LOS BANOS, Calif. — Lt. Taylor Miller of the U.S. Coast Guard had just started into her seven-hour drive when she learned the panel about transgender integration in the military — the panel on which she was scheduled to speak Thursday morning — had been suddenly postponed.
The trek from Long Beach up Interstate 5 was suddenly rendered moot, but Miller kept driving toward Alameda. What else was there to do? She woke up Wednesday morning to a spray of text messages like this one: “You doing ok after the news?”
President Trump had, with a couple of tweets, indicated that he wants to ban transgender people from serving in the military. The Coast Guard’s immediate response was to postpone the LGBTQ discussion panel.
“I feel very unwanted,” Miller said. “Mortified and embarrassed.”
At 27, Miller is one of three service members in the Coast Guard who have had their genders reassigned, having transitioned into the life she knows she was always meant to lead. The past year began with elation — when the Pentagon announced that transgender people would be allowed to serve openly in the military — and appears to have ended with devastation for many, as the commander in chief cast their lives and careers back into uncertainty with a couple of tweets.
In an already tumultuous time, Miller said Trump’s tweets have added one more worry to a life full of anxiety.
“Most people my age are worried whether they’re going to get a date or what apartment they’re going to rent,” Miller said. “I’m worried about how I’m going to cover the cost of my hormones, hide from everybody and not get beaten up and murdered in an alleyway.”
Miller, a mechanical engineer who is a marine inspector of foreign and domestic commercial vessels, sat in a corner of a chain restaurant just off the California highway and stared into her lap. Disbelief.
“Last month, I helped my unit as it rolled out a training policy for transgender services,” Miller said. “And here we are, less than a month later. Yeah, all of a sudden, I feel like I’m eating my words.”
The Thursday panel at Base Alameda was supposed to be a leap forward, an opportunity for Miller to help military leaders understand her and others like her. A spokesman for the Coast Guard cited lack of guidance for its last-minute decision to close down the discussion, because with the military’s policy “in flux” the service needs “to figure out how this is going to affect us.”
Pentagon officials said Thursday that the Defense Department has not changed its policy on transgender service members and is awaiting formal guidance from the White House, and it is unclear if a new policy would apply to recruits or those already serving.
Air Force Senior Airman Audrey Goodson, like Miller, is a transgender woman already in the ranks. She started her transition at age 19 after learning that transgender people would be able to serve: “I took that as a sign for me to come forward with my truth,” she said.
Originally from Arkansas and now stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage as a medical technician, her on-paper transition with the military is complete, thanks to a group of transgender soldiers and airmen who helped her navigate the process.
Still undergoing medical treatment, Goodson lives as a woman, and her supervisors no longer check her face for makeup or force her into a buzzcut because she was fully accepted. She thought. The president’s tweets have stunned her.
“You can’t just post it on Twitter and call it a day. It just really upset me that I didn’t get an official military guideline. Nobody really knows the next step. It’s scary,” she said. “You have all these people who were comfortable with coming out. They told their leadership, and they trusted everyone. Now their lives and their families are in jeopardy.”
Miller feels similarly pressed. She’s a fresh-faced blonde who hunches her shoulders as if to make herself appear smaller than her 5-foot-10 frame.
Growing up in a small Texas town, Miller was the perfect son: straight A’s, captain of the football team, varsity soccer, president of the high school class, prom king. Tyler Miller sailed into the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, from which he graduated in 2012 with a degree in mechanical engineering.
Yet Miller always sensed that he was different. It started at age 6, when he was at a neighbor’s house, jumping on a trampoline with his older brother and another boy. The boy’s sister came home from a dance class, dressed like a vision in a white dress that seemed to Miller the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.
Then and there, Miller created a game that would become a prototype for others she would play for years: If the little girl would just go inside and change her clothes, the children could play a game of tag — and whoever got caught would have to put on the dress.
“I didn’t want to be caught, but they were making fun of me,” Miller recalled. “Then the dress fell in the mud. . . . I felt depressed.”
For many years, Miller devised a string of hiding spots around a tiny bedroom, places where bottles of nail polish, makeup, and articles of female clothing could be stashed.
Terrified of being outed at the Coast Guard Academy, Miller began taking even greater precautions, many times throwing away whole boxes of clothes and makeup, vowing never to give in to herself again. And still, she says, she had no idea that she was transgender. She had never heard the word.
It was only the summer before her senior year that an old friend said there was a word for it.
“I spent the whole night googling ‘transgender’ and watching videos,” she said, realizing that she was seeing herself. “I am not alone. I’m not the only one who’s different.”
When she was 21, she tried to tell her parents. Her mother, she says, responded by telling her to just stop acting that way. Her father later sent her a long email, laying out his theory that she was in the throes of an addiction, that she had allowed herself to become “a junkie of obnoxious behavior.” She says they have disowned her.
“It’s a crap life,” she said. “I hate being trans. I don’t fight it. I know it’s what I am, it’s not going to stop me from being trans — but sometimes I just really hate it.”
The U.S. military has been more forgiving. With the lifting of the ban in 2016, the armed forces were given one year to determine how to implement a policy that would allow transgender service members to receive medical care and would ban the services from involuntarily removing people who came out as transgender.
Miller came out to the Coast Guard in October 2015, 10 months after she began transitioning with hormone therapy. She had by then taken to binding her newly developed breasts with a bandage, covering them with two undershirts and then donning her uniform shirt. Swaddled, she would descend into the bowels of tank barges for inspections — where temperatures soared over 130 degrees.
She had been close to quitting the Coast Guard “a hundred times,” but when she told them that she was tired of hiding, her supervisors said she did not have to. They arranged for a special stand-up locker room just for her. “It was very new, and they didn’t know what to do.”
Last January, her assigned gender was changed and she was allowed into the women’s locker room. She had endured dozens of hours of painful electrolysis; her buzz cut had grown out to shoulder length, and her nails were manicured and painted. Her voice was no longer a deep baritone; she had painstakingly trained it into a higher register. She had similarly transformed her handwriting, using a more feminine style, making it “clean and pretty.”
“A cloud lifted, and it was this crazy awakening,” she said. “That’s why I’ll never regret my transition. No matter how much I’ve lost, the fact is, I know I’m a woman.”
O’Malley reported from Anchorage.