The US Army soldier took a deep breath before hitting the button that sent the email to more than 200 fellow troops.
“All considered, I am, and have been, traversing what is essentially a personal matter, but is something I must address publicly,” the email stated. “I am transgender.”
The April 13 email officially ended the secret that burned inside Capt. Jennifer Sims, who was known as Jonathan Sims. But the feeling of relief swiftly turned to unease last week after President Donald Trump tweeted that transgender people were no longer welcome in the U.S. military.
“I read the tweets while I was at work and you know it was devastating because I still have work to do and here I am reading basically what sounds like the president of the United States — who is the commander in chief, he is the ultimate boss of the military — telling me and anybody else that is transgender that we are fired,” Sims said.
Pentagon officials say the policy will remain unchanged without official White House guidance. But for Sims, the uncertainty has been upsetting.
“So in the initial moments after the tweet, I saw myself forced into the state that I was in before I started transitioning — a state of depression, exhaustion and inability to enjoy things,” said Sims, 28, who spoke to The Associated Press on her own behalf and not on that of the Army.
The reversal of the Obama administration policy that allows transgender people to serve openly and receive military medical coverage for transitioning from one gender to another also could affect her physically.
Sims has been on hormone therapy by her military doctor since November. If she interrupts the treatment, her body will revert to being male.
“It would be very difficult to have to go through that,” said Sims, who is based at Hohenfels, a U.S. Army garrison in the German state of Bavaria.
Growing up in Minnesota and Florida, Sims, a high school football player, never felt comfortable being male. The son and grandson of military veterans quietly came to terms with identifying as a woman a year after joining the Army R.O.T.C., but outwardly kept it a secret “because I wanted to continue serving,” Sims said.
Sims stopped socializing, feeling drained over worries about being masculine enough, and instead focused on work, serving in Afghanistan, Indonesia and Germany. Her sister, Natasha Sims, 24, said she saw “emptiness” in her eyes.
After the Defense Department announced in 2015 that it was considering allowing transgender troops to serve openly, Sims told Natasha and their parents. When the policy became official in June 2016, Sims said she felt the meaning of the word freedom personally after spending years fighting for it for her country.
“It was the best day of my life really,” Sims said.
Sims made an appointment with the behavioral health office, was given a diagnosis of gender dysphoria and started hormone therapy in November.
Five months later, she decided to tell fellow troops.
She first told her two closest colleagues, Capt. Brandon Shorter and another infantry officer.
They were at a loss for words.
After Shorter got home, allowing it to sink in, he texted Sims about how that was brave.
“Infantry officers are best described as brutish. So Capt. Sims pulled me and another brute aside face to face. That took a lot of courage and that’s the first thing that went through my mind, mixed in with surprise,” Shorter said.
Sims then announced the “personal change” to more than 200 other troops.