Transgender members of the armed services don’t live inside a military bubble; they impact the lives of their families, friends, and local communities. Sergeant First Class Nick Wright, a combat medic, has deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, and in support of hurricane relief. He’s made his mark in the world as a decorated soldier. Now, as a recruiter in the Ohio National Guard, Nick has an oversize impact on his community because of what he does and who he is. When Nick began recruiting duty 5 years ago, he presented as a very butch, yet feminine looking female soldier, but over the last two years the administrators and teachers in the schools he works with have had a front row seat as witnesses to his transition.
Though he doesn't often speak about his private life, there was no hiding Nick’s physical changes. When you see someone every day, changes that happen over time can go relatively unnoticed, but for the school staff who saw him every few weeks or months, the added muscle and deepened voice stood out. Nick thought he was flying under the radar, but late in a school year a guidance counselor pulled him aside to ask about his preferred pronouns. Despite already having legally changed his name, Nick was still shocked to have this conversation. He thought no one was noticing, but they very much were.
That counselor was just the first of many who would respectfully inquire about how to address Nick and to offer their support. Several even went out of their way to make sure he didn’t face any discrimination in their schools. One particular person stood out for Nick: the college counselor assigned to his district that had known him since high school. This individual, a veteran and member of Nick’s Catholic School, treated Nick with the utmost respect in supporting his transition. To Nick, this meant more than he could possibly express.
Nick has been impressed by just how much support he's had in the civilian community. He said “People who have witnessed my transition first hand do not question my ability to be a trustworthy person to have around their children.” Many who have watched his transition from afar have expressed their gratitude for the example he's set in showing what transgender service members cand do and appreciate his positive attitude.
More important to Sergeant Wright on a personal and professional level is the growth he’s seen from people within his Army Unit. Prior to his transition there had been a discussion in the unit of transgender activist Aidan Dowling and several members of the unit expressed disgust and a disbelief that anyone could change their gender. However, since Nick came out, not only did they all apologize, but one member of the company thanked him for opening their eyes prior to the birth of his son. He told Nick that it it took him a long time to come to the realization that, one day, his son may come to him and say he was gay or say he was transgender. He added that, as a father, as a man, he would have to still love his son more than life itself and that there was no reason for him to view any human any different. Nick changed a lot of hearts and minds simply by being his authentic self and having a personal connection with everyone around him.
Since coming out Nick has been promoted to Sergeant First Class, is on track to become a recruiting team leader, and has been given additional roles responsibilities in his Company while hitting over 100% of his mission goals. His gender identity hasn’t negatively impacted his ability to serve and do his job well, but he has been able to spread an infectious positivity that has been reflected back to him as acceptance. The impact he's had around the world and at home is important to Nick, but being himself… that’s the icing on the cake.
Q & A with SFC Wright
Q: When did you join the military and why?
A: I joined in 2007. I had always had a call to service but went back and forth with myself growing up in which capacity I would pursue the call. At first I wanted to be a doctor but realized quickly I didn’t want to be in college that long, considered being a firefighter, considered police work. Tried college: had been an athlete recruited to play ball but couldn’t afford to finish my degree because we didn’t have sanctioned scholarships. So instead I searched for other ways to be a member of a team. I looked into ROTC, tried the Coast Guard, and then found the Army National Guard. They could pay my college tuition, pay my loans, give me a bonus and make me a medic and I could keep my dog, so I took it and ran with it.
Q: What are your career goals?
A: I have been incredibly lucky and pretty successful during my career thus far. I am trying to gain as much experience as possible in order to grow as a leader. My goal is to help positively impact as many people’s lives as possible. I want to be the best leader I can be and take my career as far as I’m able.
Q: How do you stay resilient?
A: I’ve hit quite a few walls during the last few years. I struggle every day with the stress of my job, but make sure I take time for myself. I ensure I workout, do my best to eat right, and spend as much time as possible with my dogs. I get out on the motorcycle, go hiking, go camping, and go shoot with my friends. I try to decompress as much as I can when I have the chance to do so.
Q: What do you want people to know about transgender members of the military?
A: Transgender individuals are just like any other Service Member. We serve because we are called to do it, because we love our country and the beliefs it was built upon. We want to ensure that the freedoms we have been afforded will be offered to generations after us. It was not our gender identity that defined our decision to serve, but our love for the country that allows us to live and serve as our authentic selves.
Q: What can allies do to support the trans military community?
A: The best thing you can do is have compassion and empathy for the struggles we face, because not everyone is as supportive. Treat us like you treat every other Service Member.
Q: Anything else you want to share?
A: I think it’s important to mention that I volunteered to put my uniform on at a time when I identified as a lesbian, during Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT). I was willing to live quietly because I believed in this country and never wanted to see anything g happen to it like I witnessed on 9/11. While preparing to go on my second tour overseas, DADT was repealed, giving me a chance to truly be myself around the people who I needed to be closest with. That, in all reality, eventually led to me realizing all of the things I had been hiding from myself. Opening the military to transgender individuals gives Soldiers like me the chance to be truthful and open, which allows us to be the best Soldier we can. I have been a better role model, better leader and better person since my transition. And I am able to use my situation as a teaching tool, both within the military setting and civilian since I am a recruiter working predominantly within civilian markets. We represent the American population, and the majority of them support us because we are willing to sacrifice a part of ourselves for them.