Monday 29 January 2024

Interview with Veronica Zerrer

Monika: Today I am very happy to present to you the story of a charismatic woman and soldier. Veronica Zerrer grew up on a farm in Kansas and retired from the US Army in 1998 having served nearly twenty three years. She relocated to California after gender transition in 2000. She worked in Intelligence, was a Cavalry Scout, and commanded a company in an Armor Battalion. She held numerous staff jobs at the battalion, brigade, and division levels with the Army’s 1st and 35th Infantry Divisions. She is the author of “Memoirs of a Cold Warrior: A Novel” (2022). Hello Veronica!
Veronica: Hello Monika!
Monika: Did you always want to be a soldier?
Veronica: Oh yes. My earliest memories were of playing soldier, either alone or with my friends. I was fascinated by everything military. I read histories of the World Wars, the American Civil War. I used to listen to and enjoy my father’s stories of his service during the Korean war.
Monika: You must have served in many exotic countries.
Veronica: The most interesting country I served in was Türkiye. The most enjoyable was being stationed on Guam. The coldest. Winter in Japan. The best coffee I ever have had in my life was in Germany. I’ve traveled to the Philippines, The Republic of China - Taiwan, Italy, Greece, and France.
Monika: What was your most challenging assignment? Intelligence?
Veronica: The most challenging thing about Intelligence gathering is struggling with the boredom. I was able to do both gathering and analyzing intelligence product. I much prefer analysis because of the opportunity to be a little creative in interpreting the significance of the collected information. When you gather the intelligence you are waiting, watching for something to happen - for hours on end.
The most challenging assignment was as a Public Affairs Officer for an Infantry Division. The press always likes to seize upon a narrative that they believe characterizes the military operation that they are covering. Often that narrative is completely ancillary or minor to the significant combat operations that a unit is conducting. It really tests the patience of the person who keeps getting asked different questions about the same issue.
Monika: I guess the army is not the most trans friendly environment.
Veronica: No, it is not. In fact, when I was stationed at Fort Knox a fellow officer related a story of his former commander being discovered off base in DRAG and being summarily dismissed from the service. This happened in 1990. Since then America has opened service to all LGBTQ people. While officially folks like us can serve, the discrimination still occurs.

"I have always encouraged transwomen and
transmen to pursue ‘credibility’ instead
of ‘passability.’"

