Beratzhausen (Germany): The US army soldier took a deep breath before hitting the button that sent the email to more than 200 fellow troops.
“All considered, I am, and have been, traversing what is essentially a personal matter, but is something I must address publicly," the email stated. “I am transgender."
The 13 April email officially ended the secret that burned inside capt. Jennifer Sims, who was known as Jonathan Sims. But the feeling of relief swiftly turned to unease last week after President Donald Trump tweeted that transgender people were no longer welcome in the US military.
“I read the tweets while I was at work and you know it was devastating because I still have work to do and here I am reading basically what sounds like the president of the United States—who is the commander in chief, he is the ultimate boss of the military—telling me and anybody else that is transgender that we are fired," Sims said.
Pentagon officials say the policy will remain unchanged without official White House guidance. But for Sims, the uncertainty has been upsetting.
“So in the initial moments after the tweet, I saw myself forced into the state that I was in before I started transitioning—a state of depression, exhaustion and inability to enjoy things," said Sims, 28, who spoke to the Associated Press on her own behalf and not on that of the army.
The reversal of the Obama administration policy that allows transgender people to serve openly and receive military medical coverage for transitioning from one gender to another also could affect her physically.
Sims has been on hormone therapy by her military doctor since November. If she interrupts the treatment, her body will revert to being male.
“It would be very difficult to have to go through that," said Sims, who is based at Hohenfels, a US army garrison in the German state of Bavaria.
Growing up in Minnesota and Florida, Sims, a high school football player, never felt comfortable being male. The son and grandson of military veterans quietly came to terms with identifying as a woman a year after joining the Army R.O.T.C., but outwardly kept it a secret “because I wanted to continue serving".
Sims stopped socializing, feeling drained over worries about being masculine enough, and instead focused on work, serving in Afghanistan, Indonesia and Germany. Her sister, Natasha Sims, 24, said she saw “emptiness" in her eyes.
After the defense department announced in 2015 that it was considering allowing transgender troops to serve openly, Sims told Natasha and their parents. When the policy became official in June 2016, Sims said she felt the meaning of the word freedom personally after spending years fighting for it for her country. “It was the best day of my life really," Sims said.
Sims made an appointment with the behavioural health office, was given a diagnosis of gender dysphoria and started hormone therapy in November.
Five months later, she decided to tell fellow troops.
She first told her two closest colleagues, capt. Brandon Shorter and another infantry officer. They were at a loss for words. After Shorter got home, allowing it to sink in, he texted Sims about how that was brave. “Infantry officers are best described as brutish. So capt. Sims pulled me and another brute aside face to face. That took a lot of courage and that’s the first thing that went through my mind, mixed in with surprise," Shorter said.
Sims then announced the “personal change" to more than 200 other troops.
It was not an emotional email. The seasoned military officer wrote how a lifetime of discomfort had peaked three years ago. Sims meticulously explained gender dysphoria, announced she was capt. Jennifer Sims, not Jonathan, and outlined the steps she would take to fully transition to a woman. “Officially in DEERS, my gender will remain male until my medical transition is complete, which means I will still comport to male standards and use male facilities," she wrote, referring to the acronym for the defense enrollment eligibility reporting system, a kind of HR database for US military personnel.
“While it is my preference for people to refer to me with female pronouns, if you are uncomfortable with this, there is no requirement to do so, I only respectfully request you refer to me by my proper name, Captain Sims," the email stated.
Sims assured her unit the change “if anything, will only make me more productive and capable, as I no longer have to live two personas".
Five soldiers sent emails back with words of encouragement. Most didn’t respond. For a few days, there were murmurs of “hey did you see the email?" The force had just undergone training explaining what was expected in regards to transgender soldiers. Sims is the first transgender person Shorter has known.
The unit is basically full of “young men wanting to chew on nails and prove how tough they are and rightly so since they are infantry men", Shorter said. There are only about eight women among the 500 soldiers in the battalion. He had a lot of questions “being naturally curious and wanting to be a good friend because we didn’t really have a personal relationship. He’s, excuse me, she’s — see I still slip up sometimes — a single captain, I’m married with two daughters. Our lives are different."
Shorter, 32, of Alanson, Michigan, describes himself as conservative. He said he struggles with his beliefs about what’s appropriate. An assistant operations officer for the battalion, Shorter is concerned about how Sims—whom he considers to be the best signal officer he’s seen in the army—cannot deploy while undergoing medical procedures.
But Shorter, speaking on his own behalf and not that of the army, said he would be “incredibly disappointed" if Sims were kicked out.
After Trump’s tweet, a few soldiers, including Shorter, asked Sims how she was doing. She didn’t know what to say. Her pills will run out in three months. Doctors recommend 12 months of hormone therapy before surgery. The cost of her surgery can run close to $50,000, which Sims was expecting the military would help cover. Army officials told her nothing will change without official guidance.
“I had waited so long just to be able to tell the world this is who I am," Sims said.