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TACOM celebrates LGBT Pride Month

Charin Davenport, Navy veteran and president of the Michigan Chapter of the Transgender American Veterans Association, speaks during TACOMís LGBT Pride Month observance June 14.

TACOM Life Cycle Management Command observed Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month June 14 with a visit and speech by Charin Davenport, Navy veteran and president of the Michigan chapter of the Transgender American Veterans Association.
 
Davenport said she realized by age 4, in the late 1950s, that something about her was different.
 
By age 8, when others knew her as a boy nicknamed Tucker, she was trying to tell her father that she didn’t want to play baseball; she wanted to do what the “other girls” were doing. But people in the early 1960s weren’t as accepting of people who identified themselves as members of the opposite sex as they are today, and Tucker’s father, a baseball coach, would hear none of it. “You’re not a girl,” she remembers him saying. “Yes I am,” she countered, remaining on the front porch after he walked away, understanding that she couldn’t beat her father on that point.
 
So for the next 20 years or so, she kept her real identity hidden from everyone but her closest friends. But after two marriages and seven years in the Navy, Charin Davenport was finally set free to live the life Tucker had always wanted – to live openly as a female.
 
In Davenport’s terms, her real identity until then was “invisible.” “I was trying not to be me,” she told the audience. “I was literally trying to kill myself but not die. I was trying to be the best man that I could be. I didn’t feel guilty, I felt shame. Here’s my body … I must be crazy.”
 
Davenport enlisted in the Navy in 1974, serving as an in-flight avionics electronics technician on the P-3B Orion. “My father was so happy,” she said. “I finally had found a way to make him happy and get out of town at the same time.”
 
She had her own stereotypes about the Navy and what it could do for her.
 
“I’m going to go into what I perceived to be this hyper-masculine environment and I’ll become the man I’m supposed to be,” she remembers thinking. “It didn’t work. It just didn’t work, but I kept trying. I got married – twice, have three beautiful kids, have grandkids,” she said before her voice trailed off.
 
Her presence on the 15-man P-3 flight crew proved to be essential on one mission when the barometric altimeter failed, causing the aircraft to plunge toward the ocean. With Davenport and the pilot pulling on one yoke and the co-pilot and another crew member pulling on the other, the P-3 finally leveled off. “I was the only woman flying on a P-3 who saved the lives of her crew members,” she said of a time before women were allowed to be aircrew members. “I was that woman but no one knew it.”
 
It was a few years after leaving the Navy that Davenport decided to come out as female, to make herself visible. She had been attacked twice while in the Navy because she told someone who she really was. She finally decided that being out in the open was the best cover.
 
According to Davenport, 20-25 percent of transgender people are veterans. Veterans or not, Davenport advises asking people which pronouns they use when referring to themselves. “If you meet someone it’s OK to say, ‘What are your pronouns?’ You should ask that question if you don’t know. Don’t be afraid to ask. If you’re going to serve with them or you’re going to work next to them, you can try to fight it all you want but that person is going to be there. You might as well figure out who they are and get over it. They deserve to be there as much as anyone else.”
 
Davenport added that some transgender people don’t want to go by the pronouns he, his, she or her, but by they or them instead. She explained that people might hear those three sets of words used in reference to transgenders, and any are OK if that is their wish.
 
It is never OK, though, to ask transgender people personal questions related to surgeries or to assume that they are gay, she said. “That’s none of their business.”
 
She also made the distinction between sexual identities and gender identities. “Sexual identity or orientation is about who you love and who you wake up with in the morning, but gender identity is about who you are and who you wake up as. This is not a question of sexuality. Trans people can be lesbian, gay, bisexual or heterosexual. They’re all the things that those who aren’t trans can be – not can be,” she corrected herself, “are.”
 
Davenport met with her father when he beckoned her to his bedside before he passed away. “It’s you. You’re so beautiful,” she remembered him saying. This time, it was he who made her happy.
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