Crossing the Divide


Zander Keig (center at end of table) a Coast Guard veteran and a board member for the Transgender American Veterans Association, attends its meeting in Washington.

“It now feels as though I am on my own,” says Zander Keig, 52, who is from San Diego and a NASWCA member.

As a Coast Guard veteran, Keig works at Naval Medical Center San Diego as the Navy Medicine West Transgender Care Team Clinical Social Work Case Manager. He started HIS transition in 2005 and is an editor of anthologies about transgender men.

“Prior to my transition, I was an outspoken radical feminist. I spoke up often, loudly and with confidence. I was encouraged to speak up by the women around me. I was given awards for my efforts, literally — it was like, ‘Oh, yeah, speak up, speak out,’” he recalls.

“When I speak up now, I am often given the direct or indirect message that I am ‘mansplaining,’ ‘taking up too much space’ or ‘asserting my white male heterosexual privilege.’ Never mind that I am a first-generation Latino, a transsexual man, and married to the same woman I was with prior to my transition.”

Keig also finds the assertion that he is now unable to speak out on issues he finds important offensive and refuses to allow anyone to silence him.

“My ability to empathize has grown exponentially, because I now factor men into my thinking and feeling about situations. Prior to my transition, I rarely considered how men experienced life or what they thought, wanted or liked about their lives. I have learned so much about the lives of men through my friendships with men, reading books and articles by and for men, and through the men I serve as a licensed clinical social worker.”

Social work is generally considered to be “female dominated,” with women making up about 80 percent of the profession in the United States.

“Currently I work exclusively with clinical nurse case managers, but in my previous position, as a medical social worker working with chronically homeless military veterans — mostly male — who were grappling with substance use disorder and severe mental illness, I was one of a few men among dozens of women,” he says.

Plenty of research shows that life events, medical conditions and family circumstances impact men and women differently.

“But when I would suggest that patient behavioral issues like anger or violence may be a symptom of trauma or depression, it would often get dismissed or outright challenged. The overarching theme was ‘men are violent’ and there was ‘no excuse’ for their actions.

He says that what continues to strike him is the significant reduction in friendliness and kindness now extended to him in public spaces.

“It now feels as though I am on my own. No one, outside of family and close friends, is paying any attention to my well-being.”

He can recall a moment where this difference hit home.

“A couple of years into my medical gender transition, I was traveling on a public bus early one weekend morning. There were six people on the bus, including me. One was a woman. She was talking on a mobile phone very loudly and remarked that ‘men are such a–holes.’ I immediately looked up at her and then around at the other men. Not one had lifted his head to look at the woman or anyone else. The woman saw me look at her and then commented to the person she was speaking with about ‘some a–hole on the bus right now looking at me.’ I was stunned, because I recall being in similar situations, but in the reverse, many times. A man would say or do something deemed obnoxious or offensive, and I would find solidarity with the women around me as we made eye contact, rolled our eyes and maybe even commented out loud on the situation. I’m not sure I understand why the men did not respond, but it made a lasting impression on me.”

Zander Keig contributed to this article in his personal capacity. The opinions expressed are his own and do not reflect the view of the Department of Defense.