On Giving Thanks:Recognizing Marginalized Communities and (In)Visible Service

Today marks a day when many of us gather to enjoy good food, the company of friends (Friendsgiving) and/or family (by choice or by a sense of obligation), and we may share sentiments and/or imagery from our gatherings on social media to show what we are grateful for this year.

2016 has been an exceptionally challenging and at times rewarding year for me.  As such, sometimes I have a lot to say and other times different areas of my life overwhelm me and the last thing I feel I need is a spotlight on personal struggles and/or the additional stress of yet another obligation in my life.  It may seem odd that writing, which fuels my soul, can also take a great toll on me.  I am the kind of person who greatly requires sleep and on some of my busiest days I am not inclined to lose out on sleep to write, despite how much writing enriches my life.

This month provided an interesting opportunity for learning in the form of ASU’s Tunnel of Awareness.  My original interest in attending was to check out the display for the Women Veterans Club but was rather drawn in by the Transgender Day of Remembrance display.  Although I don’t know anyone directly during my military service who felt their gender at birth did not fit their identity, I noticed a number of individuals photographed from the Veteran Vision Project whose images reveal two distinct gender identities.  While I cannot say I know how difficult it must be to feel one’s whole body doesn’t fit, I can relate to how it feels that one’s service (and self) feels invisible in a society that only tends see certain bodies and abilities as having value.

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Just this past weekend, I was a bit surprised to read a CNN article by Emanuella Grinberg about a transgender Marine, Lance Corporal Aaron Wixson, and his experience with his respective unit.  To better understand why I was surprised, please keep in mind when I was serving gay and lesbian service members could not openly serve.  Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was not repealed until 2011.    In the midst of my completing my degree, I know I didn’t stay as up-to-date on DoD policy changes but I am embarrassed to say such a large policy change occurred and I missed the opportunity to speak about the matter earlier.

I know such a drastic policy change may still be hard for many to handle who have grown up in the “old ways” of military service or whose religious or cultural beliefs set more strict gendered roles and identity at the center of their ideologies.  For those people I implore you to open your heart and imagine if you had a family member who struggled with their sense of self.  You do not need to share the same values as other people to respect their place in this world.  We just need to remember each person has a soul; he or she has dreams for the future; and each person has talents which can enrich our communities in numerous ways if we do not allow something like our perceptions of who that person is cloud our ability to see the real person.

Please feel free to read further about the Department of Defense’s policy reversal about transgendered persons serving in the military.