Wishing on a Star
I knew I was different when I was 5 years old. I knew I was a girl but my parents insisted on calling me a boy. My mother taught me how to cook, clean, do the laundry, and everything any little girl would learn from her mother. But when she stared to teach me how to knit, my father told her that she should not teach me any more “girls’ chores”. So I knew I couldn’t talk to them about how I felt; I was certain they would get mad at me. From then on through my young childhood I would sit it in a small clearing outside our house every evening in the summer waiting to see the first star of the night. When I was sure it was the first star I closed my eyes and wished on that star to make me a girl. Of course it never worked. So I grew up as a boy, waiting for the “magic” that would turn me into the girl I knew I was. Obviously that never happened so I grew up lonely and withdrawn, never being able to talk to anyone about how I felt because of the fear of being made fun of or worse, getting hurt. I realized in my early teens that I was going to have to learn to live my life as society expected. During my junior year in High School, a Navy Recruiter came to talk about enlisting. The Vietnam War was going on and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to go to college. Plus I had a strong desire to do my part for our country. So I signed the papers that would put me in the Navy two weeks after I graduated high school. I also thought that joining the Navy would help me find my niche in the world as a male.
In boot camp I took the usual battery of aptitude tests and scored 100% on the Foreign Language Aptitude Test so they decided to make me a linguist. My first duty station was the Defense Language Institute West Coast in Monterey, California where I learned Mandarin Chinese. I graduated highest in my class. After radiotelephone school in San Angelo, Texas where I also scored first in my class, I was awarded promotion to Third Class Petty Officer (E4).
From there I was stationed at the National Security Agency at Fort Meade, MD where my job was to interpret and decode Chinese transmissions. While there I also took on the responsibility of checking senior analysts’ work all the while correcting and typing operational documents. I earned a commendation for my work there.
I was then sent to the San Miguel Naval Communications Station just north of the Subic Naval Station in the Philippines. My job there was to intercept and translate Chinese communications, a highly classified job that I cannot elaborate on further.
I was then sent to the Defense Language Institute East Coast in Washington, D.C. where I was to learn the Arabic language. Again I scored top of my class and was awarded Second Class Petty Officer (E5) for my work. I was sent to Rota, Spain for duty.
In Rota my job was specifically to go out on ships for TAD (Additional Temporary Duty) in the Mediterranean and Red Seas to provide direct support for the Captains of the ship, all the while collecting intercept data for the NSA and providing instant translations. I traveled from port to port doing my job – at times working a “port and starboard” (12 hours on 12 hours off) watch schedule. After a while I became the senior Arabic linguist on trips and was even sent on other trips from the trip I was on. In one instance I was held back while my compatriots went back to Rota and sent by COD flight onto an aircraft carrier. The next day I was taken by helicopter to a waiting ship and lowered by horse collar and cable onto the deck of the ship where I did my duty and then returned the same way I came, being lifted off the ship on a cable and flying off the carrier on another COD flight.
During this entire time I suffered silently with the knowledge that not only was I not in “the right body”, but that being around men in a military atmosphere not only didn’t help find my place in society, it actually made me feel worse. The plight of my female counterparts made me feel awful for them. While I went out to sea to do the job that I was trained for, the women at the station who had exactly the same training I had were forced to stay behind at Rota doing nothing but transcribing tapes that we brought back to them. And when a new woman came to Rota, she was met with derision and scorn because the male sailors knew that they were not going to get any help in the TAD rota schedule. On top of that, I had to put up with months at sea with men who, as we were getting close to a port, would talk about what awful things they were planning to do with the ugliest prostitute. They even had contests about it. I could only sit quietly in disgust while they denigrated women. If this was what the world and the Navy expected me to be, I wanted no part of it. I did speak up about this to the men telling them how horrible they were being, especially if they had girlfriends or wives back home. When they started to ask me if I was a “faggot” or something, I had to shut up for my own safety.
I spent the 9 years of my short Naval career keeping quiet about the tumult going on in my life. I knew that if I ever even talked about my inner feelings, I could be kicked out in a second. But I never let my depression or my disgust get in the way of doing the best job I could do. During my last two years in the Navy a new thing was brought in called a “computer”. No one had ever heard of it before but the command needed someone to learn how to program the thing and figure out how to use it. I was having increasing trouble with my inner struggle and the only way I knew to deal with it was to immerse myself in working and learning. I volunteered to learn to program the computer. I actually wrote a program that was password controlled to let all five branches of my rating share the information for all the personnel at the command but only be able to see the highly classified information that they were cleared to see. My program was so successful the Navy even took the program for study to use Navy-wide.
After leaving the Navy I worked for 30 years as a computer scientist programming and designing software systems for Naval Shipboard Weapons systems, primarily the AEGIS system. In 1991 I could take no more of my inner struggle and decided to go forward with my transition from male to female. I am now 64 years old and have been a woman for over 20 years. I could not be happier. However, I still dream of my time in the Navy wishing that I could have served openly as the woman I was, even if it meant not being able to go out to sea and experience that amazing things I did. In 2007 I wrote a book about my life called “Wishing On A Star – My Journey Across The Gender Divide” in the hopes that my story would show others suffering through life with transgenderism to know that no matter how dark life looks, their lives can be complete with strength, conviction and support. I also wrote it so that their families and other loved ones could understand how serious and life-threatening this condition can be. People who have never been through life constantly questioning their gender and their very being can’t understand this easily. It’s like trying to explain to a person who has been blind from birth what colors are. They can have a general idea of them but would never actually be able to understand the concept. My book helps everyone to understand better. It can be found on Amazon.com in book or Kindle format or on my website at www.rachaelbooth.wix.com/books.
I am so glad that the Secretary of Defense and the Obama administration are now seriously discussing letting transgender people serve openly in the military. It is time.