Transgender American Samoas Hoping To Serve In Military

U.S. has opened door to recruiting openly gay, transgendered soldiers

By Blue Chen-Fruean

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, June 1, 2016) – Transgenders in the military. Ten years ago, it would have been taboo to even talk about such a thing. But since US President Barack Obama repealed the US military’s 18-year-old ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ ban on openly gay and lesbian service personnel in 2011, a whole new set of recruits are showing interest in joining the US Armed Forces — some hoping that this ‘third gender’ will someday be accepted and recognized as equal.
In December 2010, President Obama signed legislation to repeal the ‘Don't Ask Don't Tell’ policy (DADT), which had been passed by Congress and signed into law in 1993 under then President Bill Clinton.
Since then, the Pentagon has informed recruiters that applications can now be accepted from openly gay people.
Locally, some members of the fa’afafine community are taking the big leap, willing to trade in their mini-skirts and skinny jeans for a pair of combat boots and camouflage battle dress uniforms (BDUs).
This past Friday, Princess Arrianna Auva’a, along with another transgender were part of a group of local aspiring soldiers who took the oath of enlistment for the US Army.
While recruiting transgenders and gays is not a new thing for the local US Army Recruiting Station, there was something different about last week’s swearing-in ceremony.
Princess — as far as we know — is the first locally recruited fa’afafine to ever swear in dressed like a female. All of the transgenders before her have always sworn-in wearing an ‘ie faitaga or slacks.
Princess’s actions could be the critical catalyst for other transgenders who have cowered in fear for so long, wanting to serve their country but afraid of being turned down or ridiculed because of the way they look and dress.
In layman’s terms, a transgender is someone whose gender identity is the opposite of their birth-assigned sex.
In an interview with renowned Samoan writer Lani Wendt Young, Princess said, “Fa’afafine to me is my identity. I know I was not born biologically a female. But I do not feel like I am male... being a proud Fa’afafine is who I am and what I am. It defines me in this world.”
Princess told Samoa News in a telephone interview yesterday that her fight for equality would forever be strong.
“I swore in to the US Army as a transgender, a fa’afafine,” she said. “My hope is to serve openly and freely, and if I am told to dress down, I will definitely do so, no questions asked.”
According to the 30-year-old Malaeloa native, there is no better place to battle than from within. And her goal while serving in the US Army is to see the ban against transgenders lifted.
“They have already lifted the ban on gays and now I’m hoping that they will also do the same for transgenders,” she said.
When contacted for comments, commander for the local US Army Recruiting Station SFC Diaz explained yesterday that since his move to American Samoa three years ago, he has seen a few transgenders being sworn in, and he has yet to get a single negative feedback from any of them, as far as being treated differently because of their sexual orientation.
“Being transgender is kind of like that middle ground that I can’t speak on,” he explained, adding that while homosexuality is now open in the US Armed Forces, the issue of being transgender is still being reviewed and an approval is yet to be issued.
He explained that during his first year as a local recruiter, he swore in three transgenders. Last year, he swore in another handful and so far this year, four have already been recruited, two of them — Princess included — were sworn in last Friday.
The thing is, SFC Diaz said, these transgenders are all aware that once they get to basic training (boot camp), they will have to get the standard military haircut for males, and they will have to use the male bathroom facilities, live in the male dorms, and wear all uniforms and gear for males.
 So what happens when these transgenders are off duty and want to dress up as female? SFC Diaz said he cannot say for sure if these soldiers will be allowed to do so, even after working hours. According to him, it’s an issue he will have to look in to.
When asked to comment, Princess said her goal is to serve in the US Army, and the issue involving transgenders in the military is not going to stop her from achieving her dream. Being allowed to ‘dress up’ the way she is comfortable “is not my first priority,” she said.
“It’ll be a little sacrifice in getting where I want to be and achieving the ultimate dream,” she added.
Princess is a strong advocate for fa’afafine rights and she is going active duty.
She said she always dreamt of joining the US Army but ‘lacked courage.’ She told Wendt-Young that she was afraid of ‘losing myself in the process and during my time of service.’
According to Princess, after searching for years to find herself, she now fully understands who she is and what she is meant to do in this life.
“I deem myself ready to accept the challenge,” she said of being a soldier.
She said some people who are in her close circle of friends and family members have wondered how she is going to cope with the grueling physical and mental training she will have to go through, i.e. having to cut her hair, dress like a male, etc.
Princess says the only obstacle in her way is herself and she is excited about what she calls ‘this new journey’ she will be embarking on.
She stands by her words that “The unknown can be a great thing.”
According to her, just because people don’t understand something, it doesn’t necessarily make it bad. “Create a peaceful world not only for yourself, but for the people around you.”
Locals who are interested in becoming a part of the US Army family are reminded that doctors will be traveling to the territory on August 6 to conduct physicals for one week.
This will be the last Delayed Entry Program (DEP) trip for this year.
The next swearing-in ceremony for future soldiers is scheduled for August 12 at 5 p.m. at the Konelio Pele US Army Reserve Center in Tafuna.
Those who want to sit the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) are reminded that the test is offered every Wednesday at the US Army Recruiting Station on the second floor of the Laufou Shopping Center, and test takers must sign-up a week before their anticipated test date.
More information on the opportunities available in the US Army can be obtained by calling 699-3116.

Samoa News wishes Princess Arrianna Auva’a all the best in her quest to become part of the US Army family, as a transgender soldier.

The Samoa News
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