Sabreena Lachlainn's incredible transgender journey and the even bigger challenge that now awaits her
At 53, Sabreena Lachlainn is planning the biggest challenge of her life.
Given she has already challenged and changed the body she was born with, sacrificed the family she was born into and given up on the country she once served, the bar was already set high. But now she is seeking to break the record for sailing around the world, solo and non-stop, but most significantly as the first transgender woman to do so.
All in all, hers is a remarkable story of physical and mental battles, of rejection, violence and even death threats - where surrender would often have been the easier option. But this is a woman, as she explains to GEORGIE HEATH, who doesn't do easy....
“I was about four years-old when I knew I was in the wrong body. My mum and I got into an argument about it.
“I still remember like it was yesterday. My mum had me in the bathroom getting ready for a bath and I looked at myself in the mirror and said to her, 'I’m a girl'. She was like 'no, no, you're a little boy'. It went back and forth and she was insistent that I was a boy. And given that it was the '60s and I was so young, I just had to accept it, even if I didn’t feel it.”
Sabreena was growing up on the family ranch in Montana, a small-town community of 400 people, living in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains.
But it was a different sort of shadow that cast itself against her all the way through high school until May 1985 when at the age of 19 she joined the marines.
Her ongoing battle with her own identity had proved something too difficult for her family to come to terms with.
“Mum and dad thought once I went through bootcamp I would be free from the gender struggle issues but it doesn’t work like that and just go away,” she said.
She had also by this stage become married which, she said in reference to her parents, "kept them hopeful" that her gender issues had been resolved. But in a way it seemed she was almost delaying the inevitable.
She served as a marine for almost five years before joining the US Air Force to train as a flight engineer. However, when ordered to take the anthrax inoculation, Lachlainn refused having seen the adverse effects it had on many of her friends, including seizures, migraines and brain tumours.
For this, she was charged with ‘Refusal to Obey a Lawful Order and Conduct Unbecoming' and faced five years at Fort Leavenworth federal prison, but luckily for her this was revoked.
“Due to my exemplary service record and a damn good lawyer I was given a general under honorable conditions discharge,” she recalled, adding: “Six months afterwards it was upgraded to full honourable, which is always a nice thing.”
A battle won, but seemingly a war still to face, she was reduced in rank from sergeant to senior airman and prevented from ever re-enlisting again.
She still looks back fondly on her time serving her country, but today's political climate has caused her to question her feelings about the country of her birth.
“I am proud of my military service and what I did and the things I accomplished,” she says. But given the current attitude towards the LGBTQA+ community in the USA she feels ‘truly and utterly ashamed’ to call herself an American.
“We went from being the light of the world to being looked at and laughed at and now we’re on travel advisories from other countries. If you’re LGBT or another ethnic minority you’re not welcome.”
"To me, Donald Trump is not our president, Donald Trump is a joke,” she said. “The witch-hunt he’s created with the transgender community is basically trying to erase us, elimiate us and put us back in the closet and treat us like we’re not worthy of anything.”
It is down to his policies and beliefs that she is choosing to start her world record attempt from Australia, saying: “I chose to go to Australia because I've been so welcomed by them and I wouldn’t want this record to be associated with Trump’s America. I’ve had people say there that although I’m American they embraced me as an honorary Australian.”
Fortunately, the attitude to her gender struggle in those earlier days had found an unlikely supporter far closer to home - Gloria, the woman she married when just 19.
They remained married for 13 years, but as time wore on and Sabreena felt more comfortable with who she wanted to be, she had begun to start dressing more and more like a woman.
She is still full of admiration for her ex-wife and her support but it wasn’t a life that was viable for either of them to lead.
“Rather than us get a divorce she was okay with it [dressing as a female]. Her thing was that it was okay for me to be me [who I am now] on weekends or when not on duty."
She recalls the day Gloria finally made the decision they both knew was inevitable: “She saw that my being me was becoming more regular and she sat me down in the bedroom and held my hands and told me, “I love you but you need to be who you need to be. I’m okay with that, but I can’t be married to a woman. I think it’s best we go our separate ways'.”
The couple remained friends and continued to live together after Sabreena, now aged 34, had started her transition and before she moved to Georgia with another woman who was to play a pivotal role in her life, her ‘adoptive mother’, Patricia.
"I’d met this woman a long time before and we were both involved in suicide prevention. She had a home in Georgia and she had invited me to come stay with her family after everything ended with my wife. I transferred my job to Georgia and she and her family took me in as her own and to me I consider her my mother.
"Her marriage was going bad and she divorced and we moved back to her home in Michigan because there was nowhere else for me in Georgia and she was all I had to depend upon. She supported me emotionally to get through my transition. She helped me reach out to my parents and let them know what was going on and it was NYE 2001 when I eventually came out to them.
"They basically disowned me. I have one brother, Brian, and one sister Margaret. My own brother made death threats to me and I had to go into hiding for a bit. Even though my biological family lived in Montana at the time, I didn’t know what was going to happen to me or if he would really do that. So I ended up in hiding for a bit and my 'mum' protected me.
She admits that it was only with the help of Patricia that she and her family have now put aside their differences.
“She helped me and my brother reconcile in 2014. We are extremely close today and there have been a lot of lessons learned. I reunited with my whole family in 2015 and it was all very emotional.”
Her family are now fully supportive of her as she undergoes training for her round the world adventure.
And she has also found happiness in her second marriage to Kiriah, 47, who is currently in the process of transitioning. The two have been married since October 2017 and have made a home in North Carolina.