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Ex-U.S. Air Force Airman Responds To Trump's Military Ban On Transgender People


A ban on transgender service members could mean that trans men and women would not be able to serve openly. And to understand how that would play out for people, we're going to talk to Jordan Blisk. He's a former senior airman with the U.S. Air Force Reserves. He served from 2011 to 2015. He's also a trans man, meaning he was assigned female at birth. He enlisted in the military when he was 17 years old. And he says being in the military actually helped him figure out his gender identity.

JORDAN BLISK: That was the first time in my life that I was really exposed outside of the area that I grew up in. The military gave me a way outside of the world that I knew. I grew up in the Midwest, and that was my first real experience being outside of it. And throughout that experience and especially given the opportunity to perform as an aircraft mechanic, I was given the opportunity to be able to express myself in ways that I had really never been able to in the past.

And so, you know, being able to kind of break traditional feminine gender roles by being able to work on aircraft and kind of be one of the guys, it really started to bring out parts of me that I had kind of known were there but didn't really have the words for. You know, I started realizing that, hey, my sexuality is this, but that doesn't mean anything as far as who I am.

MCEVERS: With the ban in place, I mean, there was a ban in place on transgender service members at that time. How did that play out for you?

BLISK: It was difficult because during the same time that I was in the military, in the reserves, I was also a full-time college student. And some of the people that I was stationed with at my unit were going to college with me at the same time. And so even though I was only serving for, you know, maybe two, three days a month, I couldn't be who I was in my civilian life.

And so that manifested itself in things like my partner having to switch my name and my pronouns anytime we were out in public to me being so afraid to use any bathroom because at that point, I wasn't comfortable using female restrooms, but I was terrified of using male restrooms and being caught by one of the members of my unit and then being reported and eventually discharged. So it definitely caused a lot of problems in my personal life, a lot of stress.

MCEVERS: And then last year, President Obama's defense secretary, Ash Carter, lifted the ban on transgender service members. You weren't in active service at that time, but how did that feel when you heard about it?

BLISK: It felt great. It felt good to know at that point that, you know, the military, who is the largest employer of transgender people in the entire world, the U.S. military is, to know that they were making steps towards being affirming towards people like me. It felt amazing. And so now to feel, you know, this tension with what we're going (laughter) - going through right now, it's very scary. And it definitely sends the opposite message of hope that I felt a year ago.

MCEVERS: We don't have all the details yet on what President Trump is proposing to do, but it sounds like he essentially wants to reinstate the ban on transgender service members. I mean, knowing what you know about your own experience when there was such a ban in place, what consequences do you think that would have for trans men and women now?

BLISK: I think it's absolutely devastating. I know a lot of people, very good soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who have dedicated their lives to the military and to protecting the United States. And for them to lose their career, to lose their family, to lose their support system, to lose their entire world, I mean, that's just - that's unthinkable to me, especially when they've done nothing wrong. And so I think if we're talking about potentially trying to go after troops that are currently serving, that's going to devastate them from a career perspective, from a family perspective, from a financial perspective, from every single way because the military is everything to you when you're in.

MCEVERS: Jordan Blisk, former senior airman for the U.S. Air Force Reserves, talking to us about President Trump's announcement today that he intends to ban transgender service members from the U.S. military. Thank you so much.

BLISK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kelly McEvers is a two-time Peabody Award-winning journalist and former host of NPR's flagship newsmagazine, All Things Considered. She spent much of her career as an international correspondent, reporting from Asia, the former Soviet Union, and the Middle East. She is the creator and host of the acclaimed Embedded podcast, a documentary show that goes to hard places to make sense of the news. She began her career as a newspaper reporter in Chicago.

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