By Michael Vernon Voss
Naval Weapons Station Yorktown Public Affairs
NAVAL WEAPONS STATION YORKTOWN, VA -- As part of the Naval Weapons Station Yorktown Command Managed Equal Opportunity program, Sailors and Civilian employees assigned here came together to observe Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender month the contributions of LGBT service members.
The event, held 22 June, was organized by the WPNSTA Yorktown History Heritage Committee to reaffirm the understanding that through diversity we are stronger.
Not dissimilar to the heritage committee’s other monthly observances, this event’s guest speaker relates to the struggle of being what the world expects and who you are. That guest speaker was Tracey Swinarsky, a current member of the Equality Virginia’s Transgender Advocacy Speakers Bureau who often delivers speeches of equality and inclusion.
Relying on a lifetime of personal experience, Swinarsky detailed the riveting truth of what it is like to be “different” and the importance of understanding and acceptance.
Swinarsky served in the Army during the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” era. "Don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) was the official United States policy, instituted by the Clinton Administration, prohibiting openly gay to serve in the military that stood for 18 years until former President Barack Obama signed the repeal into law on December 22, 2010.
“We lost a lot of good people in the military (before the repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell) due simply to their sexuality, and not all of them by coming public, but some because of not wanting to live a lie,” said Swinarsky.
Swinarsky explained her story of struggling from a young age with feeling trapped in her skin, wanting to dress like a girl and feeling rejected are some of the ups and downs the now 56-year-old transgender woman experienced.
“This is my story, it may not be every LBGT’s story, but it is mine,” said Swinarsky. “In the 1970s there wasn’t much information on being transgender so I struggled with a lot acceptance.”
Swinarsky didn’t have an easy childhood growing up. She knew pretty early on in her life that something was different about herself. By the age 12, she knew she wanted to be a girl, but after being rejected by her parents, she tried to suppress the longing to be a female. Much like her friends Swinarsky had girlfriends and rode bicycles like other kids, but she felt like she did not belong in her own body.
“The first time I met with a doctor about what was going on in my head and transitioning to be a female I was only 16, but when it came to going through with the surgery I hesitated,” said Swinarsky. “I thought the feeling would just go away because that is what I had been told several times by my mother and father.”
Instead Swinarsky opted to focus on a passion she had developed for music, which later became her escape from the feelings boiling inside of her. She went on to be such a talented musician that she played in college and later joined the Army Band, and it was during this her time in the service that Swinarsky discovered she could no longer continue to live a life as a man.
While living in Berlin, as a married man with a daughter, Swinarsky received the opportunity to visit a concentration camp where she remembers vividly identifying with the prisoner experience. In efforts to help aid her marriage and control her emotions Tracey decided to see multiple therapists.
“What do you think?” she asked them after detailing her story. Both doctors agreed that she was a transsexual. Unfortunately Swinarsky’s wife rejected her, the marriage ended in divorce and Tracey often struggled with suicide. Finally, at the age of 43, Swinarsky had the more than $100,000 surgery. Today, Swinarsky says she would not have it any other way, as she is finally who she thought she was supposed to be.
“If you spend your life as a secret, worried about what others think about who you are, you are going to have self-esteem and trust issues,” said Swinarsky. “All anyone wants from others is love and respect. If sharing my story helps others recognize get that love and respect than it is worth it.”
As Swinarsky explained she doesn’t feel it requires a vast amount of courage to share her story, she feels it is a responsibility to share her story so that others may do things like service in the military or work in jobs without fear of losing them because of their ethnicity or sexual orientation.
“In that sense I believe Ms. Swinarsky and I have the same goal in common,” said WPNSTA Yorktown Command Master Chief Michael Jones. “Someone’s sexual orientation doesn’t affect their ability to serve. To me it matters more what is in between their ears and if their heart is into service.”
WPNSTA Yorktown’s senior enlisted leader also detailed what having guest speakers like Ms. Swinarsky come be a part of the Installation’s History and Heritage Committee Observances means to the mission.
“Ms. Swinarsky has a compelling story of trial and acceptance and we are better for sharing that experience. This is why we bring in our guest speakers and hold these voluntary-attendance observances,” said Jones. “Diversity is the key to mission success. The only thing I and we all should see when we look at a Sailor, Solder, Airmen or Marine is the uniform, not the color of their skin or who they love, but their contribution to mission success.”
(Seaman Justice Powell contributed to this article.)