Recently a US Navy sailor who is trans (female to male) related to me an experience he had on his Destroyer, where another sailor poured cleaning solvent into his opened can of soda. Unfortunately, the same acts happened to black Americans after the US military integrated in the late 1940s. So while we take two steps forward at times we have to endure the occassional one step back.
Monika: Did you ever meet any transgender woman while serving in the army?
Veronica: Yes I did. There was a sergeant that I knew in another unit who I met at a Trans event once in Kansas City. I also met many Gay and Lesbian soldiers at “Safe” events like DRAG shows and Gay bars.
Monika: In your novel, “Memoirs of a Cold Warrior: A Novel” (2022), Andy Lane (she/her) is born into the binary world of Cold War America. Assigned male at birth, she struggles to come to terms with identifying as female, believing that a colossal mistake has been made. As life goes on, she realizes the gender expectations of her from family and the farming world of the community in which she lives. She learns, early on, to play the part her world has created for her, hoping that being a warrior and finding a forever-love will be a “cure” that will let her live in peace with her body. She chases manhood while moving through the Army as an Airborne Ranger. Is Andy Lane a fictitious character?
Veronica: Yes. Andy is a fictional character. However, I overlaid some aspects of myself and experiences over Andy’s story arc. The part about looking for a forever-love and chasing manhood is accurate. Unfortunately the part about forgoing marriage and relationships is accurate as well. Just names and nationalities were changed.
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?
Veronica: The hardest thing I did was coming out to my parents as trans. It took over 180 hours of counseling to accept that I must not feel guilty about their reactions.
I grew up in a very Catholic family. My father especially had a hard time accepting me as trans so his default reaction was to seek out spiritual guidance from a Priest. Well, he got a good one as the Priest told him that there was reason for him to feel good as a parent because “your child came to you to tell you. Many trans men and women do not.”
Monika: Why did you choose Veronica for your name?
Veronica: Well, I love this question: I grew up being called Ronnie (nickname for Ronald). I always thought I wanted to make the transition for my family as easy as possible so chose the nickname first. In the US the standard nickname for Veronica is ‘Ronnie.’ My family and friends adjusted fairly well. My Latina friends from Mexico refer to me as ‘Vero.’’
Available via Amazon.
While doing some research on the source of the name ‘Veronica’ it is thought that it is a combination of the Latin words true (vero) and image (icon).
Monika: Was your family surprised by your transition?
Veronica: Yes. They did a dance of acceptance versus resistance for years. It is necessary for us who are trans to understand that our families mourn our loss as a brother, sister, or son, daughter, niece or nephew. The best virtue we can nurture is patience, trusting that they will eventually get to a place of acceptance.
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?
Veronica: I have always encouraged transwomen and transmen to pursue ‘credibility’ instead of ‘passability.’ Once you are comfortable with yourself you will exude a persona that is credible as a woman or man.
I have a friend who is a big girl. She looks like she could play Linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs. But when we go to dinner she dresses in a “California Casual” manner in Capri pants, sandals, a flouncy top, and a matronly hat. She looks like any other woman her age. Her hats are distinctive enough that most people believe her to be the widow of a wealthy spouse.
Monika: Do you remember the first time you saw a transgender woman on TV or met anyone transgender in person that opened your eyes and allowed you to realize who you are?
Veronica: A ‘Bugs Bunny’ cartoon where Bugs was dressed as Brunhilda in a skit singing Wagner’s opera Ride of the Valkyries.
Monika: Did you have any transgender sisters around you that supported you during the transition?
Veronica: Oh yes. I had a very supportive group of trans sisters and a very important mentor in the town I transitioned in. I also had a great support group of friends who were natal women. Or in the comical words of one friend who referred to herself as a “Lifer.”
Monika: I remember copying my sister and mother first, and later other women, trying to look 100% feminine, and my cis female friends used to joke that I try to be a woman that does not exist in reality. Did you experience the same?
Veronica: Yes. Luckily my time spent at that stage was very short - about two months. But I think it is a stage that we all go through. Just like we have to go through the dressing like we’re sixteen years old. Later on, with more experience we learn a specific style that makes us comfortable.
Monika: Are you involved in the life of the local LGBTQ community?
Veronica: Yes I am. I am a member of the San Diego LGBT Community Center’s Veterans Wall of Honor Advisory Council. In the USA GLBT men and women were prohibited from serving in the military until 2012. The Veterans Wall of Honor commemorates the service these men and women gave to their country. The Advisory Council ensures that we find these people to honor them for their service to the US Constitution. Some of those people have been trained jet pilots, combat veterans, and commanders of companies and ships.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Veronica: We all crave love and partnership. I have been fortunate to find an enduring love with my partner Michelle. I was gifted to experience love as a man and woman in this life. It is a marvelous revelation to be able to receive such a gift.

"I am a member of the San Diego LGBT Community
Center’s Veterans Wall of Honor Advisory Council."

Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Veronica: Not really. There are enough autobiographies and memoirs out there. My own story is quite common. That’s why I wrote my book as a novel. However, I do want to write stories that feature strong trans characters in uncommon situations.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender women who are afraid of transition?
Veronica: First of all listen to your fears. They’re trying to tell you something. What that is only you are going to know. The second is to know why you want to transition. Be honest with yourself. The third thing is to take inventory of all the gains and losses you may incur when you do transition. While you may gain congruity of identity you may lose family, partner, friends, career and jobs. Also consider cross-living for a while in a different city or country to see how you like it. In other words, do not rush transition. Time is on your side - use it.
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?
Veronica: Gina speaks truth. I wish I was as congruent before transition as I feel after. I don’t think I achieved my full personal, work and career potential until after transition and surgery! We all spend decades struggling with the ‘gender-chatter’ in our heads. It has the effect of taking up so much mind-space that we can have trouble focusing on being super at our jobs or relationships.
Monika: Veronica, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!
Veronica: Monika, thank you for having me. It was a privilege to sit for your interview!
Erica: You’re welcome, Monika! You had some very interesting questions!

All the photos: courtesy of Veronica Zerrer.
© 2024 - Monika Kowalska

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