I was very prepared to go protest in uniform as I owned a Navy Dress Blue US Navy uniform.
I bought that women’s dress blue Navy uniform after my gastric bypass surgery, and I specifically bought it to have a professional set of photos taken of me in it. I thought I wasn’t going to look any better or any younger than I did after that surgery, and since the military was such a significant portion of my life…well, at my funeral I didn’t want a photo posted of me wearing a uniform that functionally disrespected my post military life as a woman. So, I bought the uniform appropriate for my female gender that fit my then thinned body, and had professional photos taken of me in it.
When I chose to join with GetEqual to protest Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) with a number of uniformed lesbian and gay veterans, I had two reasons for protesting. The first is that DADT was wrong and needed to be challenged. Secondly, I wanted to send a message to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans (LGBT) community members that for me, if an issue is an issue for even one subcommunity of the LGBT community, then it’s my issue — my hope was, and still is, that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people would in turn work on trans issues with the same intensity that I worked on a purely LGB issue.
My broader point was, and still is, that civil rights aren’t about you or about me, or about yours or my demographics. Instead, civil rights are about us — all of us. Civil rights are human rights, and we’re at our human best when we embrace fighting for the ordinary equality of all of us. I believe we haven’t started living until we can rise above the narrow confines of our individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.
Martin Luther King Jr. stated that “An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.” Paraphrasing that thought, I broke a regulation to protest a law that my conscience told me was unjust, and I willingly accepted the punishment I did receive, and the potential punishments I knew I could receive. I took the action I did because I wanted to arouse the conscience of the President, Congress, and broader society over its injustice towards LGBT community members, and I protested in uniform with very much the highest respect for the military in which I’d served 20-years.
I wore the dress Navy uniform consistent with my gender identity to participate in that professional photos and the later DADT protests; I didn’t wear the male uniform I wore while in the Navy.
So let’s not completely bury the lead completely here: I’ve recently had my participation in those direct actions called into question by some on one of the extreme ends of trans identity/essentialism politics. The arguments weren’t just about my participation in the protests, but based on how I wore a women’s Navy uniform to protest when I’d never worn a women’s uniform when in the service. A blogger penning under the name “Carmen Sense” stated I wore that women’s dress blue Navy uniform as a “costume.”
This take on my participation in the GetEqual DADT protests has, in my mind, the makings of a “swift boat” style attack meme. I mean, it’s not as if I’ve ever said I served in uniform as woman — I actually stated I served as a male back in 2004/2005 for the Servicemember’s Legal Defense Network (SLDN), the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), and the American Veterans For Equal Rights (AVER) joint project called Documenting Courage — and they verified my service by reviewing my D-214 and change of name documentation, and verified my story of the sexual harassment incident — the incident that is at the heart of my DADT story — with copies the Navy documentation I provided them. I also retold the story in a column for the Gay & Lesbian Times, and my story was featured as a veterans day story in the same publication here.
And, I also participated when the Associated Press‘s Lisa Leff was researching, and later wrote an article about transgender veterans (a story even posted in the Army Times). I was featured prominently in the story — and I highlighted that article for Pam’s House Blend here. (A photo of me in this post — the one where I’m holding a old photo of me in a US Navy Men’s Dress Blue Uniform — was taken by Associated Press photographer Gregory Bull in a photo shoot for that AP article.)
I’ve stated frequently that I served as a male; I’ve told many the reason I originally bought that US Navy Women’s Dress Blue Uniform so that I won’t be misgendered in photo at my funeral (which I hope won’t happen anytime too soon); I’ve stated frequently I wore that uniform to be appropriate to my gender identity when I protested in favor of repealing DADT, as well as wanting to clearly send a message about T people working on LGB issues because T people are part of the LGBT community. My strong belief is that an issue for even one subcommunity of the LGBT community should be an issue for all in the subcommunities of the LGBT community. Clearly presenting as a transgender veteran was important to sending that solidarity message to my community peers.
