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OutServe Magazine | April 14, 2013

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Sticking the Landing

Sticking the Landing

Finding Pride in Being Trans

By Brynn Tannehill

I am not proud of how I handled being trans for most of my life. I ran from it, I was dishonest, and in the end, the people I love most had to ride it out with me.

But I am proud of how I stuck the landing.

As an experienced H-60 airframe helicopter aircraft commander, you knew the engines were having problems for way too long, but you tried to stretch it and get home anyway. Big mistake. Less than halfway home, with a bang and then eerie silence, things just got much, much worse. Ng, TGT, rotor RPM are all dropping. Yup. Both #1 and #2 are gone. The last landing zone you remember is way behind you. You doubt you have enough altitude and airspeed to make it back to that LZ, but it’s still a better option than any of the terrain in front of you. Ejection’s not an option, this is a helo. Even if it were, there are three packs in back who have no idea how bad it is up front. They’re counting on you to pull something off that you all can walk away from. No pressure.

That’s how it felt being 35 years old, married, with three small children, and coming to grips with the reality that I am a trans. My marriage was disintegrating around me, even though the signs of it were mostly the awful quiet around us. It was my fault for not being honest about the situation from the start. The lies compounded upon the lies. But there we were, and how we got there was irrelevant to figuring out how to survive now.

Drop the collective. Enter the autorotation. Set the nose for 100 knots, maximum distance airspeed. Roll right to 45 degrees and look for the spot. Your co-pilot is going out on guard calling mayday and our position. No answer. Altitude is bleeding off so fast itís almost not worth looking at. Where’s that damned spot? 

I had no idea what would happen when I came out to my wife. She desperately looked for assistance from other spouses who had come through their partner transitioning. All she found were those whose marriages ended badly. Neither of us knew what we were going to do. Mostly it was pick a direction, aim for it, and hope. Still, we knew the odds were very bad.

LZ’s in sight. And you’re not going to make it. 

When I started transition, the challenges looked insurmountable. How would we avoid my father’s religious wrath? How would I hold onto my job? Where would the money for transition come from? How would we hold a marriage together? How would the children handle it? How would we? I could see a good end point, just not how to get there.

There’s a flat area in front of the LZ though. Looks like tall grass, but God only knows what terrain is underneath.

One by one, the obstacles were overcome. Sometimes things went as planned. Sometimes they didn’t. The plans were constantly changing to meet new realities. I had no idea if they would actually work, I just had to pray that they did.

100 feet of altitude left. Start the gradual flare. Trade airspeed for distance. Stretch it.

Originally, I had carefully mapped out my transition with HR to last 18 months. It was supposed to be as graceful a change as possible.

60 feet and 60 knots pulling to 20 degrees nose up. Control RPM with collective. It feels like you’re standing on the tail as the airspeed bleeds off. The maneuver feels violent, and now everything seems to be moving too quickly for comfort.

My carefully laid out transition plan came crashing down when the Air Force cancelled the Global Hawk program and most of the R&D programs that went with it. I had to find a new job and finish my transition at the same time. What was to be 18 months was now down to three.

20 feet, 25 degrees nose up, and 10 knots. Rotor RPM is starting decay. Rock the nose forward hard, pull an armload full of collective, and pray.

Two rounds of surgery, a name change, a court date, and a harrowing meeting with my parental unit later, I was about to start over again at my new job as Brynn. I had no idea if I could fit in. I had no idea how others in the new environment would react. But, I had committed to seeing it through.

You’re standing 50 yards upwind of the bird. Headcount is complete, and you’re all in relatively good shape. SAR team is inbound. The bird is upright, if beat up and bent. Somehow, it might only be a Class B to repair. You donít know if you’ll keep your wings for all the dumb decisions you made leading up to the engine failure. You can live with it, though; everyone was able to walk away. 

I’ve fully transitioned. I still have my family and a job. I still have my life. I still have old friends, and have made many new ones.

I can’t say I’m proud of being trans. It just is what it is, and I didn’t have a say in the matter.

I am not proud of how I handled being trans for most of my life. I ran from it, I was dishonest, and in the end, the people I love most had to ride it out with me.

But I am proud of how I stuck the landing.