I have served for the past 13 years in the U.S. Navy, but President Donald Trump’s transgender military ban is threatening to end my career and destroy my family’s proud legacy of military service.
My grandfather was an Army staff officer for Gen. Douglas MacArthur in postwar Japan, and my own father served as an aircraft mechanic in the newly minted Air Force between the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam. Their stories inspired me to join the Navy in September 2004. I would give my years and possibly my life to my country, and in return, the Navy would forge me anew into a leader and a professional.
At least, that’s what I had hoped for. Now, my career, and the careers of hundreds of other dedicated members of the armed forces, are in imminent danger, for no other reason than our gender.
When the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was repealed, I was initially unsure how the repeal was going to be received. I was serving in a new unit with an openly gay executive officer. But it turned out I was the only one who was shocked — not that he was gay— but that no one cared. He was an exceptional leader, who made us aware of the strategic importance of our tasks.
In retrospect, I should have given my brothers and sisters in arms more credit: We’re a pretty resilient group. In my years of service, I’ve driven through the streets of Kabul and worked with our international partners from the watch floor in Pearl Harbor. Five years overseas, a marriage, a child, a divorce, a deployment to Afghanistan and, through it all, the Navy was home, my place of learning and my vocation.
It makes sense that DADT’s repeal did not weaken morale or risk mission readiness. The only thing we lost were outdated prejudices. It allowed strong leaders like my commander to live openly and honestly, and it showed me that the Navy can learn from its mistakes.
But despite our success, the military still enforced a ban on openly transgender members serving. And though I knew that, I had to make achoice between my service and my life. In 2015, after a particularly difficult deployment to Afghanistan, I faced my fears and accepted that I was a woman and that I needed to transition, or else face a lifetime of depression and self-loathing.
I was anxious and uncertain about how my decision would affect my service. But then, as if in response to a prayer, the Department of Defense rescinded the ban on transgender service. I could serve my country and be true to myself. I worked hard to get orders to my dream job in a unit that specialized in satellite operations. I sought out mentors to better improve my leadership skills and worked to became the head of a division. For a year, I was whole and unashamedly pursuing my personal and professional happiness.
But the day I saw the tweet from Trump invalidating my lifelong career broke my heart and my dreams. All my work, and my 13 years of faithful service, would come to nothing.
I am not alone. There are hundreds of stories like this. Many careers and lives have been dedicated to that contract between soldier, sailor, airman, marine and their country. Though we have served faithfully, we have all an ax over our necks.
But, even though my dreams and hopes are in danger, I refuse to turn my back on my country. I will continue to serve until that ax drops, or I am given a reprieve. I can only hope that Congress and the courts will act once again to grant transgender service members the dignity to continue to fight with honor, courage and commitment.
Information Systems Technician Petty Officer First Class Teagan Gilbert is a veteran of the war in Afghanistan.