Wednesday, 25 August 2021

Interview with Bree Fram


Monika: Today I have invited an inspirational woman. Lieutenant Colonel Bree Fram is the President of SPARTA, an organization that advocates and educates about transgender military service and is dedicated to the support and professional development of over 1200 transgender service members. She is currently the highest-ranking out transgender officer in the Department of Defense.
In addition, Bree is an active duty astronautical engineer in the US Air Force. Her writing has been featured in the Washington Post, Military Times, Inkstick, and LGBTQ Nation. She is the co-author of the forthcoming book With Honor and Integrity: Transgender Military Personnel in Their Own Words due out in November 2021. Hello Bree!
Bree: Hello Monika!
Monika: How are you doing in these crazy pandemic times?
Bree: We're getting by, though are concerned with the massive rise in cases of the delta variant. I'm hopeful that someday soon we can reach that magic of herd immunity with enough people getting their vaccines.
Monika: Let me start with a surprising question. :) Did you always want to be a soldier?
Bree: It may not be quite what you intended but no, I never wanted to be a soldier. The US Army used to run a commercial that said they do more before 9AM than most people do all day and for this night owl that made me sure I never wanted to be a soldier. An Airman though? It had crossed my mind but really wasn’t on my path until after I graduated school and the September 11th attacks occurred. That made me want to give back and serve my country and the Air Force was the best option that would allow me to do that and pursue my passion for space exploration. Now, 20 years later, I’m a member of the Space Force and am very excited for what the future holds.
Monika: You can boast an amazing military career. Could you say a few words about your military achievements?
Bree: I really can’t say that I have any personal military achievements, but the teams I’ve played a small part in sure do! However, the military has given me so many amazing opportunities to do things I never would have imagined. From designing missile-warning satellites to developing long-term plans and policy for the Air Force, to working as a legislative assistant for a congresswoman, to developing cutting-edge counter-drone technology, it’s been a wild ride.

"I’ve also got an amazing family and wonderful friends that stuck
by me through everything."

Monika: I have interviewed a couple of girls that decided to transition while being in the army. It is not the easiest workplace to transition, isn’t it?
Bree: Some people have faced significant challenges, but I believe the military to be a place where we’re primarily valued for our ability to contribute to the mission of the unit. If you can do that, the transition can be seen as an opportunity for the individual to be better at what they do and for the unit to be more successful. When an individual no longer has to hide who they are they can dedicate all that mental (and sometimes physical!) energy that they formerly used to protect their identity to the mission.
Monika: You came out as transgender on the day the transgender ban in the military was dropped in 2016. It must have been a symbolic day for you. What were your feelings when a year later President Trump’s administration started actions aiming at removing transgender people from the army?
Bree: The primary feeling was a shock. No one saw it coming. After the shock came thoughts around what we can do about it and how to reassure transgender service members that they still had a job to do. We had to rally everyone to lace up their boots, go to work, and continue accomplishing their assigned mission unless ordered to stop.
Monika: It seems that the current federal administration is aiming at many improvements for the transgender community. What are your expectations in this regard?
Bree: I’m excited about the focus on LGBTQ equality and the opportunities that will provide for so many people. It’s also wonderful to see them focus on young transgender people as they did during the White House Convening on Transgender Equality. Still, unless additional legal protections can be put in place, it may be all too easy for a future administration to reverse course.
Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBT communities? Being the last letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBT group?
Bree: We’re always stronger when we work together with friends and allies to advance the causes of human and civil rights. Not only can we learn from one another, but we can also benefit from each other’s strengths. While trans people do have some unique circumstances where we need to be our own best advocates and we need to lift up trans voices, having allies is always a value-added activity.

""I believe the military to be a place where we’re primarily valued
for our ability to contribute to the mission of the unit. If you can do
that, the transition can be seen as an opportunity for the individual
to be better at what they do and for the unit to be more successful."

