You spent several successful years in the Navy.

I joined the military in 2016. I was working at Walmart after an unsuccessful attempt at college in Michigan, where I’m from. I wasn’t feeling the job, so I joined the Navy. I was 19. I scored well on the aptitude test, and they offered training as a nuclear mechanic. I did boot camp, trained, and found myself working on a prototype reactor in Saratoga Springs.

I was stationed on an aircraft carrier as a nuclear machinist mate, second class. That job entails operating and fixing the reactor parts and all the equipment that makes the ship run and operate as far as the reactor goes. I worked with radioactive material. It’s like what you see in the movies, where they put on contamination gear. And at the steam plant there was no air conditioning, and it was up to 120 degrees in there. Air from outside would blow in, but it was hot, oily, hazardous stuff.

It sounds like you were doing well despite the tough conditions. What happened to change that?

I came out as trans. Trump’s policies, enacted in June 2020, said you couldn’t be in the military and be transgender and transition. You couldn’t access gender-affirming surgery or even socially transition in any way. I didn’t want to tell the Navy for a while, but I finally broke down. I told the military I was trans, and I got separated for it. I had planned to be in for years. I had no intention of getting out. I had just reenlisted the year prior. So, [my then-husband and I] sold everything, including our house and car, and moved to New York with our two children. I got a job working at Whole Foods. Our biggest struggle was getting housing. It was rough.

What got you on the road to a new career?

I decided to make a change and do something to help others in difficult positions, so I applied to Brooklyn College. I had experienced how hard it was for people like me, people who identify as a gender that is contrary to societal expectations. I eventually found out about many resources, but that took time. It would have been nice to have a little bit of help from someone to point me in the right direction after I was discharged.

So your experience led you to a major in psychology.

I pursued psychology because I wanted to know what it would take to help someone get to a better place in life, especially when they’re stuck mentally and emotionally, and how I could help them do that.

It’s in my nature to do that. People might think it’s strange, but I walk up to those who ask  for help on the street and just have a conversation. People are people, and I think that folks forget that sometimes because they have ideas in their head that someone who is struggling is a problem rather than simply a person who’s struggling.

You must work to change that narrative in your own head before you can help yourself or anyone else. Education helps transform that narrative. Learning how to be there for everyone is important if you want to counsel people.

What was your experience like at Brooklyn College?

Kelly Spivey, the LGBTQ+ Resource Center director, and the staff of the Veteran and Military Programs were of great support.

The pandemic limited me to few in-person classes. Still, one that stood out was LGBTQ Youth in Education Contexts taught by [Adjunct Assistant] Professor Emily Greytak. Her class was a deep dive into the LGBTQ population as it relates to youth. She was amazing. She created an open and respectful environment that allowed for discussion and making mistakes. We were taught about the struggles and joys and history of LGBTQ people.

You were also involved in extracurricular activities at the college.

I was the president of the LGBT Alliance and the Veteran’s Club and worked at the Veteran’s Affairs Office and the LGBTQ+ Resource Center, bringing my experience as both transgender and a veteran.

When I was first discharged from the Navy, I went to every support group I could find to try to learn what resources there were for me, so now I can pass that information on to our students who are veterans.

I have mentored many LGBTQ students who ask everything from gender-identity questions to how to build credit. The veterans and LGBTQ student club members often have very different needs—as both transgender and ex-military, I bridge the gap between the two. We recently took a trip to Washington, D.C., both clubs together, and there was the Lavender Graduation.

What is the next step in your career?

Getting my master’s degree in social work. I have been accepted to the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter.