We met Jennifer on the parking lot where we have been staying overnight for quite a while now. She had just moved to San Francisco that very day. Her house had been burned down by a crazy ex in Oregon a few weeks before, and she had lost all her possessions.
She lives in her Jeep, and after a week or so of meeting managed to score a free camper shell from Craigslist. We get to the parking lot late, and she sleeps early, so we tend to miss each other. She wrote John a week ago that she had gone to San Luis Obispo because her cousin had gotten in a traffic accident there. We haven't seen her or her car since.
When it was discovered at birth that Jennifer was both male and female, her mom gave her up for adoption. This is why, in her story, she refers to the State of California, instead of her family, authorizing her gender-assignment surgeries as a young child in order to become physically a male. But she never felt male.
She has just finished the year of psychological training that is required before sex-reassignment surgery and was referred to a new therapist in San Francisco in order to continue the process.
I didn't know how to capture her story in a blog post. Finally I decided to use her own words. I started recording our conversation mid-way as she was talking about her upbringing, which was spend bouncing around different foster families. Trying to be a girl. This is an out-take.
Jennifer: And they'd give me GI JOE, with the Jeep and stuff, and what do I do with them? I go clothes shopping. These are things I'm doing at five, six years old.
Lara: Did they tell you it was weird?
Jennifer: Yeah, they kept trying to get me manly things and I kept taking their manly things and turning them into girly things. I wanted dolls and they would not let me have them. No way...
I've always known. I can remember as far back as eight, I was told it was even as far back as five or six years old I think, you know. And then after all this, I call it brainwashing, but you know, them trying to convince me what I am - you're a guy yada yada yada. I decide, you know what, maybe I'm confused, so I'm going to try to go into the most manly thing possible, you know to get out of this little thing I'm in.
And I join Spec Ops* and the navy, and two purple hearts conduct under fire, no matter what I knew what it was. You know, I wanted to do the transgender process before I even joined the military but no - I'm gonna give it one last ditch-effort - I put that on hold. I did four tours, or almost 4 tours, and as I was getting really close to my last of my four tours I go, you know what, I've done everything I could possibly do. This is not me, I can't be living like this. So I started the paperwork to start the gender-transformation, but I did it effective three weeks after I was scheduled for my last day in the military. When I was in the military, I was a soldier, that's all that mattered. Once I was out of the military that's another story.
Well, I got in a coma** , and because of my security and things of that nature - if you have any paperwork - of course they read everything, no matter what it is. And they read that I was trying to do the gender transformation, even though it was scheduled afterwards, they realized I always had been transgender. Well, back in 1991 transgender translated to gay. And we both know what happens - back in 1991 when they found out you were gay in the military - you were done. So they gave me an ''other than honorable discharge'' and they called it "conduct unbecoming an officer". And this is all while I was in a coma.
**After being shot out of the air in Iraq
Lara: They called it what?
Jennifer: Conduct unbecoming an officer. So I was given a general discharge, instead of an honorable. I was stripped of my veteran status, you know, all the things I worked on for all those years. Basically just thrown in the trash. I will get them all back, I'm not worried about that, it's just semantics - but that's why I got out of the military.
I mean, I would have gotten out with a medical honorable, that why I didn't get out like that.
For years, a good four or five years, I always tell people, I know what I am. There's never been a doubt in my mind, not once. But knowing what you are and wanting to, you know, walk right with our Father are two different things. I know what I am, the Lord knows what I am but I'm going to live this life as a guy, because that's how things happened, and I would rather live as a guy knowing I'm a girl, than risk doing something that could affect my relationship with our Father. So for a good few years I tried everything, and physically speaking, it was ridiculous. I had three heart attacks, and I was perfectly healthy, it had nothing to do with my health. My stress-level was just astronomical.
And as soon as I started this gender transformation; my stress-levels weren't even a tenth of what they were when I was trying to live as a guy. My stress-levels were down, my heart was great, everything, physically speaking was a 180 degree turnaround. My temperament was so much better. leave out
You know, one guy said: 'Physically speaking, you were born more female than male'. And I had doctors' written statements saying that if the State of California did not do anything physically, surgery or whatever wise, I would have literally been a female with male hormones. And they are the ones that did what they did.
Alright I thought - he says 'you're not going against God by trying to become a woman - you were a woman - the State made you a man, made you all man'. after praying about it, praying about it, praying about it, you know, I decided, that I could live like I want and at least if nothing else, God knows that I did everything humanly possible to live as much of the life as I believed I was supposed to. That was what was most important to me.
Before the operation, or process, I had to live as a male, for a full year, documented, and did that, and then I switched over to live, eat, breathe, sleep, everything like a female, and as i do that during the year they're taking stress-tests, blood pressure tests, heart tests. and yk, as a man, my stress levels were so bad that i was on medication, my heart was irregular heartbeat, my bloodpressure was ridiculous, and when i finally made the change to jennifer, everything changed. i stopped taking the medication, i no longer needed it. and the only thing i changed was physically what I am.
Lara: How are you going to get all the benefits that you would have gotten as a soldier?
Jennifer: The VA benefits. I'm basically back-logged. There are probably about twelve thousand soldiers that are fighting, they got discharged, for whatever reason. It's just a matter of time.
Lara: Are there organizations that help you with this?
Jennifer: My lawyer, he only deals with veterans, they are fighting with me, its just a matter of waiting until the State takes care of it - they said within the next three to five years. The good news is that I would get full back-pay veterans benefits for over twenty years. So you can imagine. That's a lot of money.
John: Have you heard the poem yet?
Lara: No.. I heard the life story.
Jennifer: Would you like to hear it? It's titled 'Our Fathers Child'.
Looking up at the roadway, desert as far as I can see
On my way to do my countries winning
No matter what I must do
I must always remember, I will always be our father's child
Will you still be proud of me
Two years later, in Iraq,
My best friend and I side by side, on patrol
The only man, i spend, from kindergarten to Iraq with
Just downed by fifty caliber sniper round
All I want to do is to give up to this anger
All I want to do is give up to this pain
But no, no matter what i must do, i must never give up to this anger
And I must never give up to this pain
For I have always been our father's child
Will you still be proud of me
Two years later, my newborn baby in my wheelchair
Me, paralyzed from the neck down
Son, I cannot hold you
Son I cannot walk with you
And son I cannot move with you, but someday,
I will walk with you, I will hold you, and I will move with you
Will you still be proud of me
Five years later, shot and stabbed once
Paralyzed from the neck down
Best friend died to a sniper round
And my newborn baby died age five to a car accident
But no matter what happened, I never gave up to the anger
And I never surrendered to the pain
For our father he healed all of my wounds
But you, my precious precious child,
Through our father you healed my heart
Are you still proud of me