True Colours is the upcoming autobiography of Caroline Paige, who, in 1999, became the first officer to transition gender within the British Armed Forces. During her subsequent sixteen years of service, as a female navigator flying Battlefield Helicopters, she completed a total of ten frontline-duty tours, flying in some of the most dangerous skies in the world, including Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. But the longest fought battle in her life, was the one to be herself.
Caroline joined the Royal Air Force in January 1980, after developing an interest in aviation. Military law barred ‘LGB*’ service (* ‘trans/transgender’ wasn’t a term that existed then), but she’d already had to hide her true gender identity since early childhood. After eighteen years of frontline military service, the stress of hiding her identity became too much, and she informed her commanding officers of her need to transition. Although the bar on LGB service remained in place, the military remarkably retained her in service. Outspoken critics condemned her as ‘a liability to military operations’, ‘a danger to colleagues’, someone who was ‘not fit to be in the military’, and so began a fight for acceptance, respect and inclusion.
Making history, as the first openly-serving transgender person to serve on any frontline military unit, she had to prove that being transgender wasn’t an issue for military service. After earning awards for exceptional service, in Iraq and Afghanistan, her invaluable contribution to Diversity and Inclusion was also recognised with a ‘Ministry of Defence Peoples Special Award’ in 2011, for ‘achievements as a positive role-model and extraordinary trailblazer’. Caroline retired from the RAF in Nov 2014 and now teaches European helicopter crews battlefield survival skills. She says:
The UK’s military took far too long to realise what it was losing by persecuting LGBT people, but when change did come it became a world leader in embracing inclusion. Today’s military celebrates a freedom where service personnel can be openly LGBT, within a permissive and supportive environment. But it is how it got there that is the extraordinary story, an invaluable part of military and social history, that until recently has been largely overlooked. LGBT servicemen and women proudly stood up for their nation, when it wouldn’t stand by them, but they challenged it too, inspiring change, shaping today; it is an amazing history, and it deserves to be told. True Colours is a personal account covering part of this story.