Nicole Lynn Perry
People are already serving – and if you kick out someone with 15 years’ experience, someone who’s been through the Iraq War, you can’t just replace that. You lose a lot of quality.
Nicole Lynn Perry, born and raised in Dallas, Texas, set her sights on the armed services from a very young age. She looked up to her Uncle Loren, a proud African American soldier who was deployed to Iraq with his Army unit shortly after 9/11. “I wanted to be like him,” she says.
Nicki, as she’s called, considered different branches. She joined the ROTC in high school, then mulled the Navy. Ultimately, in 2008, she chose the Marine Corps, in part because of its reputation for toughness. “It was the fact of trying to prove who I was to everyone.”
Nicki became an IT specialist and did her best to fit in with the “very masculine” Marine Corps culture. Not yet able to live as the transgender woman she is, she says she was seen as “soft” – but no one directly gave her any trouble. In fact, says Nicki, she experienced the Marine Corps as “a family. People have your back. We tried to help each other out wherever we could.”
Finally, in 2012, Nicki came out to herself and a very small number of people. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell had been repealed in 2011, but the repeal did not explicitly protect transgender service members. So Nicki made small, careful steps toward transition, always aware of the risk of even wearing women’s socks.
But the stress of keeping a secret led her to an impossible choice: stay in the military at a job she loved and was trained for and dedicated to, or transition in order to live her life authentically. Ultimately Nicki had to leave the Marine Corps to be herself.
The following year, after nearly two years of thorough study, the Department of Defense began allowing transgender service members to come out and serve openly – a positive step forward even if it was too late for Nicki.
Still, she vividly remembers the day in July 2017 that Trump tweeted his intention to reinstate the transgender service ban: “My phone rang and my tablet exploded with notifications. I thought, oh SHIT.” She knew that transgender people still serving were in a terrible position, having been briefly able to serve openly, and now thrown into a world of uncertainty.
“Those people are worried, because the military is the only life they’ve known. How would they go out into the civilian world? It’s a very hard transition even when it’s voluntary,” let alone when you are forced to leave.
To Nicki, the ban on transgender people serving in the military makes no sense. “People are already serving – and if you kick out someone with 15 years’ experience, someone who’s been through the Iraq War, you can’t just replace that. You lose a lot of quality.”