* Another Veterans’ Day is here, another moment to look back on my intense years in the Navy and with the Marines all those years ago. It was only four years, but so much happened. When I think of the years I spent in the military, from age 18 to 22, I can’t help but think about the general milestone experiences that come during that time of life as inextricably linked to the memories of boot camp, war and military hospitals. During the time when most people were starting a life in the working world or cracking the books in college, I too had my rites of passage from teenager to fledgling adult. I try not to feel bitter about the fact that I have no stories of awkward young romances like the ones most people trade when they feel nostalgic about those years in their own lives. And I finally found my “tribe” only in dangerous underground meetings during the last few months of my time on a windswept Aleutian island, not in publicly celebrated fraternal/sororal institutions or churches or the countless other ways in which the majority of people are able to connect to humanity on common ground. I have many good memories of my time in the military, but all are overlaid with a memory of great loneliness and the anxious feeling that I was missing something, something I would never be able to recover because it was linked to a time in one’s life as much as a scripted experience.

* If I hadn’t joined the Navy, my life would definitely have been different. I’d like to imagine that I could have started my transition much earlier and maybe eased into society a little more easily. But actually, I wasn’t ready for the world at all when I was 18 years old. Being gender dysphoric and coming from such a restricted upbringing, I would have made a disaster out of things without the structure, discipline and strength that I learned from my military experience. Anyone who knows me now, knows that I am not one of the most organized people in the world, but I shudder to think of what and where I might be if I hadn’t had the training I received in the Navy.

* I tend to downplay the experience sometimes, but it was definitely very difficult: mentally, emotionally and physically. I don’t remember back on that difficulty with resentment, though. It was all necessary, and it made me a better person. When I zoom out and look at the big picture, the American military is riddled with problems like the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, the political forces behind the current war, and countless other things. But for one individual from Nashville, Tennessee, without much direction and lacking in life skills, it was probably a life saver on many levels. I am proud of what I accomplished there. I am proud to be a veteran of four hard years in the US Navy and a war on foreign soil alongside the Marines. It wasn’t just a job, it was an adventure.

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