Jordan Lively, a specialist in the US Army, hated using the women’s facilities at basic training and wearing the cinched top of a woman’s uniform.
His wife, Malaina Lively, hated lying to friends and family about his gender before he came out to them as a transgender man. She hated the toll the secret took on their relationship.
But as soon as Jordan spoke his truth to a therapist, he faced another decision:
Would he come out to his command and start transitioning under the Trump administration’s policy limiting transgender people from serving?
The new policy, which took effect on April 12, prevents transgender people from joining the military as new recruits unless they are willing to serve in the sex they were assigned at birth, in what’s widely regarded as a de facto ban.
Yet those who began – or had since finished – transitioning under the military’s short-lived open service policy could continue serving openly under certain conditions.
Now, many wonder how long the stalemate between the administration and active transgender troops will last – and what could come next.
The updated policy affected an estimated 14,700 transgender troops, most of whom faced a difficult choice in the weeks before the effective date arrived: whether to out themselves prematurely, remain closeted, or face being discharged.
The Department of Defense says the policy aims to ensure a military force that is “worldwide deployable and combat effective.”
It is not a ban, a spokesperson said in an email to CNN, but “a policy on gender dysphoria,” a condition in which a person’s gender does not match the sex they were assigned at birth.
The updated policy excludes prospective recruits who have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria from serving, even though no evidence suggests that gender dysphoria impairs readiness. And the policy nevertheless allows active transgender troops diagnosed with gender dysphoria before April 12 to serve openly.
Or so it seems, for the time being.
With the April 12 “deadline” looming, Jordan said he obtained a diagnosis of gender dysphoria to avoid having to choose between a job he loved and being himself. As long as he had the diagnosis, he could choose if and when to come out to his command and start transitioning.
“I wanted that choice to be mine, regardless of the ban,” he said.
It turned out to be a positive step forward for him, but the policy has left others in limbo while shutting out prospective troops at a time when recruitment goals are not being met.
Meanwhile, Jordan’s wife worries that President Trump might still do something to interrupt her husband’s service – or his transition.
“I feel like he wants an army of people just like him and I fear that he’s going to do something incredibly insane to get what he wants,” Malaina said.
Jordan echoes her concern, albeit in less strident tones. He’s still serving, after all, and the President is his commander in chief. But he does not take for granted that on any day, a single tweet could upend his world, just like it did two years ago.
‘The military is the troops and their families’
Now that Jordan is out, the couple is focused on finding their people in the military community of Colorado Springs, Colorado.
They moved here almost two years ago for Jordan’s job as a combat medic. Although he’s based out of Fort Carson, he’s gone for months at a time on deployment, providing emergency medical treatment to infantry and reconnaissance platoons in Afghanistan.
As much as he loves his job, he feared how fellow soldiers would treat him if he came out. He’s heard the cruel, dismissive way some of them speak about transgender people and worried they might turn on him.
But he has also met allies and other gender nonconforming people, and they helped ground him, he said. That’s how the Livelys found themselves surrounded by other LGBTQ military families on Easter Sunday at Logan and Laila Ireland’s home on Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs.
As noon approached, guests streamed into the home with arms full of desserts and sides, leaving their shoes at the door. Some children clung to their parents while others hovered at the back door, gleefully spotting hidden Easter eggs in the backyard.
“This is the military,” Laila said, gesturing to the room full of adults and children, as she chopped vegetables. “The military is the troops and their families.”
A guitar came out and an impromptu sing-along commenced, all before the crowd joined hands in a prayer circle to bless the food. The Irelands host regular “family gatherings” like this, an intimate extension of their public advocacy as a transgender military couple that fights for LGBTQ-friendly policies.
The Irelands both transitioned while serving when it was against policy to do so. Logan had the support of his command, Laila didn’t. Now he’s an Air Force staff sergeant and she works at the Army Hospital in Colorado Springs, their home for the past three years.
