When Minnesota-native Riley Dosh was young she wasn’t able to understand who she was or the possibility of transitioning into who she really is.
‘Growing up I always knew I wanted to be a girl, but never knew how to express that or that it was even possible to transition,’ she now says.
‘Later when I found out that it is possible, I convinced myself that that couldn’t possibly be me and that transition looked far too difficult anyways.’
It wasn’t until April 2016 when the 22 year-old was finally able to identify herself as transgender. By this stage, she was attending the prestigious West Point military academy in New York.
‘In April I actually met my first trans friend and found out how it is possible to transition and be happy and that she wasn’t so different from me. That’s when I came out.’
In the following months, she decided she wanted her classmates to remember her for who she truly identifies as.
‘I want my friends to see for a significant period of time who I really am with my new name, new gender and all of that and I want my friends to see that before they leave and not have this memory of male me,’ she explains.
Dosh’s family and everyone at West Point was fully supportive of who she is. This helped her ease into openly being herself.
Though the army cadet was able to openly identify as transgender, following her dream in becoming an officer would soon come to an end.
Following a change in law instigated during the Obama administration, the Pentagon was due to start accepting new trans troops on 1 July 2017. However, it was announced in June, on the eve of the deadline, they are postponing the policy another six months.
She was looking to become a military officer. However, the transgender policy covers only those in active duty.
When Dosh joined the army she had a vision she would ‘become the best person she could be.’
She felt like her dreams were starting to be realized when she started picking which Army branch she would serve in.
‘When I started picking my army branch and actually committing to time after West Point it pretty much became clear that I actually wanted to become an officer,’ said Dosh.
‘I actually wanted to serve and defend America. It was kind of like the cliché patriotic thing but it really was about that.’
She didn’t leave by choice, she was forced out
Because Dosh came out before she graduated, it made the process of becoming an officer much more difficult.
When it came time for her graduation, she was told she wouldn’t be commissioned into the army because she was transgender.
‘It wasn’t by choice I was forced out,’ she said.
‘When the policy came in effect on October 2016 I was understanding that it would apply to all acts of duty which included cadets which are considered active duty.
‘However, it turns out somebody in the Pentagon decided it did not include cadets so I quickly learned that I had to wait until I possibly graduated until I could come out,’ Dosh continued.
‘But I was also confident based off the support of my commanders that I’d be able to come out sooner, be able to graduate and I’d be able to commission.’
She was required to get a medical waver but the Pentagon hadn’t gotten back to her until the month of her graduation. In their response, they said she wouldn’t be able to be commissioned.
This only forced Dosh out of the army since she wouldn’t be able to serve until the policy is in effect.
The cadet compared this moment similar to Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, which was repealed by Obama in 2010. This allowed gay, lesbian and bisexual military personnel to serve openly without the fear of dismissal.
Current cadets will have to hide their trans identity to get commissioned
Dosh explained that cadets have to meet requirements when they arrive and when they graduate.
This makes it difficult in identifying as transgender because they are allowed to graduate but aren’t allowed to move onto the next level in their career.
‘They’re caught in this little loop hole. Transgender cadets now have to hide who they are if they want to get commission,’ she said.
‘Otherwise they come out like I did, they can graduate but they be denied their commission. And therefore forced out,’ Dosh continued.
‘They’re not kicked out for being transgender. They just wouldn’t be allowed to continue to serve and that’s kind of like “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.’
The policy has recently been delayed another six months. The former cadet believes the only reason they are delaying it is ‘because they can.’
OutService-SLDN, the nation’s largest group of LGBTI military and veterans issued a statement expressing their views on the delay.
They said: ‘We are disappointed that the Department of Defense has chosen to delay, by six-months, implementation of the recruitment policy, thus denying qualified transgender individuals the opportunity to enlist, attend ROTC or enroll in one of the military academies.’
Though OutService-SLDN and Dosh believe the delay isn’t necessary, the former cadet does believe that it will pass and when it does ‘it would solidify position of transgender service members.’
Life after the Army
Since leaving, under the current circumstances, Dosh’s dream of an army career looks unlikely. She is now living with her girlfriend Lauren, who’s also transgender and a 1st Lieutenant in the army.
The two met at a Thanksgiving party hosted by friends in 2016 and hit it off immediately.
Lauren is farther in her transition than Dosh but has been aiding the cadet in her own journey.
‘She’s helped me out so much by being there for me no matter what my struggle is, and I to her. It’s wonderful to not face these difficulties alone.’
As for Dosh’s career, she is now looking to become a math teacher in Texas. And while she wishes she could still serve, she’s on the road to understanding who she truly is.
Editorial note: Generally speaking, it is GSN policy to not include pictures of trans people pre-transition. However, Riley Dosh sent these to us as she wants her friends to have this reminder of her before she transitioned. We are happy to change any image of Riley in the future.