poor either, so there wasn’t a lot, except for a lot of trouble. One brother’s always in and out of doing something, taking ‘vacation’ somewhere. My sister, who is my oldest sister, she’s a little bit over the edge for me but she’s funny. I don’t have any hate for them, they’re just not…I think if I hadn’t gone to Iraq I would probably try to be a part of their life. Now I have my own life.
My mother is Native American and my father lives in California, I haven’t spoken to him since my mom died in ‘91. My mom did not tell me about my birth until she was dying of breast cancer and I was in my early 20s. The only reason I feel she told was because I was questioning many things about myself. One is that I didn’t like being labeled a lesbian, and I never understood it, the other is that I never felt like a female growing up. And this is because even on my medical records it shows at age four that I was showing male characteristics, developing more male than I was female. And that’s when the doctors decided to use what they call Beta Blockers to take away the male hormones so you can grow up to be a ‘fake female.’ But she did decide to tell me and that’s when she showed me my medical records that showed my birth. At the time I was confused and angry and I don’t know… I was just confused and angry.
But I was in the uniform so I knew I could still hide there. They obviously didn’t suspect anything. But you’re also looking at the ‘80s and the exams were different than they are today. But my mom was dying of breast cancer, so where was there time for me to even talk about this with her? I think she just wanted me to know that everything I was feeling and going through wasn’t fictitious, wasn’t a lie. There was a real reason I was going through this. Even in my twenties I was questioning my life—why is it that I don’t feel like other women, why is it that I don’t have this attachment to my body the way that other women do?
There were many, many, many clues that something wasn’t right and she finally came forward with it and I’m happy she did. Because I think I would have been angrier if she had passed away and those records had been given to me and I had never known by her. But she explained it and we talked about it and we talked about my true heritage and my nationality and what my choices would be moving forward. That’s when I started researching two spirited individuals on the Native American side and that’s when I realized that life doesn’t have to be horrible because of it. You can coexist in this body. How you coexist in it is different. It’s not like one day you wake up and say I want to be a man and you go out and become a man and the next day you say I’ll become a woman today. But I think that helped me to live the next almost 20 years in this body. That religion and that faith allowed me to be who I was, I didn’t have to hide. I don’t want to say I got people but my Native American tribe, they do give you the opportunity to seek yourself and find your spirit. Regardless if you do anything about it whether you are a female who wants to be male and you go forward with it doesn’t matter as long as you find the happiness of the spirit, which allows you to live in a male form without transition. And when I say that, it’s about things you do to the body to make the body complete as it is. Living in your true spirit as a male would mean not having top surgery, which would be breast removal, not having clinical reassignment, which would be testicular implants or phalloplasty or metoidioplasty, which they just cut the hood off and extend it out to about the size of your thumb. Those are all things you could do outside of hormones to give the body a more male physique. Or you can learn to live with every part of the body without doing any of that in the male spirit and still love yourself, so that is what I did for almost 20 years. I learned to love my body for as who I was on the outside as well as who the spirit was on the inside until I went to Iraq. And then it was no longer acceptable.
I think the Native American faith has helped me in a lot of ways with PTSD because it allows you to be peaceful and to find something to give without taking back, which is where Painted Paws comes from. Instead of taking something and draining everyone of their energy based on your personal issues, you find something good to give back so that all of your symptoms and anxieties with PTSD, most of that goes into whatever it is your giving back and helps you live with whatever it is that’s left over. The dogs, they do that for me. I spend the majority of my energy focused on them and training them to be good companions for other people and by the time this is over and the rest of the day is gone, half the problems I woke up with are gone. So that’s how Native American has helped me. It’s not about burning candles and doing voodoo and hoping somebody dies tomorrow. People say they do witchcraft and believe in magic but it’s not true.
I don’t identify as heterosexual, I identify as gender neutral. I embrace the woman that I used to be and I am happy with the man that I am today. And I think that allows me to not hate or be angry because life just wasn’t fair.
