By Jarid Watson
WASHINGTON — In December 2016, Riley Dosh came out as transgender while entering her final semester as a cadet at West Point Military Academy.
“I got overwhelming support from both my friends and peers and commanders. They all were there for me and I feel their love and support every single day,” she said in a recent interview with CBS Radio’s Connecting Vets.
In the end, the support she received didn’t matter. Current Department of Defense policy has allowed transgender service members to serve openly since June 30, 2016, but did not allow anyone identifying openly as transgender to enlist or commission until July 1, 2017.
“I graduated in May (2017), and 3 weeks prior to my graduation I was told I would not be allowed to commission because I am transgender. So I am currently out of the military at the moment. But there was still a slim possibility that I would be able to commission. And now it seems like that’s not going to happen.”
In a trio of tweets, President Donald Trump banned transgender individuals from serving in the U.S. military — leaving a cloud of uncertainty over Dosh as well as other transgender individuals currently serving in the military.
“Is it even worth trying to continue some long career goal? Because they don’t know if they’re going to get fired suddenly, this wave of fear has kind of quickly swept through. And my friends in the service have come to the conclusion that the best they can do is continue serving honorably and with distinction as they have been doing for decades, both in and out of the closet,” Dosh said.
According to the Pentagon, until there is further guidance from the White House, the president’s tweets will remain just that – tweets. Dosh agrees.
“These tweets do not actually change anything about the policy. They’re simply a threat of a policy change. And one that seems the Joint Chiefs of Staff will not accept very easily. It’s going to take a lot more discussion and a lot more warning if they want to try to implement something in this manner.”
With her hopes of eventually being allowed to commission, but understanding she may never get that chance, Riley Dosh wants to be an advocate for those transgender service members currently serving.
“Being in the service, they are very restricted on what they can talk about. They cannot really talk about their personal experience because they’re not allowed to criticize the administration because they serve for the administration. And while granted I was just a cadet, I can relate to these transgender servicemen and women, and I am able to talk for them and I am a voice of advocacy for them.”
While emotions run high and opinions vary, Dosh also hopes to educate others on what it actually feels like being transgender.
“What it feels like to be transgender is like being left or right handed. Most of us are right handed. But if you were taught at a young age you have to use your left hand or you have to use your right hand if you’re left handed … And you can’t explain why, you have no idea why, it just feels wrong. After years of practice, you might even get really good at using your left or right hand. But all of a sudden you switch to the other hand, and even if you’re out of practice with it, it just feels right and natural. That is exactly what being transgender feels like.”
Dosh remains hopeful – for acceptance and the possibility of eventually receiving her commission. Either way, she will continue to tell her story in the hopes that it helps others.
“I don’t feel spite toward the academy or to the Pentagon or to the military as a whole. I don’t feel spiteful about it at all. Of course, it is very disappointing, I will say that. So many of these people who reacted negatively don’t know me or know someone who is transgender. They don’t know anything about the transgender policy in most cases.”
“There’s so much misunderstanding that has happened and there’s such an emotional response which causes this negativity. And so I feel being that I’m out of the service now my biggest role is to teach that and educate people on what it actually means to be transgender and what it means to be transgender in the military,” Dosh added.