VET SPEAKS OUT
a transgender American, was a US Army Infantry Captain who
served honorably for 9 years from 1981 to 1990. The Russ
family in which Erin was raised was archetypal, normal
Americana. The family was involved in Boy Scouts, Girl
Scouts, and church; her father had served as a sergeant in
the Korean War, a brother was in the Air Force, a nephew is a Marine, and four cousins,
both grandfathers and all three uncles served their country
proudly. Her father, a mechanical engineer, taught his
children to think for themselves, to find out for themselves
why things are the way they are and how to achieve results.
That proved to be the sort of cognitive quality desired by
the Army for a modern military officer.
up, Erin was always aware of being different from the
expectations of others. As a boy, she knew that she was
supposed to 'belong' to one group, and that there was no
choice in the matter, and yet, she knew that expectation was
wrong as it applied to her; she knew she was the wrong
gender. As any LGBT American child growing up in the 1950s
and 60s instinctively realized, Erin simply knew that a boy
does not tell anyone that "he" is a girl. As Erin
put it, "I had a lot of fun as a kid in the Boy Scouts;
its just that I wanted to be a girl." She occasionally
cross dressed in high school and college, when it was
possible to do so. At the same time, she dreamed of being a
fighter pilot; not an unreasonable possibility as in the
1970s America's first female U2 jet pilots and astronauts
were heroically deflating gender role stereotypes. Erin
later opted for the Army on discovering that the planes did
not come in size XL
despite the Sturm und Drang of dealing with that alone while
growing up, without any advice nor solace from anyone, the
strength of her family and rearing allowed Erin to become a
self-confident self-sufficient intelligent young adult who
had all the qualifications and qualities to be among the
best, an US Army Infantry officer.
Erin Russ was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the US
Army National Guard. You might ask, "What was she
thinking? How could a transgender person imagine serving as
a leader in our military?" It was not as simple as the
fact that in reality, to be a leader, it simply does not
matter if one is male or female, nor does it matter what one
chooses to wear when out of uniform. There was also the
societal pressure to conform, to meet the expectations of
others, to try to force oneself into the "right"
role. Erin was already militarily inclined; in fulfilling
that dream role, she'd hoped it might resolve the gender
disparity within by "making a man" out of her. It
would have been most ideal to be able to serve as a woman;
but at the time that option was not available, nor is it
quite yet today in this country.
As an Army
Infantry officer, Erin served ably as a paratrooper, an
infantry platoon leader, scout platoon leader, company
commander, logistics officer, assistant brigade ops officer,
and as an infantry division air ops officer (in Alaska
responsible for all army aircraft flying below 500 feet
--working with a multi-million-dollar budget). She served at
Ft. Hood, Ft. Benning, Ft. Wainright in Alaska, and traveled
to Europe and Japan in support of joint military exercises.
She was respected as a thorough trainer and leader of troops
in the field, and as a student of military history, wrote
papers on international terrorism, accurately predicting
current trends and for oversight detail analysis that
averted munitions supply errors that could have resulted in
the Army's European mission's failure. Captain Russ also
collaborated on the production of one of the Armyís
counter insurgency manuals in the mid 1980ís, lending one
of her college papers to the project.
qualified as a parachutist, as an expert with rifle; pistol;
light, medium and heavy machine gun; grenade launcher
tow missile; and dragon missiles, Erin was twice cited for
decisive action during joint military training exercises and
awarded the Army Achievement Medal in the field.
came to an abrupt end one cold night in Fairbanks Alaska as
she happened to be observed averting an auto accident by
sliding through an intersection as the traffic light was
changing from yellow to red.
officer noticed the discrepancy between the elegant dress
she was wearing and the male army officer identity on her
driver's license. That was all it took for lifetime career
as a brilliant army officer to come to an end. On the
following Monday morning Captain Russ was called into the
Brigade Commander's office where she was shown a letter from
the police to the Provost Marshall.
again, expectations provided no choice; either she would be
court-martialed or she could resign, simply being accepted
and understood was not an option. The charge, an irrelevant
detail of the devastation of all her hopes and dreams, was
"Conduct Unbecoming Of An Officer."
that this patriotic highly motivated, brilliant officer's
attention to detail had twice saved the Army from
embarrassment and mission failure; she was out so fast that
the numbness of loss had hardly begun to sink in.
days of the war on terrorism, personnel discharged as unfit
for military service due to homosexuality are able to
immediately be hired as civilian contractors at four times
their military pay to do exactly what they had done in the
armed forces, often in the same unit in which they had
served. Transgender former service members, however, are not
yet accorded the same status of respect for their skills;
Recently, a "male" retired Special Ops LTC was
hired by the Library of Congress as a Counter Terrorism
expert/researcher and then fired before starting work simply
because of her plans to transition. This is all the more
reason why the rights of transgender Americans should remain
included in the Employment Non Discrimination Act, currently
1990s for Erin Russ, there were only jobs well below her
level of qualification, depression, and lost potential. And
yet, with the memory of her father's rearing, unstinting
support from family and relatives, and a decade of
reflection, Erin Russ came to fully accept for herself who
she was and to begin to achieve her potential as a leader.
now belongs only to the US Army.
-With thanks to Erin Russ
for her story, as well as for her kind assistance and
guidance in writing this article.
2007 Gay Military Signal