New girl at DLA Distribution: A woman’s struggle for transgender understanding

By Emily Tsambiras DLA Distribution Public Affairs

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Monday through Friday, Anne Blakeley’s morning routine is the same. She wakes up, does her hair and makeup, chooses an outfit, has breakfast, and, just before walking out the door, checks herself in the mirror and makes sure she has her required items for the day.

During her drive to DLA Distribution San Diego at Port Hueneme, she’s thinking of the tasks that lie ahead of her. As the site’s government purchase card billing official, training coordinator, administrative assistant, component records officer, timekeeper and union steward, she knows her day will undoubtedly be hectic, filled with e-mails and phone calls from customers, supervisors, and co-workers.

It’s a routine repeated every day by many DLA employees. Seemingly minute actions to kick off a day of work supporting the nation’s Warfighters. While many other females working for DLA can identify with this daily routine, underlying the similarities is one striking difference. Despite presenting as a female, Anne was assigned male at birth. She now identifies as a transgender woman.

The decision, and subsequent transition, to live as the gender with which she has always identified as was not easy for Anne, just as it’s not for the other approximate 700,000 transgendered citizens of the U.S. Relishing that she’s now able to live her life as a woman and enjoying the simple pleasures many others take for granted, Anne hopes she can shed light on the many inequalities transgender individuals face as a result of their decision to live as their true self.

“The choice to present as male was not for me.”

She can recall being three years old, playing pretend with her older brother. While some can’t draw on memories from such a young age, Anne vividly remembers mimicking the cartoons she often watched with him; she would pretend to be the female characters from their favorite shows, while he represented the male characters.

She admits she had a strong adulation for her brother, so when, as the children grew, her brother announced, “You can’t play the girl anymore. You’re a boy,” she abided, not wanting to let him know how much she loved the pretend play. She hid her desires from her brother, but sometimes found herself dressing in her mother’s clothes, dancing around. “I was only a child, but I knew something felt different, felt right, when I dressed as a girl. But I also understood this was something I need to keep very hidden,” Anne confesses.

As she developed into a teenager and her desire to dress a woman intensified, she began questioning her sexuality. “I had long hair and privately dressed in women’s clothing. So, I wondered whether or not I was gay.” At the time, Anne didn’t understand that a person’s gender identity has nothing to do with their sexual orientation. “It was around age sixteen when I knew I was not attracted to men. I wanted to get married and I wanted to have a family.”

By age 18, Anne was happily married. She had enlisted in the Air Force, and found herself with four children in five short years. “I loved being a husband and a father. I was a provider for my family and believed this is what I was made to do.”

But those feelings resurfaced, the ones she could never seem to shake despite the happiness she’d found with her wife and children, and she realized she should not keep such a thing from the love of her life. During a frank conversation with her wife, Anne confessed her desires to dress as a woman. At her wife’s request, Anne tried to control her urge to cross-dress. However, she still found herself in the closet, dressed in her wife’s clothing and hating herself. “I was in constant contention with my feelings,” she says.

As the years passed, her secret grew harder to hide. In 2005, she made the decision to retire from the Air Force, for fear of her peers discovering her cross-dressing. She was aware that she faced an involuntary discharge if her secret was unearthed. At this same time, her wife was discovering clothes that didn’t belong to her, and Anne’s resolve to keep her cross-dressing clandestine began to waver. She wanted to remain married but her wife could not deal with the emergence of “another woman” in the family. With divorce looming in her wife’s mind, Anne sought help from a professional counselor.

The counselor did not know much about cross-dressing but understood addictive behavior. So Anne was informed that cross-dressing was an “addiction,” and it was suggested that her family hold her accountable for her actions to help combat her desire to dress as a woman. “I told my family ‘I don’t want to do this anymore. I need your help.’ and I would call them any time I felt the urge to cross-dress.”

The “addiction” therapy didn’t help, causing Anne’s 27-year marriage to disintegrate. She focused on herself and prayed for strength to combat her “addiction.” But the feelings never left. Falling into a deep depression, she found herself without options.

“When I let ‘her’ out, she came out like a flood and overwhelmed me.”

