"I remember sitting in the barber's chair," says Chicago transgender rapper KC Ortiz. "When he was cutting my hair, it was like my dreams were falling to the floor." She'd been growing her hair out in high school, knowing she wanted to transition, but as a 19-year-old "male" working in the US Air Force, was forced to shave her head bald. "It felt like they were taking away my decision to be who I felt like I should be."
Like thousands of other trans people serving in the US Military, Ortiz had to keep her gender identity a secret while serving. "Don't Ask Don't Tell," which was repealed in 2010, also required that she keep her sexuality hidden--something she managed to do for two years before coming out as gay to her legal office and eventually getting discharged.
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"I'm a very honest person and living a lie was something I couldn't do," she says of the military's charades. "Having to be someone you're not isn't fun, and especially when you're trying to do something for the betterment of your country."
Donald Trump's ban of all trans soldiers will force today's estimated 15,000 serving to live the same lie Ortiz once fled. The President's decision reverses Barack Obama's 2016 order, which allowed trans soldiers to serve openly, and access basic medical care, including hormone treatment and surgery. After a year-long review, Obama's request will not be realized under the Trump administration.
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Although Trump can't effectively "ban" all trans soldiers, considering many have historically worked while keeping their gender identity private, the ones who're open will be discharged and forced to figure out post-military life with little to no support.
"What happens to those people?" Ortiz asks. "Some of these trans people probably went into the military without family support, trying to start a better life for themselves. A lot of trans people are disowned when they come out. Imagine being one of those people who have nothing to go home to. When you're in the military, you put all your eggs in one basket."
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For Ortiz, the years after being discharged were equally challenging and formative. She bounced around, attempting to settle down in Atlanta, Alabama and South Dakota on a quest to grow into her womanhood and embark on a rap career. While this chapter helped Ortiz become the proud trans woman she is today, she would've loved to serve openly in the military, and suggests honesty would've helped her do a better job, as well.
She references a quote from Magneto of X-Men: First Class: "If you're using half your concentration to look normal, then you're only half paying attention to whatever else you're doing," he says in the film, reflecting how trans individuals are forced to divide their energy if keeping secrets is prioritized in the military. "Honestly, X-Men has such strong trans undertones because those mutants are basically how we get treated," Ortiz says. "It's heartbreaking."