ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Alexandra Marberry should have gone to flight school in October, but the 2015 Naval Academy graduate never made it to Pensacola, Fla.

Instead, the 23-year-old aspiring aviator works as an administrative assistant in a windowless office at the academy – in a male uniform.

Marberry is transgender. Her gender identity is different from the male body she was born into.

The Department of the Defense announced last year that it intends to allow transgender people to serve openly, and the Pentagon announced the repeal of its ban Thursday. The full policy must be completely implemented no later than July 1, 2017.

Because Marberry revealed her gender identity, her career has been on hold, and her gender transition is at an impasse. She is required to keep her hair short, use male bathrooms and meet male physical requirements, despite being on female hormones. Her trimmed eyebrows, smooth jawline and feminine silhouette don’t match the required male uniform – garnering a mix of sir’s and ma’am’s from passers-by.

Instead of piloting airplanes, she files paperwork and helps plan academy events.

“This is my dream career,” she said. “And I’m sitting here atrophying.”

Marberry is one of an estimated 15,500 soldiers, airmen, Marines and sailors who had been waiting to find out if they would be permitted to serve their country as the gender they identify with. Medical regulations banning transgender service have been in place, but military separations had been effectively halted.

The Department of Defense’s review raises questions about how the military would address preferred gender pronouns, housing arrangements, fitness standards, uniform and grooming requirements, and to what extent the military health care system would offer hormone therapy and gender-affirming surgery.


For Marberry, her aviation aspirations took a back seat to honesty.

“I was done hiding for four years,” she said.

When she was growing up, Marberry said, she knew two things for sure.

One was that she wanted to be in the military. The other was that she is female.

Raised and home-schooled by a Christian family in conservative Lubbock, Texas, Marberry battled herself. Her desire to be a girl conflicted with what she was taught about right and wrong.

“I’m the only one, I feel weird like this, and I can’t tell anyone that I feel this way because it’s so weird,” she thought.

Marberry didn’t come out to her family until 2013, halfway through her time at the academy. Her dad was the first to know.

“I remember he didn’t understand it at first, and when he started to realize I actually want to transition, this isn’t just dressing up, being a very conservative Christian guy, he was like ‘No this is the path to death. This is a demon we need to get out of you,'” she said. “He believed at the time, maybe even still now, that this is identical to being gay, and being gay is against the Bible.”


After the federal “don’t ask, don’t tell” law was repealed in 2010, lesbians, gays and bisexuals were permitted to serve openly in the military.

Marberry recalled that some midshipmen celebrated the announcement of the repeal.

“Everyone is like ‘Yay! Game over.’ And I’m just sitting there like, ‘Hello?’ ”

The military ban on transgender service is based on Department of Defense medical standards – both physical and psychological.

The standards prohibit a change of sex and “psychosexual conditions” including “transsexualism … and other paraphilias.”

The first anti-transgender U.S. military regulation was in 1983, three years after the American Psychiatric Association first recognized gender identity disorders or “transsexualism,” said Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, a research institute.

The regulation followed military medical rules against cross-dressing in 1942 and genital modification in 1961, Belkin said.

“The 1961 genital modification ban was intended for surgical reconstruction of ambiguous genitalia in infants or children – intersex conditions – not what we think of today as gender transition surgery,” he said. “In the 1980s, however, the military started to rely on the 1961 ‘change of sex’ rule to fortify its new ban on transgender persons (in contrast to cross-dressers), even though that was not its original purpose.”

Since then, those rules have affected both accession and retention standards, said Paula Neira, an LGBT military expert who is a trans woman, academy graduate and lawyer.

“If you had any idea that you were a transgender individual, that would bar you from service under the psychological regulations,” she said. “If you had any history of a sex change, that would bar you from service. If you were in the process of transitioning, you were barred.”

Discrimination based on gender identity is prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. But it does not apply to the military, and therefore doesn’t apply to Marberry.

After graduation, Marberry realized she couldn’t continue living a double life. Before leaving for flight school that fall, she notified her academy superiors about her identity and was disqualified from flight school. Officials said she had “gender identity disorder,” although that term is no longer recognized by the American Psychiatric Association.

With the policy announcement, Marberry may be the closest any transgender Naval Academy graduate has come to serving openly for her entire career.

“I need to serve with integrity or not at all,” she said.