Out of the shadows, an Airman’s empowering journey to new life

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Leyinzca Bihlajama
  • 72nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Imagine feeling as though you’ve been portraying a fictional character your entire life. That is how Staff Sgt. Bryan Tisdale, the assistant noncommissioned officer in charge in the 72nd Logistics Readiness Squadron, and many other members of the transgender community, have felt.

Prior to her self-acceptance and coming out to her peers, Tisdale lived with the tribulation, constantly questioning Bryan’s masculinity and behaviors.

Tisdale said the internal struggle began at a young age, stemming from an admiration for the color pink.

“One of my earliest memories was seeing the color pink and thinking that was the prettiest color I’d seen,” Tisdale said “I loved it so much, I immediately turned to my cousin and told him that was my favorite color. He replied, ‘That is a girl color. You need to like a boy color,’ and I didn’t understand why.”

As Tisdale grew, she realized that her attraction to women went beyond admiration, she identified as a female and battled with self-acceptance.

Growing up in a very traditional and conservative household, Tisdale says she’s always felt forced to behave more masculine.

“I’ve always been Anahlisa and felt like I was trapped in a room with a TV and a game console, playing the role-playing game that is Bryan. That is the best way that I can describe it,” she said.

With a strong desire to serve her country, Tisdale joined the Air Force in September 2007. During that time the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Policy was in place. In fear of hate and retribution, Tisdale continued to suppress her true identity.

Nearly a decade later, the DOD Transgender Policy came to fruition, opening a door for Tisdale and those alike within the military. By this time Tisdale was married with a child on the way. Despite being married to a woman, Tisdale was conflicted about how she would live her life going forward. While her wife knew about her true identity, she knew that a transition to truly become Anahlisa would affect their marriage.

Aside from Tisdale’s wife, no one knew she was transgender. That all changed one day when an Airman in her unit opened up about being transgender themselves and wanting to transition. Tisdale felt honored that her Airman felt comfortable enough to share something so private, she also felt inspired by their bravery. That Airman paved the path within the LRS, and through their journey Tisdale was able to see firsthand how open and accepting everyone was.

After much self-reflection, in 2019 Tisdale made the decision to transition and come out as transgender. Upon returning from her third deployment, Tisdale made an appointment with mental health and sought guidance from her co-worker. However, Tisdale faced a new obstacle, an impermanent ban on transgender in the military. Still, Tisdale pushed forward seeking to transition after the news that a Sailor was granted a waiver to the ban.

In 2021, after the pandemic shutdown, Tisdale was finally able to begin her transition journey. With the assistance of Dr. Steven Hubbard, 72nd Operational Medical Readiness Squadron clinical psychologist, Tisdale has finally begun her journey to transition from Bryan to Anahlisa.

Before coming out and beginning her transition, Tisdale said she didn’t feel any reason to live or progress her career until now.

“I felt I was still playing someone else, so why would it matter?” Tisdale said.

While the decision to come out caused a rift in her marriage, Tisdale says she finally feels free being able to present her true self.

“I feel like I have goals now, it is encouraging me to fulfill school and press for rank, and really be there for my Airmen.”

Tisdale leads 14 Airmen, ensuring the necessary materiel is delivered to the warfighter. Most recently the LRS provided over 250,000 meals to Costa Rica as part of a continuous effort to fight world hunger.

This Pride Month, Tisdale feels honored to be able to share her story of perseverance.

“I realize that there are many women in the military who deserve to have their stories heard,” said Tisdale. “I hope to show Airmen that being trans in the military doesn’t have to hold you back. If you can come out, you can unchain yourself and you can soar to heights you never thought possible before.”

Tisdale largely credits her liberation to the “amazing” leadership at Tinker AFB who have supported and backed her up through the entire process.

“I think she’s an inspirational Airmen,” said 72nd Air Base Wing Commander Col. Hall Sebren, “She is staying true to herself, which can be difficult for anyone to do under ordinary circumstances. By telling her story she allows others to be open and honest about who they are. At the same time she is confidently and competently leading Airmen through some challenging missions. Most recently leading her team to meet an extremely demanding and short notice mission surge here at Tinker. I could not be more proud of Anahlisa and her team for flawlessly ensuring mission success. The mission does not care of your gender, your race, or where your family might be from. Our ability to think about problems from multiple perspectives is what ensures we’ll get the right answer and meet the mission, every time.”

Although her journey has not been without hardships, the experience has been eye opening to Tisdale. The fear she once held is no longer. With the support of her Wingmen and leadership, she is able to be herself.

Recognizing the resilience and strength of transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary Americans, March 31 was declared Transgender Visibility Day. Fostering a culture of inclusion, we highlight the activism and determination that fuel the fight for transgender equality.

The inclusion of transgender and non-binary Americans is important for everyone. “If you do not feel comfortable talking about gender identity issues because you do not understand the terminology or the various identities used by this community, you are not alone, and there is always time to learn,” says Brianna Russ from Air Force Materiel Command’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility team.

If you would like to learn more and be made aware of resources on how to create this culture of inclusion, please reach out to Tinker’s DEIA office at 72ABW.DER.Workflow@us.af.mil.