In October 2012, living alone for the first time in her life, depressed and confused, Anne joined an Internet support group for cross-dressers. Finding solace in speaking with others who felt similarly, she opened up to her new friends, releasing years of emotion that had been locked away from a world she felt would not understand. Soon after joining, however, she was hit with a shocking announcement from the group. “They said I didn’t belong. They told me I was more of a ‘natural woman,’ not just a man with a desire to cross-dress and suggested I join a transgender group. The revelation was surreal.”

Only one month after accepting herself as a cross-dresser, she made the decision to try presenting as a woman in the real world. She began feminizing herself: plucking her eyebrows, shaving, letting her hair grow. Unimpressed with her previous counseling, she sought a gender identity therapist. After only two sessions, the therapist was convinced Anne’s feelings were valid. She had the soul of a woman. She was referred to an endocrinologist who prescribed her a hormone replacement therapy, and she began researching sex reassignment surgery (now considered by most as Gender Corrective Surgery).

In spite of the peace Anne found in this decision, her family wasn’t as accepting. “Most of my children were supportive, but very uncomfortable, of me as a female. On my grandson’s fifth birthday, I was asked to attend as male; how they know me. They could see I was uncomfortable trying to present as the “man” they’ve always known. They tried to accept me. However, it proved to be very difficult.”

All four of Anne’s children are grown adults and she has six grandchildren. While her two middle daughters are completely accepting of their dad being a woman, Anne says her oldest daughter has trouble reconciling the change, and told Anne, “I know this is right for you, but it’s not alright with me. I’ve always thought of myself as a ‘Daddy’s Girl’ and I feel like I lost that.” Anne said, “She’s really trying to accept me, but it still causes her emotional distress.”

The hardest thing, Anne says, was losing contact with her son. The youngest of her children, her son lives on the opposite coast to attend college. She is very proud of his academic achievements and goals. With a crack in her voice, Anne described her son’s reaction, “He considers his dad dead. He doesn’t know Anne and doesn’t want to know me. He wants his father in the image of a man. As much as it hurts, I can’t give that to him.”

One thing some of Anne’s family members struggled to understand initially was that she was still the same person, just presenting a different image. “My younger sister told me the only way she could see me as her sister was to kill off her brother. She said that she had to convince herself that her brother was dead and will never return. That was very hard for me. To me, I’m the same person – just allowing the personality I’ve suppressed all those years to be set free.” While this makes perfect sense to a transgender person, most people find it difficult to understand.

Anne says her mother was the most accepting of this decision. “You see, when my mom was pregnant with me, she told everyone that I was going to be a girl. She even bought pink outfits. But, when I came out with male parts, she was not disappointed in the least and treated me as her son.”

She continues, “The first time my mom saw her new daughter, she said, ‘Oh my God! You’re beautiful.’ I started crying and told her, ‘Mom. You were right. I am a girl.’” Today, the two are closer than ever, even attending mother/daughter functions together.

Anne’s father, on the other hand, had a much more difficult time. “I hadn’t seen my dad in a few months. It was Father’s Day and he said he wanted to see me.” She told him that she would have to come as Anne and her dad reluctantly agreed. “I thought it went very well and we interacted as if nothing had changed. Afterward, he had a breakdown with my mom and told her ‘I never want to see ‘Anne’ again.”

Four months later, Anne unexpectedly received a text from her father that asked “What are you doing for Thanksgiving?” Her dad was moving toward acceptance. “Now he treats me like his daughter. He expects me to give him a gentle kiss on the cheek or forehead instead of a hearty hug. There are few things that make me feel better.”

Even though Anne’s family was growing accustomed to her female form, she says her coworkers were none the wiser to her transition. Wearing baggy clothes and a fedora, no one at work made the connection. The charade was taking its toll on Anne, however. “It was getting harder and harder to separate being a man during work and a woman on my own time. Taking Anne off and put on the ‘old man’ for work was killing me.”

Constantly sick and experiencing rapid weight loss and deteriorating work performance, Anne knew she needed to reveal her true identity to her leadership and coworkers so she could fully live as a woman.

“I didn’t want to be ridiculed. I didn’t want to be labeled a ‘freak.’”

Despite her nervousness at discussing her transition with her supervisor, she had hopes that DLA would be accepting and sensitive to her situation. During a previous all-hands meeting, the resident DLA Distribution San Diego captain had announced to the organization that there was no tolerance for any type of discrimination and that an employee’s personal preferences did not have a bearing on their ability to do their job well. “I was hopeful,” Anne says.

