People who have proven they can meet the demands of military service and are willing to sacrifice their lives for their fellow Americans have already proven a unique level of strength. Excluding transgender service members just because you don’t understand them is so backwards.
TreShaun Pate grew up in southern Maryland, where everyone around him had parents who were either in the military or employed by the government. He was big into ROTC in high school. Pate’s mother worked hard to provide for him and his sister, but the family still struggled to get by.
He grew up assuming he’d join the military, most likely after graduating from college. But by the time he graduated from high school, Pate had doubts about whether he was ready for college–financially and otherwise. He decided to join the Air Force first instead.
Pate served from 2008-2011 as a tactical radio troop, a position in which he operated communications equipment on Air Force planes and in other venues–sending, receiving, and maintaining communications, including sensitive information. He was deployed to Germany, Turkey, and Qatar, among other locations.
Pate’s military service helped him to mature, become more disciplined, and realize the importance of teamwork and integrity.
“I always understood the value of hard work just because of where I came from,” Pate says. But in the Air Force, “I learned a lot more about the value of my word. Now, if I say I’m going to do something I do it.”
Upon enlisting, he hadn’t yet begun to understand himself as a transgender man, although he identified as a member of the LGBT community. Thus, he was subject to the military’s discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which allowed gay and lesbian people to serve so long as they kept their sexual orientation secret.
Eventually, though, Pate met and befriended other LGBT service members. He recognized himself in his transgender colleagues. Pate had long understood that he felt and acted more masculine. When he met and talked with transgender people, “that’s when I started figuring it out.”
Pate did some research and personal reflection, and finally understood that he is transgender. He confided in a few close military friends, who supported him through this time.
Pate’s identity did not directly affect his ability to do his job. But keeping it hidden affected his relationships with others—and that took a toll. Pate had thought he’d make a career of serving in the Air Force, but found it increasingly difficult to serve in silence. “I loved it a lot but it was very hard mentally,” he says. “I had to be really strong. I had to kind of toughen up a little bit and do what I had to do.”
Pate left the Air Force voluntarily in 2011 after being diagnosed with PTSD related to his service, just before the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” took effect and not long before the Obama administration began crafting a plan to allow transgender people to serve openly in the military as well. He began the process of gender transition almost immediately.
With the Trump administration’s efforts to ban openly transgender people from military service, Pate says his former colleagues are hurt and confused. One friend believes he’ll be able to continue to serve as an openly transgender person, while another fears he’ll be forced to return to living a lie in order to continue his military career. “It just seems like a bunch of chaos right now,” says Pate. “Nobody really knows what’s happening and how they’re going to be affected in the long run.”
Pate, who now lives in Dallas, is sure of one thing, however: there is no truth to the current administration’s assertion that transgender troops undermine military readiness.
“Trans people have to be strong just to make it through life,” he says, noting that they often are rejected by family, friends, and employers simply because of who they are. Pate says people who have proven they can meet the demands of military service and are willing to sacrifice their lives for their fellow Americans have already proven a unique level of strength. “Excluding transgender service members just because you don’t understand them,” he says, “is so backwards.”