By Emily Starbuck Gerson
Aamir Ali Zahid Taylor knew it would be difficult to come out as transgender while serving as an Army sergeant, and sure enough, he was right. While stationed abroad in Germany working in the medical field, he knew couldn’t wait any longer. Bolstered by the mentorship of another trans man serving alongside him, Taylor began his journey.
Despite policy at the time allowing him to serve openly, he faced negativity and discrimination within the Army. His mental health suffered and he became suicidal, but with the support of good friends, a helpful therapist and a supportive doctor, his mental health improved and he began cultivating self-love. Taylor became the first trans man in the Army stationed overseas to secure top surgery, so despite his struggles, he’s proud he helped pave the way for others.
Taylor moved to his next duty station in Washington State and wanted to continue his Army career, but after serving nearly eight years, he was forced to medically retire as an E5 due to a sleep disorder. During his service, he saw the trans ban reinstated by President Trump, but he left at the end of 2020, feeling hopeful that trans service members would soon be able to serve openly again (indeed, President Biden repealed the ban in January 2021). Taylor was recently hired as an environmental health technician, though he looks back proudly on his time in service as a transgender trailblazer.
Modern Military Association of America: What was your experience of coming out and starting to transition while being active duty Army?
Aamir Ali Zahid Taylor: I was stationed in Germany when I came out. A coworker introduced me to Zane, another trans male troop, and I hit the ground running. I came out once before, but not knowing how to navigate the unfamiliar territory, I decided to forget about it. I was alone in Germany; I had no family and I was still trying to find my place among people.
When I started my transition medically, I was met with animosity in my workplace. I had people tell my NCO that I used a male restroom while out on inspections and that it made him uncomfortable. I had seven different NCOs in under two years, and I refused to tell new NCOs my situation because at this point the whole office was trying to be in my business.
There was no such thing as “need to know” for me, so I started only talking to the detachment NCO because I didn’t feel safe. By my second month on testosterone, I could no longer pass as female, so when I would go into a women’s restroom it was embarrassing. Women would look at me, some saying I was in the wrong bathroom or some who would make me leave. I had taken to going to my barracks room to use the bathroom to avoid confusion.
I had a coworker that would go out of his way to call me female pronouns instead of just my last name. I had total strangers stand up for me not knowing I was trans, they were just decent people. I was depressed and contemplated killing myself. The Army gave these half-ass PowerPoint presentations on transgender persons in service, and most of the questions were geared towards trans women using the bathroom or pregnant trans men. It didn’t address those of us who were none of those things.
Doctors didn’t know how to proceed with treatment. Oftentimes I had to search for the information for the doc. I was the first trans man in the Army overseas to have top surgery through the Army. I flew to Ft. Sam in San Antonio, Texas, in November 2018 to have it done. I paved a way for the trans men to come after me. There was a blueprint because I made it at that duty station. It was hard but worth it.
MMAA: How did you overcome those challenges and find support?
AAZT: I would go to therapy and literally brain dump. I didn’t need someone to tell me I was right or wrong, I just needed someone to listen without bias.
Zane, my friend who was also a trans man in the Army, was a big part of how I made it through all the depression I felt. He was actually the person who helped talk me down from that “ledge” of killing myself.
It turned out all those feelings were the product of terribly unbalanced hormones. He was the one who told me to get blood work done. I had a group of guys I met and became close friends with. They were my lifeline. They got me out of the room when all I wanted to do was sulk. The transition was nothing for them; it was as simple as telling them, and I never heard a female pronoun from them after. When I had top surgery, they made sure I was good when I was on con leave. I could not have asked for better friends, and I can honestly say that if i didn’t have them, I don’t think I’d be here today.
MMAA: Despite the hardships, how did transitioning and living authentically benefit you?
AAZT: Transitioning was the best thing I could have ever done for me. For once in my life, I had no one in my ear telling me how I should live my life and what I should do with it. I made the decision on my own for the betterment of me. Towards the end of my time in Germany, I felt my confidence growing in loving who I saw when I looked in the mirror. I’ve had an uphill struggle with loving myself so it was awesome to finally feel like I reached the top.
MMAA: Do you feel that serving in the military, and especially going through a transition in the military, left you with any important life lessons?
AAZT: YES! It taught me how to survive the worst of it. It taught me how to mentor other trans soldiers. It taught me that even though the process is tedious, others have done it, and if I really want something, I’ll make my own way if I have to.
Transitioning in the military also taught me how to take advantage of everything I could. I remember right before getting out, I pushed hard to get bottom surgery started. I was not sure what the state of America was going to be in for transgender people when I got out. So about one week before I had my VA medical examination, I had my hysterectomy completed. I didn’t want to get out and not be able to get it. My gender is changed on all my legal documents, and at the time health insurance and hospitals were still discriminating against trans people. I knew it would be hard to do on the outside, so I went ahead with it. I was told I wasn’t supposed to do any surgeries so close to getting out, but I didn’t care especially since it was never my decision to leave.
MMAA: What are some things the military can do to make life easier for transgender troops? And are you feeling more hopeful now that the Biden administration is allowing trans service again?
AAZT: The military can truly educate people. If we are going to teach doctors, soldiers, and leaders about transgender troops, then there needs to be more information given besides what shower/bathroom/barracks we can use. I know that with the representation we now have in his cabinet, there will be change.