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Transgender military member finds support in Air Force

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Sometimes, Brandon Rodriguez didn’t get the support he needed as a kid growing up in a conservative Catholic household in San Antonio, Texas – especially as a little girl constantly trying to avoid wearing feminine clothing at all costs.

Staff Sgt. Brandon Rodriguez, right, shakes hands with Master Sgt. David Harter after Rodriguez gave a presentation on his transition from female to male at Kirtland Air Force Base as part of Pride month, celebrating the LGBT community. (Marla Brose/Journal)

“Growing up,” he said, “I never connected with my natal body.”

And Rodriguez said his parents’ negative comments about the LGBT community “always made me kind of crawl back into my shell.”

After coming out as transgender in 2016, Rodriguez did find a source of support in his brothers and sisters in arms in the U.S. Air Force.

Staff Sgt. Rodriguez spoke about his ongoing transition from female to male during an event at Kirtland Air Force Base on Friday scheduled in recognition of Pride Month.

In attendance were at least 50 military members and civilians, including installation commander Col. Richard Gibbs.

“I was very proud of him for having the courage to get up in front of folks and share a very personal story,” Gibbs said afterward.

Rodriguez lived many of his 29 years as a gay woman before he says he began to realize what it meant to be transgender in 2014.

His own journey as a military member has been closely intertwined with the back-and-forth debate on openly transgender people serving in the military, starting with the lift of the ban on their service in June 2016.

Rodriguez came out to his current commander at Kirtland a few days later.

Though he said he has butted heads with some of his superiors during his military career over his gender identity, this commander was “nothing but supportive.”

“He was just like, ‘OK, what do you need?’ ” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez’s mental health therapist suggested that time was now of the essence to move forward with the physical aspects of his transition.

“The sooner you get to the endpoint of your transition, the harder it’s going to be for them to kick you out,” Rodriguez said he was advised.

So Rodriguez started hormone treatments just a few days before President Donald Trump sent out a Tweet indicating that transgender people were barred from the military in July 2017.

The ban was blocked in federal court later in the year after several lawsuits challenging it were filed.

In March 2018, the administration released details on the implementation of a revised ban, but a federal judge ruled it too similar to the previous iteration and the injunction remains.

Rodriguez had his first gender affirmation surgery to have his breasts removed in April. He plans on eventually having a second surgery.

Today, Rodriguez said he feels better than he ever has. He moves and speaks with many of the same mannerisms and unbridled confidence of the other young men around him.

“Once you’re able to be comfortable in your body and experience yourself for who you are, those anxieties, that depression kind of falls off,” he said. “And that absolutely happened with me.”

His parents have since come to accept their son for who he is, calling him “Brandon” instead of his birth name of “Brandie” and using masculine pronouns.

Rodriguez has deployed three times in his 11 years in the military.

He currently serves as a ground transportation journeyman with the 377th Logistics Readiness Squadron and leads an LBGTQ support group at the base.

“I think this is exactly why it’s imperative that we have diversity in the Air Force,” said Capt. Erik Bohm, who coordinated Friday’s event. “If we respect different people’s lifestyles and diversity, this is the quality airman that we will have.”

Rodriguez is uncertain of what the future will hold for him, but said he hopes to stay in the Air Force if they’ll allow it.

Rodriguez left those in attendance with a simple message: “Love your neighbor.”

And Col. Gibbs agreed.

“How we choose to define ourselves doesn’t really matter to me. It’s all about the people who choose to support and defend the Constitution of the United States,” Gibbs said. “The rest of it is just treating each other well.”

Staff Sgt.Brandon Rodriguez answers questions from audience members after his presentation on his transition from female to male at the Kirtland base theater on Friday. (Marla Brose/Journal)