Alexandra Chandler is an employee of the Office of Naval Intelligence on rotation to another area of the Defense Department as a senior intelligence operations specialist. The views expressed are the sole responsibility of the author.
I spent the past five years leading a team of intelligence analysts charged with combating arms smuggling and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
I am also a transgender woman — born biologically male and raised by my family as a boy.
Being a transgender woman has taught me a few things about the divisions in our society. Many people believe fear and hate in the United States have risen to such levels that these challenges are impossible to overcome. But my story demonstrates that good is possible when you look across our divisions as I have.
As a child growing up in New Haven, Conn., I knew I was different. As puberty hit, I came to understand that I was a female inside. I withdrew to protect against people learning what I dared not share. On Sept. 11, 1994 — when I was 17 — my father died in a car accident. While mourning him, I lashed out in fear and hate against my identity, throwing out my hidden stashes of women’s clothes and purging my plans to tell my parents that their son was a daughter inside. Fear and hate won that day.
Seven years later, as a law student living in New York City during the 9/11 attacks, I decided to do my part in America’s defense by joining a military agency within the intelligence community. The idea of joining such a culturally conservative institution as a closeted transgender woman terrified me, but my fear did not stop me from starting my career in 2004.
In 2006, when I realized I could no longer give into the fear that society’s treatment of transgender people had instilled in me, I decided to live and work as a woman. The law was not on my side: President Barack Obama’s executive order prohibiting discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender federal employees and contractors wouldn’t be signed until 2014.
After I announced my transition, I trembled each morning as I walked through the turnstile at work. Some colleagues urged our agency’s leadership to fire me. I fought nearly paralyzing fear in hallways, rushing to get to my cubicle where I could get on with the mission I loved.
But I had allies who changed my life. While none of them had known a transgender person before, they all chose to listen and learn. They gave me courage against those first unkind stares and words. Instead of leaving the intelligence community, I stayed. I became a manager and a leader. I felt pride and gratitude serving dozens of analysts as we strove to make the United States safer and more secure.
I have spent years within the different communities into which we divide ourselves. At different times in my life, I have been in men’s locker rooms and in women’s. I have walked down the street as a straight male, as a lesbian woman and as a person of indeterminate gender. I have protested the government, and I have zealously worked for the military and the intelligence community. I am a person of faith, but my faith tradition has a troubled relationship with LGBT people. I am a mother, and I am also the biological father of my children.
When I look beyond the sweeping statements of a few loud and cruel voices, I am struck more by the similarities of the conversations across our communities than by the differences. Most people are fundamentally good and want to be even better.
For those of you in the LGBT community, I urge you to resist the fear and hate around us by living your life as you. Know that no more than an Internet search away are people and organizations ready to help you. Know that some people who are not on your side today may choose to see you tomorrow — to listen and learn from the dignity of your truths and become your allies.
For those who may look on with confusion or suspicion at the LGBT community, at people of color or at immigrants or other groups, consider that people across our society’s divisions are contributing to America in ways you might not have imagined.
See me: I am an unexceptional person who owes everything to the goodness of Americans. For the sake of our America, the exceptional nation, I pray more people will see across the divisions and reject fear and hate in their lives, in our society and in our politics.
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