By contrast, I enjoy the unwavering support of CIA leaders, even if being accepted as female means being treated accordingly. I was once interrupted a briefing: “Let me explain this one more time,” an official sneered, “I do not care to be lectured by little girls.”
The life of a trans CIA officer has its moments. There was that time when a colleague who’d returned from overseas said: “I think I used to work with your husband.” She meant me. Then human resources nearly canceled my health insurance because “your husband appears to have left the Agency.” Me again. Once while reviewing my medical clearance, a CIA doctor said: “Transgender? Why would you want to become a man?” Why indeed.
For the most part, I’m like any other Lady Spy: writing for the president, stealing secrets, and shopping at the CIA gift shop when I forget our anniversary. I could disappear, one of those deep-state transgenders who secretly run America. But I made a promise.
When I was just coming out, I was desperate to find other trans officers to reassure me that I wouldn’t be fired for being myself. But I was alone, the only out trans officer at the CIA, and no laws protected people like me. Ten years before, a transgender employee had been driven out of the CIA by hate and management indifference.
Fortunately, the CIA’s LGBT network introduced me to a trans officer at another agency: a brilliant, courageous, actual rocket scientist, who had faced down colleagues who’d damned her to hell. She gave me what I needed most: a shoulder to cry on, sound advice, inspiration, and a network of successful trans officers across the government. But there was a catch. She made me swear I would not disappear; to think of the others who would follow me.
Trans people are often advised: Move to a new town, forget your children, family, friends, and career. It’s easier for everyone if they can imagine that you died. A psychologist once told me that I got “addicted” to the idea of being a woman at age seven. He explained that “real trans women” harbor 1950s fantasies about being obedient house wives. His advice: “Don’t tell anyone.”
It makes a certain amount of sense. Trans people, especially trans women of color, are subject to horrific violence. Even today, it is perfectly normal for comedians, politicians, and pundits to depict trans people as predators, perverts, and diseased weirdos.
So the president’s tweets tread on familiar ground, distorting our lived experience. Long before transgender service burst into the public consciousness, closeted soldiers served with distinction. Most took their secret to their rest, in places like Arlington Cemetery. But the tweets also told active-duty trans soldiers that their sacrifices over the last decades of war meant nothing. Soldiers like my friend Jessie—who the Defense Department encouraged to come out—were left in terror of being fired or forced to lie to continue serving their country.