Trans Lifeline Lead Technician Kira Hawk has been involved with the organization since February, 2015.
She joined the Navy in August, 2009 and was not out as a trans individual. The Department of Defense still does not allow open transgender service.
After she was Medevaced from her ship for suicidal ideation, Hawk realized that she needed to do something about her transition.
"I have PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] and was doing some research on crisis lines," she told Windy City Times. "I wanted to talk to someone who was trans. I called after a suicide attempt in 2013 because I was raped."
Hawk said that the conversation made her realize that she wasn't alone. "I knew that I was worth something and, after getting off the phone with the Lifeline, it propelled me to want to work with them, because if one person could help me out, I thought I could do the same for somebody else."
She admitted work was a Trans Lifeline operator was difficult at first. "It was stressful because I was nervous about handling calls," Hawk said. "But the training on suicidality and how to handle calls that are really intense helped. I commend all the operators we have because it really takes a lot to do this kind of work."
Hawk remembered a message she received on the Trans Lifeline Facebook page. "I chatted with this person for several hours and found that they were highly suicidal," she said. "I was able to calm them down. The story of rape and abuse that they had been through was definitely touching because I had gone through that myself."
"There is a certain amount of emotional distance you need," Hawk added. "If you get too close it starts to affect you. But, at the same time, I've found myself becoming emotionally involved with the calls and it has helped me to empathize with the caller. So it's a balancing act."
For Hawk, the fact that Trans Lifeline is operated solely by transgender people is a crucial element to the organization's work. "We don't need to have transgender and gender non-conforming people explain to us what that is," she said. "We're more culturally competent with the transgender community. If you call another hotline you might get an operator who doesn't know what transgender means. Sometimes it can be triggering to have to explain that to an operator who doesn't understand."
As a disabled veteran, Hawk has found a new sense of purpose working with the Trans Lifeline both as an operator and now as someone who has taken charge of maintaining the integrity of the organization's information security database. "It's cathartic to take calls and know that I'm not alone with what I'm feeling," she said. "It feels like I am giving back to the community at large."
Also see related feature, Organization provides lifelines for trans individuals, at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Organization-provides-lifelines-for-trans-individuals/53462.html .