Navigating transition: RCN transgender sailor shares experience

June 29, 2022 - Royal Canadian Navy


Master Sailor River Leggat

By Master Sailor River Leggat

Master Sailor (MS) River Leggat is an ardent spokesperson for the education of military leaders on LGBTQ2+ issues, frequently gives her time as a support to transitioning members and is an unwavering and outspoken champion of respect and inclusivity. But before this chapter in her career, she went through her own trials transitioning in uniform.

It was a sunny summer day outside Canadian Forces Base Halifax; wispy clouds and calm skies belied the inner turmoil I was experiencing inside my office in Stadacona. My brain was firing on all cylinders.

I had something I needed to share, but had no idea how it was going to go.

About a dozen times I half got up out of my chair, committed to walking the several feet to the cubicle housing my two bosses… before half-heartedly slinking back down. Finally, imagining the worst but hoping for the best, I got up and walked over to them (as confidently as I could). My two supervisors were in a discussion already when I awkwardly shuffled into the room.

“Hey, so, uh… I’m... uh... transgender. And my name is River.”

The words just tumbled out. It was not eloquent, or dramatic. But it was urgent and clear. I had hoped my coming out would have sounded less like I was having a mild panic attack. But to be honest, I kind of was.

However, despite my inner fear, I have never forgotten how quickly and calmly my two supervisors reacted. Their reception of this news was immediately warm and welcoming. I felt like I belonged and, most importantly, I knew I would be supported.

It was a huge step. I would soon begin to formally transition in the workplace.

While going through this process I did hit some bumps in the road. Throughout all difficulties I was fiercely supported by my supervisors, but it brought to light that while the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) are incredibly supportive and have many resources available, the overall knowledge of their application and related procedures were not as well-known as they should be.

To challenge this, it wasn’t long before my friend Master Sailor (MS) Seth Freethy and I began conducting an informational brief to educate other members on these issues. After a lot of research, a lot of digging and our relentless pursuit of presentation opportunities, we created what has now become a highly complimented and often sought brief delivered to leadership courses and professional development days across Maritime Forces Atlantic (MARLANT).

In the Transgender Guidance Brief, we seek to dispel myths and provide insight while building empathy. We try to provide tools and knowledge so that when the need arises, leadership teams and shipmates will know what to do, who to talk to and how everything works in order to support a member in transition.

MS Freethy has been conducting the brief with me since the beginning, building it into what it is today.

“When I was offered the opportunity to help with presenting, I wanted to get into it to help educate my shipmates so that they know how to help people in a situation similar to what I went through,” said MS Freethy.

“I wanted people to know that they’re not alone, and that they have options while being a serving member. I wanted to make sure people feel that they belong.”

“After the presentation I hope people walk away with a little more compassion and understanding. I want them to learn a little about the process involved with transitioning and to know how to help their friends, colleagues and shipmates.”

Statistics say that roughly one in 10 Canadians have a transgender individual as a close acquaintance. This is a shame (my biased opinion) because, by and large, we’re pretty cool. Because of the relatively small number of us, it can be hard for the average person to know what to do when asked questions around transgender healthcare, support and guidance.

How as a supervisor can I support a transitioning member? What should I say? Who do I talk to? These questions and then some are covered throughout the brief given by MS Freethy, Master Corporal (MCpl) Percival Flamel and me.

I feel the most important piece is this: all of us are entitled to and deserve the respect of our peers. Remember that and everything else falls into place.

The CAF and the RCN have come a long way in growing supports for LGBTQ2+ personnel. During this Pride season, it is important to look back and appreciate the sacrifices that brought us to this point, but it is also important to look at where we are and where we are going.

It takes a lot of small steps to get to a destination, but sometimes just knowing we’re on the right track is all the motivation you need. So this Pride season, I ask that you take the time to remember those who came before, and to do what you can to maintain that momentum into the future.

Happy Pride, everyone.

For those within the RCN or CAF wishing to learn more, they can contact MS River Leggat, MS Seth Freethy or MCpl Percival Flamel.

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