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When I left the Army, I had no concept of what it meant to be transgender, nor did I know of anyone who was “out” as trans. I certainly knew nobody who was a transgender veteran.

Years later,  my son told us he was a trans-man; I had to learn what that meant in a hurry. I support my son 100%, and am fascinated with the concept of being transgender, and the immense value I believe the transgender veteran community brings to our inclusive democracy.

My son’s experience parallels the experiences of the transgender veterans I have met.

At the core of the transgender veteran experience – at least as it appears to me  – are three struggles.

One struggle is the individual’s struggle to express their own identity as a transgender veteran.

The second struggle is between the transgender veteran and society’s conception of what gender is, and how the gender binary is supposed to define (and limit) us.

The transgender veteran’s third struggle is to overcome the bogeyman and fear ginned up by white evangelicals and republican politicians and demagogues. This struggle belongs to all of us who wore the uniform: we must stand up and stand with our fellow veterans who are transgender.

In today’s episode, I’m not going to try to persuade you of anything. I am simply going to share what I know about what it means to be a transgender veteran.

Many will find this episode flawed in its generalities, and to those who do, I apologize. There is a lot more to learn about what it means to be transgender than I can put into a single podcast episode; we will revisit this topic from different perspectives in the future.

My goal in this episode was, instead, to provide enough information to quell the maniacal fear, in the veterans community, of transgender veterans.

This is important stuff.

A few weeks ago, I posted on the Veterans Law Blog® facebook page celebrating the VA’s announcement that it would provide gender affirming care, including transition surgeries, to veterans who are transgender.

Most veterans were as excited as I was – I truly believe that most veterans care about their fellow Americans.

But there was a backlash, too – mostly from the older white men and women who have worked hard to earn the moniker “deplorable” – whose comments about transgender issues demonstrated degree of ignorance that was, in equal parts, a laughable and dangerous misunderstanding about what it means to be a transgender veteran.

So the theme of Episode 5 of The Real Veteran Podcast is what it means to be transgender.

In the opening monologue, I will walk through my understanding of the basic concepts and terminology that crop up in discussions about the experience about the transgender veteran.

What does it mean to be transgender?

What is the difference between sex and gender?

What is the gender binary?

What is a person who is CIS gender?

We’ll cover those topics and more.

My interview is with Joe Paiva, a veteran who retired as a Lieutenant Colonel after 3 decades of military service in the Army and Navy.

Like me, Joe is the father of a trans son. We talked about identity, and how much easier life is when we choose to honor other people’s identities instead of seeking to defend our own honor. My chat with Joe has been my favorite so far – I hope that his easy manner and insightful thoughts will help you reframe what it means to be transgender.

And I’ll close out the episode with a summary of VA Benefits for veterans who are transgender.

This won’t be the last time we talk about veterans who are transgender – if you identify as transgender and would like to share you experience in the military or veteran community, I’d love to hear from you.

Before moving on, I would like to share a message with the transgender veteran community – both those who are out and those who are not. You are loved. We want transgender veterans in our community – transgender veterans belong in the veterans community. You belong in the veteran community, and I am glad you are here.

If you know of other resources for veterans who identify as transgender, email me and let me know. Here are the links I mention in the podcast:

Transgender American Veterans Association

National Center for Transgender Equality – a great resource and starting point for learning about what it means to be transgender.

VA Healthcare Program for veterans who are LGBTQ+

VA Policies for care of veterans who are LGBTQ+

VA Fact Sheet: Healthcare for transgender male veterans

VA Fact Sheet: Healthcare for transgender female veterans 

VA Fact Sheet: Healthcare for females – Lesbian and Bisexual 

VA Fact Sheet: Healthcare for males – Gay and Bisexual

And if you like this podcast, give it a 5-star rating and review over on Apple.

Please support the sponsor of this episode, without whom The Real Veteran™ podcast would not be possible:

Attig | Curran | Steel, PLLC – This veterans law firm isn’t looking for easy cases to churn for a fee. They are looking to give veterans from marginalized communities a fair shake with the VA by connecting them with the disability compensation benefits that provide a real opportunity to more fully reintegrate into civilian life.

Veterans Law Blog® – The Veterans Law Blog® teaches veterans how to prove, and hopefully win, their own VA disability compensation claims and appeals. The Veterans Law Blog’s 8-step approach to improving your VA claim or appeal has helped thousands of veterans find their way out of the VA Hamster Wheel and put an end to years of fighting with the VA.


To the veteran community – veterans, survivors, dependents, advocates and allies – welcome to the Real Veteran® Podcast.

In the Real Veteran® podcast, we are going to kick open the doors on the veteran community, let in the sunlight of fresh ideas and faces, and explore what it means to be a Real Veteran.® If you want to learn more about the goal of the podcast, and what inspired it, please listen to Episode 0 (click here).

If you find this podcast to be helpful or interesting, or learned something from it, I ask that you please leave me a 5-star rating on Apple podcasts – it will really help me out.

The theme for the first season is “Identity.”

I’m going to explore veterans’ lived experiences in their lives after military service, and try to understand how race, gender, gender identity or ethnicity shaped or influenced each veteran’s experience. If you are moved by the show and want to be a guest, or have ideas of people I should talk to, shoot me an email at

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