On Jan. 1, the U.S. military officially began accepting transgender people to serve openly, thanks to a federal court ruling last month. This is despite objections from the Trump administration.
Nicholas Bade, a 37-year-old transgender man from Chicago, is taking advantage of the ruling by taking steps to enlist in the U.S. Air Force. Bade, who started his transition in 2014, met with a recruiter Thursday morning on Chicago’s North Side.
Bade’s journey to join the military has been a long one. He first started meeting with a recruiter informally in 2015. Now, he’ll wait weeks or months to find out whether he’s been accepted.
Below are highlights from Bade’s conversation with WBEZ reporter Michael Puente.
On why he wants to enlist
Nicholas Bade: It’s been a lifelong ambition. Now that they are letting openly transgender people in to serve, it’s something I feel I need to follow up on. It’s something that I wanted to do as a teenager. I decided that I wasn’t very comfortable serving as a female. I was already very nonconforming, and as I moved forward with my transition, this came to light. It really wasn’t a question. It was a matter of this is something I always wanted to do, and now, I can do it as myself. I can do it openly.
On choosing the Air Force
Bade: I did some research in terms of branches and age limits. In 2015, when I was doing the research, 35 was too old for several branches. The Air Force would take you until you’re 39 and now it’s 40. That’s what started it. Now, having been involved and doing more research, I’m very comfortable with that choice. The Air Force seems like a really good job.
On the recruitment process
Bade: I’ve been talking to a recruiter since 2015 when I heard about this, talking to the same recruiter that I’m meeting today. I’ve met with him informally. Today is my first actual formal meeting because now I’m actually eligible. Everything up until now has been just him getting information, telling me what information to gather as far as medical records, stuff like that.
On waiting to find out if he’s accepted
Bade: From here on out, it’s a matter of literally getting everything in my life processed. They do background checks, credit checks. There’s also an aptitude test of math, science, so forth. And physical processing: physical, agility tests, eye test, hearing test, and so forth. And after that, you find out whether or not you qualified. You get to choose a job based on that. They decided your date for basic training.
On his family’s support
Bade: They honestly are excited. They are behind me. I was a little worried when I told them that they would be against it, but they see how passionate I am about it and they’ve been supportive. My close friends are the same. They see how excited I am about it especially since it’s so personal being a trans issue and they see how much research I’ve put into it, how much dedication I’ve got it. They are excited to see it moving forward. I’ve got nothing but positive responses.
On meeting military standards
Bade: As far as I know, I will have to go in and meet the standard as a male. In basic training, you have to do a certain number of push ups, sit ups, you have to run a certain distance in a certain time. It’s no different for male or female as far as I know. No difference for a trans person going in, held to all the same standards.
On President Donald Trump’s views on transgender people in the military
Bade: It’s not about the president or what anybody else thinks about you personally. The Pentagon has done the research. We are not a distraction or a disruption. They've decided that we are not too expensive, and that has held true.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.