I felt like while you can embrace yourself and love your body mind spirit and soul, you have to find true happiness and I was not happy identified as a woman on the outside, while I was happy on the inside, I wasn’t happy on the outside. So Iraq was that soul-searching moment that I said if you could have one thing that would male you truly happy, what would it be? And my answer is this man, on the outside. I don’t need anything else that goes with it. I don’t need to be 6 feet tall- I’m 5 foot 3” – I don’t need to be that guy at the gym, Arnold Schwarzenegger, I don’t need to ne this man who tells everybody he’s hung, because we all know how true that is. I don’t need any of those things that go with this, this being the truth and reality of what was going to make me happy as a person. Because if you’re happy as a person, every other ailment in your life that you’re dealing with will be easier to deal with, but if you’re miserable as a person, every issue you are dealing with will be ten times harder. So this, for me, is the happiness. And it doesn’t take away the two-spirited person because the woman in me is still very compassionate, and will still stand up for women’s rights. Ideally, that understands what women feel or think in certain situations when women feel discriminated against or that there’s prejudice in the workplace. There’s a part of me that sits there and says, well it takes a man to stand up there and say it’s wrong. And what better man than one who understands what a woman goes through because it only takes one for somebody else to see that it’s wrong. That’s where this all comes from, It’s not a movement for men or women, it’s about a common ground of equality that each person deserves in life. And I think that’s what all these years have taught me, its about finding a common ground being happy, being both.
The thing that takes you out of natural transition is that I had my breasts removed. I had them removed. And testicular implants to be complete in that area. But I still live as both because I still have that female part of me down there as well. I have opted to not do certain things that others have done. I don’t want to take away from my true birth, and with my true birth I was born with testicles. There probably never would have been breasts- the breast never would have come if they hadn’t used Beta Blockers. That was never really part of the body. So I did have them removed and I did that prior to leaving the military. It was my parting gift…they can have my breasts! Keep ‘em!
I’ve never seen myself in the female form. Always, even in uniform, I have never seen myself on the front line, on the battle line as a man. Being Native American, they say that in your dreams you always identify yourself as the person you want to be. But it always used to freak my out, especially when I was younger, I thought oh, that can’t happen. And then when my mom told me and gave me my medical records I thought oh this is definitely not supposed to happen. So you try and repress those thoughts so you don’t give yourself away.
I always dreamed I would be a pilot. When I speak to our shaman, he says it’s because you want freedom, the flight of freedom. Between flying in planes, I used to dream, back in the early days when planes weren’t where they are today, or the whole cowboy and Indian thing—I used to just want to be a rancher. I know its childish but those are the things I used to dream about, the dream world for me.
Dreams about Iraq are distorted and chaos. Always constant fighting- you’re picking up a weapon, or a vehicle you’re supposed to go on recovery- the nightmares, not dreams, where you go back and try to remember if you collected everything on someone who was killed. Inventory. Not so much anymore, but when I first left it was quite often. It’s like living in the moment, Iraq dreams are memories of chaos.
Sadly, there are daydreams as well. I’m hyper vigilant, re-living the moment of the situation, the chaos around you. I’ll stand steady, I’ll stand still and I can still feel everything moving around me. I can still smell the dirt. I can still hear the voices and the sirens of alarms going off. And that can go on for me for what seems like lifetimes, but my wife will explain to me that that happened in not even a minute. But when she sees me standing still I know what’s happening and she doesn’t disturb me because I’ll get violent.
She did try to wake me one time when I was having a nightmare and I dragged her off the bed and put her underneath me to try and protect her. I fell over, as if I had my weapons still. She knows not to wake me anymore and she does keep a good distance away from me because the swinging starts. Which was the start of why often times we don’t sleep in the same bed. We keep such different hours and she doesn’t need to be beaten to death. I say that in a joking way. She doesn’t need to be pulled off a bed that’s like four feet high. We laugh about it, but it does happen.
Going to the VA, I refuse to go to Fort Carson if I can because all the uniforms and the protocol that’s there, because if I do, for the next week, I’ll have nightmares. Everything comes back. A therapist will say to get through it, you’ve got to put yourself in the environment so you could sleep better at night. I would rather just not do it. I can sleep better on my ranch being isolated in peace, rather than being reminded of what we went through. So I do a lot of avoiding, because it causes nightmares.