Military vet prods a bureaucracy and helps create change



Here's a bit of a disconnect: transgender people aren't allowed to serve in the military, but they are allowed to receive hormone treatments as veterans.

Chance Thomas, who enlisted in 2000 and whose assigned birth gender was female, served at Guantanamo Bay, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan as a female. Chance was also a lesbian.

As a child, he always knew he was a boy. "My father called me son," he said, "although my mom wasn't having any of it. She wanted a frilly little girl and so that was what I had to be."

Transgender veteran shares his experience

Chance Thomas, 33, of Stanton Heights, a transgender male who receives hormone shots from the Pittsburgh VA hospital, speaks about his personal experiences. (Video by Michael Henninger; 6/2/2014)

His father died, his grandmother disowned him, and he's on distant terms with the rest of his family. But he thrived in the military, although before the "don't ask don't tell" policy was scrapped, he was "outed" by a fellow soldier -- but managed to avoid being kicked out. Instead, in 2005, he was medically retired due to a neck injury, and in 2010, he decided to transition to male.

When Mr. Thomas first visited his primary care physician at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Oakland "the doctor didn't really know what I was talking about when I said I wanted to start hormone treatments," Mr. Thomas recalls.

But new federal rules required hospitals to offer them to veterans, so he was sent to the VA's Women's Clinic.

And there, he met Kathleen McIntire-Seltman, a gynecologist at the Women's Clinic, who had administered the shots in private practice. She was also experienced in sex reassignment surgery.

So she began giving Mr. Thomas the shots, and he began becoming "myself," he said. "My voice got deeper and I started growing facial hair and I thought, this feels right. Finally, I feel comfortable with who I am."

Dr. McIntire-Seltman travels to other veterans' hospitals as part of a national education program sponsored by Veterans Affairs. Among the topics she discusses are transgender care. She also provides hormone treatments to veterans like Mr. Thomas.

While Mr. Thomas, 33, of Stanton Heights may not be the first veteran to have received hormone treatments, he's earned a little bit of renown in the VA medical community. And in Pittsburgh, at least, he believes he was the first to benefit from the VA's change in policy.

"It's nice to be a pioneer," he said. "Now if they could just allow members of the transgender community to serve their country without fear of being punished for it, that would be a real first."


Mackenzie Carpenter: mcarpenter@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1949 or on Twitter @MackenziePG. First Published June 2, 2014 12:09 AM

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