Framed magazine spreads and newspaper articles hang on a wall, creating a timeline of their work. One story recounts Logan’s transition. Another marks the day in 2016 when the open service policy took effect, thanks in part to Logan’s advocacy. The latest spread from 2018, which includes Laila, reads “Transgender and under siege.”
In their backyard, Logan grilled meat for the crowd growing inside. He says he has no doubt that the ban will end one day, because there’s no factual basis or evidence supporting its necessity.
Current military leaders have testified to Congress that transgender troops have not affected cohesion, while retired military leaders have decried the policy as misguided and damaging. A 2016 RAND Corporation study commissioned by the Defense Department concluded the number of transgender service members “seeking transition related care is so small” that it would likely have a “marginal impact” on health care costs and military readiness.
But Logan admits he’s not sure how the ban will be repealed. The best hope, he says, is four lawsuits challenging the ban on constitutional grounds, which are still in play. Although the US Supreme Court lifted an injunction that let the ban take effect, the high court did not rule on the ban’s constitutionality.
Congress could also take action, although Logan acknowledges it’s not likely under this administration. But he has faith that common sense will prevail, he said, because it happened before in 2016 with the open service policy, and at other points in American history, including the Civil Rights era, when barriers to equal treatment came down.
“I have no doubt that we have the support of military leadership,” he said. “I believe in our country, in our values as Americans, to do the right thing.”
In the meantime, he regards his service as more vital than ever to proving his detractors wrong, especially as the number of transgender service members will gradually dwindle. Besides, he acknowledged, he’s among the lucky few who were “grandfathered” in to service. He said he’s more worried about those who are transitioning under the new policy, given what he and others consider its confusing and conflicting language.
Other transgender troops who were grandfathered in under the new policy are wondering if it will influence how colleagues treat them.
Army Capt. Alivia Stehlik is one of those people. A graduate of West Point and Ranger School, she spent long periods in the field as a soldier before becoming a physical therapist stationed at Fort Carson.
She loves caring for soldiers. Each day of positive interactions with patients and coworkers confirms that she’s in the right job, she said. Since transitioning under the open service policy, she can’t recall a single instance when someone reacted negatively to her – or gave her preferential treatment – because she’s transgender.
Now, she worries that may change.
“I just will always wonder if I am being recognized for what I’ve done – the good or the bad – or if it’s become I’m trans,” she said.
“I grew up as a heterosexual white man in America. It never occurred to me that I would be judged on anything other than my merits,” she said. “Now, I’m going to wonder.”
Stehlik greeted the Livelys as they entered the Irelands’ home. She met Jordan in 2018 when they were both deployed in Afghanistan. But Jordan never discussed being transgender with Stehlik.
Jordan said he wasn’t ready then. But now, he is, despite the uncertainty that clouds his employment.
Waiting for the final step
The change in Jordan was instant as soon he came out to the therapist, his wife says.
“He couldn’t stop smiling for two weeks,” she says.
And with that, he decided to start transitioning, physically and socially.
The policy allowed active servicemembers with a diagnosis of gender dysphoria before April 12 to transition if they wished to do so – as long as their command signed off on their treatment plan and it does not affect troop readiness.
Jordan’s therapist started making calls and scheduling appointments the same day he was in the office, the couple says. Within the next few weeks, he had a gender dysphoria diagnosis and the necessary blood tests had been performed so he could start taking testosterone, the first step in physically transitioning.
But in order to start hormone treatment, Jordan’s company commander had to sign off on paperwork.
For weeks, Malaina tried not to think about it as they waited for the phone call.
“It was another reminder of how they control our lives,” she said.
Fort Carson’s public affairs office referred CNN to the Department of Defense for comment.
Then, finally, days before he was set to leave again, his command approved his treatment plan, he said.
It’s a day he’ll never forget, he said, when his first sergeant handed him back his treatment plan and told him congratulations and good luck.
It gives him hope, he said, that no matter what happens, his military family will always have his back.