[More below the fold.]
From that Gender Reality post by “Carmen Sense” entitled Stop both engines… that I cited above the fold:
She never wore the female uniform. She bought it after she retired from a navy that would have kicked her out for being transsexual. It get’s worse, as she deliberately wore the very same uniform when she chained herself to the White House fence, knowing full well that she would be arrested and processed as a transsexual.
Great – way to go Autumn.
…Be proud of your service – that’s fine and admirable, but quit wearing that uniform as a costume – Autumn Sandeen never wore a female uniform while serving…
And now, one gay blogger — award winning former Associate Press reporter Lyndon Evans — has picked up this take on my wear of that uniform (here and here) where he took it one step further: From his post where he misgendered me and labeled me a “one who disgraces the US Naval uniform”:
Today he is Autumn Sandeen, transgender activist, revisionist of his own personal history and one who disgraces the US Naval uniform, not as he once wore as a man but in costume form as he now purports to be a retired woman from the US Navy.
I’m not purporting to be a disabled, retired, Persian Gulf War Navy veteran. Again, the SLDN, HRC, and AVER coordinator for the Documenting Courage program even verified my service by reviewing my D-214 and change of name documentation, and verified my story of the sexual harassment incident — the incident that is at the heart of my DADT story — with copies the Navy documentation I provided them.
Lyndon Evans wrote this as well in the closing paragraph of his piece:
[I]n this writer’s opinion one who is so outspoken as Sandeen is as an activist, writer and occasional talking head needs to be more truthful about the past and most assuredly stop wearing a Naval uniform which proud Naval women have and do wear, one thing which Autumn Sandeen never was nor could be.
As I said earlier in this piece, it’s not as if I’ve ever said I served in uniform as woman; it’s not as if I didn’t publicly state as early as 2004/2005 that I served as male. Former AP reporter Lyndon Evans didn’t do his due diligence when he stated that I needed to be more truthful about my past. And, instead of taking responsibility for the problems of his commentary — especially his use of male pronouns to intentionally misgender me — he tried to shift the focus in his follow-up piece Uproar Over Autumn Sandeen. What little uproar there was regarding his first post was about what he wrote.
And, Evans seems to be engaging in mixed messaging on military service for trans people since he also wrote the piece For Trans People DADT Is Not Over Yet. He linked to a video interview of me in that post.
For comparison, Frank Gaffney of the Center For Security Policy stated the following at a Family Research Council press conference in December of 2010:
These are, of course, five individuals — six individuals, excuse me — who have now professed themselves to be homosexual…or something…who chained themselves to the fence of the White House in order to call attention to what they consider the great injustice of them not being allowed under the law to serve in the United States Armed Forces openly.
What’s wrong with this picture is that the individual on the far left, who goes by the name Autumn Sandeen, is a transgender individual. Now apparently transgender individuals are not to be considered as part of the group that will be admitted into the military if this repeal this repeal takes place, at least not initially, but anyone who is following the LGBT activists knows that T stands for transgender. Transgender is part of the community whose equal rights are supposed to be established, among other things, by imposing on the United States Military this Radical Homosexual Agenda.
Well, to put the commentary from Gender Reality and Focus On The Rainbow in perspective, for my efforts towards the repeal of DADT, Velvetpark named me Top 25 Significant Queer Women of 2010 and San Diego Pride named me one of their 2010 Champions Of Pride.
The efforts here to discredit me as a transsexual woman and trans activist because I’ve worn a US Navy Women’s Dress Blue Uniform — three years after I had those professional photos shot, and two years after participating in a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal focused direct action with others — strikes me as sad. This new meme by a currently small group of transsexual and gay people seems meant to turn my small part in the efforts towards repealing DADT, coupled with an LGBT solidarity message, into a antitransgender negative.
The attacks are over-the-top nervy and without substance; the attacks are pure Swift Boating. Just incredible.