Organizing a sit down with the commander and the deputy, Anne confessed that she had been living privately as a woman, and wished to present as a woman at work. “They were so relieved because they thought I called the meeting to file a complaint!”

A subsequent meeting with her immediate supervisor yielded a similar reaction of acceptance. The overarching question between all parties, however, was how to tell the workforce. Anne’s supervisor recalled to her a previous employee who had transitioned at work and faced a negative reaction. He was fearful of Anne garnering undesirable attention as a result of her announcement. Together, the group decided to contact the DLA Distribution headquarters Equal Employment Opportunity office for guidance.

In April 2013, the EEO director hosted diversity training, reminding employees of the implications of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender discrimination in the Federal workplace. With the foundation laid, the captain called an all-hands meeting to announce Anne’s transition. Anne was voluntarily not in attendance.

When she showed up to her first day of work as Anne, she says the impact of her presence was as she expected. “People found reasons to come by and see me as a woman. They were curious. And obviously, there were bumps to be worked out. I used a bathroom that was not often frequented so I didn’t make anyone uncomfortable.”

She also faced the challenging task of informing her customers that she was now Anne. In an email titled “New girl at DLA Distribution,” she reintroduced herself to her customers and coworkers, and announced her new identity. While some struggled to grasp that she was no longer presenting as a man, she says most were accepting and supportive of her change.

“We need education to get rid of ignorance.”

Anne admits there is a deficit in knowledge, both within DLA and the general public, on transgender individuals, and this lack of knowledge can manifest itself in the negative encounters she has experienced. “I was at my desk one afternoon and we had visitors from another organization waiting nearby. It wasn’t long after they’d arrived that I noticed them whispering and laughing, pointing at me. It’s sad that this type of behavior occurs. I am a human being. I understand people may have questions, but this shouldn’t happen. It’s an imperfect world. Everybody is different.”

Despite many laws and proclamations denouncing discrimination and harassment on the basis of sex and gender, it still occurs. Gender identity discrimination is prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but, according to a study conducted by the University of California Los Angeles School of Law’s Williams Institute, approximately 97 percent of transgender employees have experienced discrimination and/or harassment, and 67 percent have been fired, not advanced, or not been hired due to their gender identity. “We are targeted by hate. Hate comes from ignorance. Ignorance is lessened by exposure and education.”

Anne says she feels fortunate for her more feminine features and smaller body frame, in spite of her height (she’s 6’3”). They have allowed for her to be more accepted as a woman by society as a whole. Some transgender women, she says, are not as fortunate. “Those that have a masculine face and body features undergo so much more ridicule and embarrassment. That is not fair. They feel the same way I do as far as being a woman, but have a much more difficult time conforming to societal norms of what femininity should be.”

Likewise, women transitioning to men encounter similar struggles, attempting to have their bodies conform to how they feel inside. Gender Questioning and Gender Non-Conforming (or Gender Queer) face their own set of challenges, as they don’t correspond with either the male or female standards society places on humans.

Constantly being faced with discrimination and other forms of societal injustice is taking its toll on these groups. According to The National Transgender Discrimination Survey Report, 41 percent of people who are transgender or gender-nonconforming have attempted suicide sometime in their lives, nearly nine times the national average.

“I’m just being me. It worked out the way it was supposed to be.”

As she progresses in her own journey, Anne has turned her focus to serving as an advocate for change in the transgender community. “I believe that transgender seems to be an afterthought in the LGBT community. This needs to change.”

While positive publicity for transgender individuals is being generated in the media by transgender celebrities such as Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner, there is still lack of resources for individuals who have questions or need assistance transitioning between gender roles.

To combat this issue, Anne has started a transgender support group in her local area. Additionally, she has been working with Congresswoman Julia Brownley, 26th District of California, and a local clinic to fill the void for transgender care and support. Many health insurances, including TRICARE, won’t cover Gender Correction Surgery, as they don’t recognize gender dysphoria as a serious condition with a need for treatment, often leaving individuals confined in bodies that don’t match their genders.

“I truly believe that ‘transgender issues’ are not a new phenomenon. Society just doesn’t understand it yet. But I’ve accepted the challenge I’ve been given. I am stronger, happier and I want to be able to help those that are struggling as I once was.”