Trans Reservist Becomes Public Advocate
Sage Fox’s military career began in 1993 when she enlisted in the Army and was deployed to Tahiti. She then spent several years working for the Army chief of staff at the Pentagon.
After a decade out of the armed forces, Fox returned in 2008 and became a direct commission officer with the Army Reserves. Stationed at the B T Collins Reserve Center in Sacramento, Fox was sent to Kuwait in 2012 where she managed $50 million in projects and oversaw 70 personnel.
For most of her military career Fox had served as a man. Yet during her deployment in the Middle East, Fox decided to transition to a woman.
By December 2012 Fox had returned to the states and was placed on the inactive ready reserves list. She started taking hormones, enrolled in graduate school, and divorced from her wife.
During this time she received a promotion to captain and underwent surgery to have several ribs removed due to a shoulder injury. The medical procedure, however, prompted the military to inform Fox she could no longer be listed as inactive.
Rather, she needed to be back in uniform in order to be evaluated by a medical review board. The process, she was told, could last up to a year.
"It was the right thing to do," said Fox, "but the catch was I am a female now. As far as California and the federal government are concerned, I am female."
Fox, 41, had legally changed her name and gender, and due to the hormones she was taking, had developed physical changes so that she no longer presented as a man.
"I was not going to cut my hair or shower with the guys because I am not a guy," explained Fox about the prospect of having to go back on active duty.
She informed her commander about her gender transition and was told she could rejoin as female. Now classified as a signal officer for the Army Reserve, Fox took part in a training weekend in November 2013.
"I had no issues," she recalled.
Nonetheless, two weeks later in an email sent to Fox and 400 of her fellow reservists, she was transferred to the individual ready reserve. The move, Fox believes, was due to her being in violation of the Pentagon’s ban against transgender people from serving in the military.
"I was told to take the orders and go away, pretty much," said Fox. "It was easier to follow the policy than have me setting precedent. As far as I know, I was the first person invited back to serve under a new gender."
Captain Eric W. Connor, the deputy chief spokesman for the Army Reserve, confirmed that Fox had been placed on the individual ready reserve list in November last year. He said it is unclear when her "permanent separation" from the military will be finalized.
"When you are separated from the armed forces you are no longer considered a service member," said Connor.
Stressing he was not speaking directly about Fox’s case, Connor noted that under current Department of Defense "policy and guidelines a soldier or service member who chooses a transgender lifestyle he or she cannot serve in the armed forces."
Fox would like to be officially discharged from the Army Reserve so she can join the California State Military Reserve and serve as its LGBT outreach coordinator. The all-volunteer, unarmed force acts as the state’s militia and assists with the California National Guard during emergency events, such as earthquakes or wildfires, when called up by the governor.
"As a transgender woman she is working to resign her position so she can then join our state military reserve. Federal law prohibits you from being in both," explained Shannon Terry, deputy director of government affairs for the California Military Department and an Army captain in the California National Guard.
Due to the military’s ban on transgender service members, Fox is barred from joining the state National Guard.
"It is unfortunate," said Terry, who is straight but described herself as a strong advocate for the LGBT community.
The California Military Department, which will participate for the second year in Sacramento Pride this Saturday, is supportive of seeing the Pentagon overturn its ban against transgender service members, said Darrin Bender, director of government affairs for the state agency. Bender, a lieutenant colonel in the state military reserve, added that the department believes having Fox become a member of the state’s militia will set an example for how anachronistic the Pentagon’s policy is.
"By bringing Sage into the ranks, and allowing her to advocate as a member of a military organization, we believe will be a good example for the federal government that you can integrate transgender soldiers into your force. It is seamless and not an issue."
Fox would become the first out transgender member of the California Military Reserve, Bender said.