Transgendered Air Force veteran helps others with sex
Monday, July 31, 2006
By Juan Pablo Lopera TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
hormones, my voice changed and I grew a full beard, and even though I
blended in with other males before my top surgery, it is only now that I
am so much more comfortable with my own body.
WORCESTER— For Michael West, joining the
military in 1986 meant getting out of Blackstone Valley and seeing the
world. Aside from providing life experience, he hoped the Air Force
would rid him of the phantoms left behind by a life of denial.
Now, years after being honorably discharged, Mr.
West has successfully buried many of the fears and issues that have come
along with his gender identity disorder and has vowed to help others
through their battles with GID.
According to Mr. West, who served in the Air Force as a woman, when he
came home from Montgomery, Ala., his last post, he plunged into a deep
depression. After having spent eight years away from home, he was now
back in the Worcester area with a festering dilemma that had not been
alleviated by the time away. Mr. West, born a female, struggled with his
innate desire to live life as a man, all the while keeping this secret
It was not until March 2001, when he hit rock
bottom and even contemplated taking his life, that he knew it was time
to do something.
“I told my youngest sister, LeAnn, that I was
depressed and thinking of suicide. To say the least, she drove me to the
UMass hospital,” he said.
While at the hospital, Mr. West realized it was time to confront his
worst fears and deal with the ghosts he had avoided for so long. It was
then he started seeing a medical professional about gender identity
disorder and decided to start hormone therapy. For the next two years,
Mr. West underwent what he refers to as a second puberty. He watched as
his body changed, his voice thickened and his appearance became more
But it wasn’t until he underwent “top surgery,” a term for the breast
reduction procedure used with female-to-male transgendered individuals,
in May 2005 that he was the closest to being the man he had always
wanted to be. Since then Mr. West has opted to leave behind his female
identity in order to embrace his newfound self. He currently prefers not
to speak in detail about who he once was or what his given name used to
“After the hormones, my voice changed and I grew a full beard, and even
though I blended in with other males before my top surgery, it is only
now that I am so much more comfortable with my own body,” he said. “I am
confident and don’t have to worry about binding a chest I never wanted.
No one has ever known of my journey, unless I have felt comfortable
enough to tell them. I love my life now.”
“The fundamental identity issue which transgendered people struggle with
is that their body doesn’t match their gender, or how they feel,” said
Diane Ellaborn, one of the few therapists specializing in transgender
issues in Massachusetts. “Our sex and gender are intertwined, and if
those don’t coincide, there is a great deal of anxiety and depression.
You can say these people are born with a birth defect. In order to deal
with this condition, these individuals must undergo physical changes
before they can lead functional lives.”
Since his transformation, Mr. West has tapped into a newfound confidence
that has allowed him to become involved with transgender issues at home
and on the Internet he said. In 2005, he launched a transgender
discussion list on yahoo.com, meant to connect, educate and support
other transgendered people, their families and friends. He is also
involved in trying to help military veterans who, like himself, have
struggled with GID.
This new path has led Mr. West to become the webmaster of Transgender
American Veterans Association, an organization that focuses on creating
awareness of transgender issues, a topic rarely spoken about in the
military. According to Mr. West, TAVA’s emphasis is creating a community
for transgender people where they can form bonds for life. The
organization is also focused on letting its members know how to go about
receiving support from VA centers and hospitals. TAVA is like other
veterans organizations giving individuals a group to belong to that
recognizes their service to our country and looks out for their own
needs, according to Mr. West.
Even though the military prohibits what it calls gender alteration,
gender reorientation or genital identity revision, there is support for
these veterans. Some of these transgendered individuals have been able
to go to their local VA centers and hospitals for assistance with
therapy, hormones and medical attention to complement their treatments.
However, according to Mr. West, there is still much disparity in the
support provided by VA centers and hospitals from one state to the next.
“The VA centers let you know that they will talk to you about your
issues, but they won’t talk about gender,” he said.
The support and attention individuals receive depends on the local VA
center’s view and exposure to transgender issues and how they themselves
broach the subject with their physicians, Mr. West added.
Mr. West said he hopes to be instrumental in launching a Massachusetts
chapter of TAVA. There are currently a few people affiliated with the
organization locally. Nationwide, TAVA has grown from the two persons
who founded the group in the South back in 2003 to more than 200
members. The kickoff for the local TAVA chapter is expected to take
place during the fifth annual Transcending Boundaries, PFLAG Northeast
Conference Oct. 27-29 at the DCU Center. Lesbian, gay, transgendered and
bisexual people from the area, their supporters, friends and families
will meet in an effort to overcome issues they face.
Mr. West intends to undergo more surgery and complete his transition
from female to male once he has enough money. He is in a happy
relationship with a male-to-female transgendered woman, he said.
More information about TAVA can be obtained at
by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Mr.
West also hosts a discussion site on Yahoo!,
2006 Worcester Telegram & Gazette Corp.