2 Transgender Veterans Find Courage — And Sisterhood — Off The Battlefield | WAMC

2 Transgender Veterans Find Courage — And Sisterhood — Off The Battlefield

Jul 1, 2018
Originally published on August 15, 2018 3:54 pm

StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative records stories from members of the U.S. military and their families.

Sue McConnell and Kristyn Weed both entered the military in the 1970s. But they also share another kind of sisterhood.

When McConnell, 65, and Weed, 64, came out to their respective families as transgender, they both say they weren't accepted. In a recent StoryCorps conversation, the two veterans talk about how they found support through one another.

McConnell, a Navy veteran, says she was about 50 years old when she started transitioning to a woman. "My son disowned me," she says. "He told his mother that he didn't want anything to do with 'the f****** freak.' So I don't get to talk to my grandson or my granddaughter."

Weed, who says she didn't start transitioning until she was 58, says she's had a similar experience. "Both my daughters disowned me."

Growing up in Cleveland, McConnell says, "I always knew there was something different. I didn't like the same things the other boys did. You know, they wanted to play Army and cowboys and Indians. And I wanted to be the girl on the wagon that was sewing and making coffee."

"But you know, I had to be who I wasn't so that I could survive," says McConnell, who served in the Vietnam War.

Weed can empathize. She served 15 years of active duty in the Army — part of that time as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division.

"The units I was in, the soldiers were pretty hard-charging, so that was the image you had to portray," she says. "I didn't start wearing women's clothes until I was out of the military. I wouldn't do it because I was afraid."

In 2013, Weed and McConnell met for the first time at a weekly transgender support group provided by the Southern Arizona VA Health Care Service in Tucson.

They hit it off immediately. "We started joking and then just like nitpicking at each other and stuff," Weed says.

"People said, 'Well you guys really are sisters!' " McConnell says. "We do sit around and talk a lot."

One favorite spot they share is Denny's, where the staff all know them, McConnell says. As she remembers, "We would sit in Denny's for coffee at like two o'clock in the afternoon —"

Sue McConnell (left) and Kristyn Weed are regulars at Denny's in Tucson, Ariz., where the best friends say they often talk for hours.
Courtesy of Kristyn Weed

"And leave there at 10 o'clock at night," Weed says, finishing McConnell's sentence.

"She flirts with all the waitresses," McConnell says of Weed.

Despite the teasing, the two women are grateful for the bond they share. "You know," Weed says, "it hurts to have lost my daughters, but I found out love is not a two-way street and love is not unconditional."

"It is for some of us," McConnell says, nodding to their own close relationship.

"You're always there for me," Weed says. "There's never a doubt or question as to whether you would be or not."

"You are my sister," McConnell says.

"I'm glad of it," Weed says.

Weed has plans to get married this fall. McConnell, naturally, will be officiating.

Audio produced for Weekend Edition by Liyna Anwar.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Time now for StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative, recording the stories of veterans and their loved ones. Today a story of courage on and off the battlefield. We'll hear from two Vietnam-era vets who share another kind of sisterhood. Sue McConnell and Kristyn Weed are transgender women.

KRISTYN WEED: I didn't start transitioning till I was 58.

SUE MCCONNELL: I guess I was 50.

WEED: How'd your family accept you?

MCCONNELL: Well, my son disowned me. He told his mother that he didn't want anything to do with the [expletive] freak. So I don't get to talk to my grandson or my granddaughter.

WEED: My family's similar to yours.

MCCONNELL: Your daughter disowned you?

WEED: Both my daughters disowned me. Yeah.

MCCONNELL: Yeah.

WEED: Yeah.

MCCONNELL: When I was growing up, I always knew there was something different. I didn't like the same things the other boys did. You know, they wanted to play Army and cowboys and Indians, and I wanted to be the girl on the wagon that was sewing and making coffee (laughter).

WEED: Right.

MCCONNELL: But, you know, I had to be who I wasn't so that I could survive.

WEED: I spent 15 years in the Army. And I enlisted of all places as a paratrooper, going to the 82nd Airborne Division. And the units I was in, the soldiers were pretty hard-charging, so that was the image you had to portray. I didn't start wearing women's clothes until I was out of the military. I wouldn't do it because I was afraid.

MCCONNELL: Oh, the military, yeah. But then we met at the transgender support group...

WEED: Yeah, the VA support group.

MCCONNELL: ...And we started joking and then just, like, nit picking at each other and stuff.

WEED: (Laughter).

MCCONNELL: And people said, well, you guys really are sisters. We do sit around and talk a lot. We would sit in Denny's for coffee at, like, 2 o'clock in the afternoon, and it would be dark...

WEED: And leave there at 10 o'clock at night.

MCCONNELL: Ten o'clock at night.

(LAUGHTER)

WEED: The servers all know us. The managers know us.

MCCONNELL: She flirts with all the waitresses.

WEED: Me?

MCCONNELL: Yes, you do.

WEED: (Laughter) We get a 20 percent military discount.

MCCONNELL: Yes, we do.

WEED: (Laughter). You know, it hurts to have lost my daughters. But I found out love is not a two-way street. Love's not unconditional.

MCCONNELL: It is for some of us.

WEED: You're always there for me. There's never a doubt or a question as to whether you would be or not.

MCCONNELL: You are my sister.

WEED: I'm glad of it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: That was Kristyn Weed and Sue McConnell in Tucson, Ariz. Kristyn's getting married this fall. Sue will officiate. Their story along with thousands of others will be archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.