Transgender Awareness Week, Nov. 13-19, helps raise the visibility of transgender people and address issues they face. This is one Veteran’s story.
For 39 years, not a single soul knew of her secret.
Finally, free to be who she has always longed to be, Army Veteran Francis Garcia is now able to express her true and pure self.
“Since I was very young, I had no idea what being transgender was, all I know is I would go to bed and ask God – God wake me up as a girl,” Garcia said. “I would pray and pray and wake up each time as not a girl.”
Depression struck her deep as each year passed and as she remained caged in a man’s body. On the brink of taking her own life, she did not let her fear decide her fate.
Doing what she never fathomed to do, she told her VA doctor — “I am transgender.”
As the words left her mouth, she felt a huge wave of relief and fear all at once.
“I knew I was living as somebody that I was not,” she said. “I knew that there was more to me.”
Taking the journey at her own pace and recognizing that it is not a race to the finish line, she has gradually grown into the woman she is today.
The VA serves all who served. Garcia found throughout her life-changing decision, the Orlando VA views her as a person, not as a box to check.
“They are definitely in your corner,” she said. “The VA has been more than a support system; they are my biggest cheerleaders.”
Each step Garcia took was with the guidance and support of Keri Griffin, Orlando VA LGBTQ+ Special Emphasis Program Manager.
Three years ago, butterflies swarmed Garcia’s stomach when she first met Griffin to again speak of what she never thought would become a reality.
“I have to say, I was so concerned for her when she first came to me, but she continued to work towards her deep feeling of what her authentic self should be,” Griffin said. “I know, and she knows, she still has work to do but thankfully she is ready and willing to do it with the VA and her wife’s and kids’ support.”
Griffin has been more than a counselor for Garcia. She has become a friend, the light at the end of the tunnel and the strength to pursue her heart her way.
“I wouldn’t know what to do without Keri,” Garcia said. “She has been my biggest coach. She knew what I wanted, she knew what I needed, and she helped to get me there. I protect my bond with Keri like there is nothing else in the world. In the military we have battle buddies protecting your six, and I would without a doubt have Keri there.”
Taking both a brave and terrifying step toward what she prayed on her hands and knees for has made her journey worth it.
“When it comes to who I am, I am a very smart and beautiful female professional who has a good head on her shoulders to do what I need to achieve,” Garcia said.
Now Garcia wakes each morning as a woman and to the life she always desired to live.
Andrea Madrazo is a public affairs specialist at the Orlando VA Medical Center.