Monika: In a couple of months “With Honor and Integrity: Transgender Military Personnel in Their Own Words” is going to be published. Could you elaborate more on this book?
Bree: The book starts by telling the history of the fight for open transgender service in the United States military. But at its core, it’s a collection of stories by transgender individuals who have served or are currently serving in the military. In their words, it relates the devastating challenges they’ve faced, the peaks they’ve reached, and many of the poignant moments in between. It will be available this November from all major retailers. You can find out more at nyupress.org.
Monika: We all pay the highest price for the fulfillment of our dreams to be ourselves. As a result, we lose our families, friends, jobs, and social positions. Did you pay such a high price as well? What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Bree: I have been incredibly lucky in my personal journey and haven’t suffered through much of that. I have a lot of privilege from being white, accomplished in my field, and holding a senior officer rank to thank for much of that. I’ve also got an amazing family and wonderful friends that stuck by me through everything. Still, it hasn’t been all good. My wife bore the brunt of the losses with her parents not speaking to her for over a year after I came out and permanently losing many other family members and longtime friends. Her pain in going through that was definitely the hardest thing to go through.
Monika: We are said to be prisoners of passing or non-passing syndrome. Although cosmetic surgeries help to overcome it, we will always be judged accordingly. How can we cope with this?
Bree: Everyone has different coping mechanisms that work best for them as individuals, I always focus on the positives around me. I look at the opportunities that being out and being authentic have brought to me. I see being transgender as a chance to reach our full potential as humans, where we could have been good or even great, we couldn’t be our best without embracing our authentic self. So I always take heart in the fact that I’ve been given this amazing gift of opportunity to be my best.
Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow or followed?
Bree: I took a lot of inspiration and courage from people who shared their journeys through blogs and websites and yes, bulletin boards. Growing up at the dawn of the Internet era made it much easier to realize I wasn’t alone in who I was and that other people had been through similar things.

"My wife bore the brunt of the losses with her parents
not speaking to her for over a year after I came out
and permanently losing many other family members
and longtime friends. Her pain in going through that
was definitely the hardest thing to go through."

Now, my heroes are many of the folks who work so tirelessly on behalf of all of us to make the world a better place. The work that the members of SPARTA do every day to show just how valuable they are to the military is incredible.
I’m also forever awed by the parents of transgender kids and their fierce defense of their children. Those kids who are pushing the envelope of society’s view of transgender people are just as amazing. I recently got to meet Stella Keating and Ashton Mota, teenagers with the Gendercool project at gendercool.org, and seeing their poise and eloquence at their ages was incredible. Kids like them are my transgender heroes, they’re going to change the world.
Monika: Do you remember the first time when you saw a transgender woman on TV or met anyone transgender in person?
Bree: There were a fair number of transgender women on daytime talk TV as I grew up in the late 80s and early 90s, but they were all too often products of sensationalism. I don’t think I knowingly met another transgender woman until sometime around 2012 when I went to a support group in Denver as a way to meet people and begin exploring my identity. Some of the ladies I met there became amazing friends that I’m still in touch with today. In fact, I just got back from a vacation to Colorado and was hosted by a few of them, one even climbed a mountain with me.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Bree: It’s not an easy time to be a transgender woman, particularly for transgender women of color. Discrimination, fear, and hatred are very real and very dangerous. We lose far too many transgender women of color each year to violence. Still, we are moving slowly in the right direction, though so much more can be done. I often think of trans rights and circumstances as 10-20 years behind gay rights.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Bree: Hah! I usually wear a camouflage uniform.
Monika: By the way, do you like being complimented on your looks?
Bree: Who doesn’t? But more seriously, I’d rather be complimented for doing the right things, doing the difficult things, living a good life, supporting the amazing people in my life, and hopefully for leaving the world a better place.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Bree: Love is incredibly important. It’s hard to imagine my life without the love that infuses it from my wonderful family, my incredible friends, and the shared love that comes from this community.

"I’ll be continuing to work on behalf of transgender
service members to get laws passed that protect their
opportunity to serve so that we don’t have the roller
coaster of the past five years repeat itself."

Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Bree: I’ve written one book and am in the process of writing another. Though not memoirs, there’s an awful lot of me in the pages. In the future? Perhaps. I’d like to think I have a lot more story to develop as my journey continues.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Bree: That’s a hard question to answer! There’s an awful lot going on for me right now. I just began a new military assignment where I hope to contribute to the development of policies that develop the Space Force into a 21st century (and beyond!) military service.
I’ll be continuing to work on behalf of transgender service members to get laws passed that protect their opportunity to serve so that we don’t have the roller coaster of the past five years repeat itself. I’ve also got book writing and a family all to keep me more than busy. So 5-7 years? I’d say more of the same!
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender women that are afraid of transition?
Bree: That’s such an intensely personal question, surrounded by the circumstances of an individual’s life, that I wouldn’t generalize. What I can relate is that in my journey, and in that of many that I’ve spoken with or written about, the power, beauty, and joy of authenticity is incredible.
Monika: My pen friend Gina Grahame wrote to me once that we should not limit our potential because of how we were born or by what we see other transgender people doing. Our dreams should not end on an operating table; that’s where they begin. Do you agree with this?
Bree: Not entirely. I’ve never felt that surgery makes a person. For some, it’s necessary, for others it’s not. I care far more about what’s in someone’s head and heart than what’s in their pants. However, I do see authentic living as an amazing opportunity to reach our full potential as individuals.
Monika: Bree, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot! 
Bree: Thanks for having me.

All the photos: courtesy of Bree Fram.
© 2021 - Monika Kowalska

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