I bottled up my problem, and tried to live up to the CIA's values: to “put mission before self” and “go where others cannot.” But CIA has other chiseled words: “the truth shall set you free.” How could I speak truth to power but not be honest with myself?
Sinking into depression, I built a double life; living as a woman outside work and changing genders in Langley's unisex restrooms. My juggling act faltered at a staff meeting when a friend whispered that I had forgotten to remove my mascara.
The trans-community has a joke: “What's the difference between a crossdresser and someone who changes genders? Two years.” The punchline ignores the trans-people who never transition or find happiness outside the gender binary. But for me, my hours as Jenny lifted a terrible sadness in my life.
If you found out you needed glasses, and discovered that the world is filled with beauty and color that you thought was just a blur, why would you ever take them off?
I finally reached the breaking point. I was failing at my job and found myself crying in the bathroom. I walked into my boss's office and closed the door. She later told me she was relieved when I told her. From the look on my face, she thought I had cancer.
Much had changed in the years since the last transgender officer came out. When my boss gathered my co-workers to tell them that I was transitioning, one of the millennials remarked: "Good for her. Can we get back to work now?" Meanwhile, after stalling in the parking lot for an hour, I badged in to discover that my colleagues had bought me a gift card to a women's clothing store. A friend deadpanned, "Jenny, nobody liked you as a guy anyway."
The most terrifying day of my life turned out to be a non-event, but it was another step in pushing the Agency out of the closet. For 40 years, the CIA had fired gay and lesbian officers for being themselves; an injustice and senseless waste of America's silent defenders. By contrast, today's CIA embraced my transition. Colleagues shared stories of LGBT loved ones, and other transgender officers started to come out. Director John Brennan began wearing a rainbow lanyard, and a CIA booth stands at D.C.’s annual Gay Pride Festival.
That progress is long overdue. One study estimates approximately 134,000 transgender veterans have served in our military, and over 15,000 currently serve in our armed forces. When I walk the rows at Arlington, I can’t help but dwell on the closeted soldiers of past generations.
Jenny Hall is not my real name. Jenny was our pet dachshund, and Virginia Hall was a one-legged OSS hero who ran spies under the nose of the Nazis. Overlooked by male colleagues, the Gestapo called her "the Limping Lady...the most dangerous of Allied spies." I relish the idea that I'm ISIS's nightmare: trans, gay, Jewish, CIA, and worst of all, female.