Coming Out as Transgender Made Me a More Effective CIA Officer

From The Atlantic:  https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/03/transgender-cia/520050/

An intelligence official explains how being honest with herself and her colleagues helped her serve her country.

Jenny Hall
Mar 20, 2017

I sat in a bunker hoping the incoming rocket did not have my name on it. I was a young CIA officer, called by September 11 to serve, and found myself amid generals and sheikhs, writing for presidents—the life I’d dreamed of since childhood. Drained by 18-hour days and fitful sleep, my demons flooded the moments of peace. In the dark, I heard fighting beyond the wall, thought of friends killed and wounded, and remembered my secret.

You feel explosions before you hear them, and there was a bomb at the center of my life that no one could see. I was transgender, and feared I would lose my family and friendships. It was before an Executive Order protected transgender employees, and I imagined myself ridiculed or fired if I admitted the truth. I had heard a story about what happened to one CIA officer who had taken that step:

“Once upon a time, an officer with decades of experience lost it; clearly the stress. One day he decided he was now a woman—hilarious I know—and wanted everyone to believe him. Management didn’t know what to do with the transsexual. CIA had only just accepted gays; the officer left the Agency.”

When I was a child I knew that trans-people existed, but I knew I couldn’t possibly be one of them. I was going to make history, not be some freak on television. My self-discipline and self-hatred marched in lock-step.

I bottled up my problem, and tried to live up to the CIA’s values: to “put mission before self” and “go where others cannot.” But CIA has other chiseled words: “the truth shall set you free.” How could I speak truth to power but not be honest with myself?

Sinking into depression, I built a double life; living as a woman outside work and changing genders in Langley’s unisex restrooms. My juggling act faltered at a staff meeting when a friend whispered that I had forgotten to remove my mascara.

The trans-community has a joke: “What’s the difference between a crossdresser and someone who changes genders? Two years.” The punchline ignores the trans-people who never transition or find happiness outside the gender binary. But for me, my hours as Jenny lifted a terrible sadness in my life.

If you found out you needed glasses, and discovered that the world is filled with beauty and color that you thought was just a blur, why would you ever take them off?

I finally reached the breaking point. I was failing at my job and found myself crying in the bathroom. I walked into my boss’s office and closed the door. She later told me she was relieved when I told her. From the look on my face, she thought I had cancer.

Continue reading at:  https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/03/transgender-cia/520050/

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