Transition from man to woman cost pilot her job, now she is fighting to regain her FAA medical certification
RICHARDSON Ever since she can remember, Jamy Spradlin has wanted to fly planes.
And ever since she can remember, she’s identified as a female.
Two years ago, Spradlin had her dream job, shuttling top executives all over North America as a pilot and an airplane mechanic for a large Dallas-based corporation. But then Spradlin, born a biological male, decided to fulfill her personal dream and begin living as a woman.
Spradlin lost her job and her marriage of 11 years. She ended up taking a temporary office position earning less than half her previous salary.
In many ways, Spradlin is a poster child for the transgender community, members of which are notoriously overqualified or unemployed due to job discrimination.
But Spradlin’s story has an unusual twist.
While many of her peers opt to hide their birth gender once they’ve transitioned, Spradlin has chosen to become an activist.
As a steering committee member for the local group Gender Education, Advocacy and Resources, or GEAR, Spradlin gives presentations on trans issues for groups throughout the Metroplex. Meanwhile, she’s spent the last six months fighting with the Federal Aviation Administration to get back her medical certification so she can fly again.
Above all, though, Spradlin said she’s blossoming as a person.
“My wings were only clipped,” she said. “They’re growing back even bigger than they were before. There’s something about that feeling when you’re flying. That feeling and that freedom is similar to the freedom I feel now after my transition. It’s amazing.”
“‘That year was a nightmare’
Spradlin said she knew growing up in a small farming town in Illinois that there was something different about her.
“I think every transgender person knows early on,” she said.
Spradlin also had decided by high school that she wanted to be a pilot, even listing the goal on her very first r?sum?.
“The flying bug bit me early on, and once it bites you, you have it for life,” she said.
Shortly after graduation, Spradlin became licensed as a pilot and mechanic. She later moved to Dallas, where she met the woman she would marry.
“I had everything you’d think a person would ever want, but internally I was still battling this incongruency,” she said. “It just got to the point where I had to transition to get rid of the incongruency.”
Spradlin sought counseling, and in March 2006, she decided to come out to her wife. One night after getting out of the shower, Spradlin put on women’s clothing and a wig before returning to the bedroom.
“It was not the thing to do,” Spradlin said. “I laugh about it now, but at the time, the expression on her face was heartbreaking. That’s the way not to do it.”
Spradlin’s wife struggled to understand the situation, and six months later, Spradlin filed for divorce.
“We both hung on as long as we could,” Spradlin said. “That year was a nightmare. To end my wife’s misery, I let her go.”
It was also during 2006 that Spradlin came out to her employer of eight years. Within hours, Spradlin had been placed on administrative leave.
She enlisted the help of Lambda Legal, an LGBT civil rights group. But because there are no workplace protections for transgender people in Texas, Spradlin eventually agreed to resign.
“That was like a bomb going off,” Spradlin said of losing her job, adding that the agreement prohibits her from naming the former employer.
“It was a shock, and it was very hurtful.”
“‘You have to help others’
Spradlin found temporary employment in the office of a large aviation company, which eventually offered her a permanent position.
Spradlin, who’d been coming to work as a man, explained that she’d accept the position if she could transition on the job. Company officials said they had no problem with it.
“I almost cried right there,” Spradlin said.
In June 2007, Spradlin decided it was time to renew her FAA medical certification. The certification is required to fly, but Spradlin had allowed it to lapse after losing her job as a pilot.
Spradlin passed the FAA’s medical exam but was given bad information about what documentation would be needed to renew the certification as a transgender pilot. Consequently, her application is still pending in Washington, D.C.
Although there are about 80 trans pilots nationwide, Spradlin said medical certification through the FAA is antiquated.
“Once I get my certification back, I’m going to be trying to change the process,” she said. “It’s getting worked out. It just takes time, and I’m being patient. I’ll fly again one of these days.”
In the meantime, Spradlin has undergone facial surgery and breast augmentation, and she recently went on her first date as a woman.
After she started attending monthly mixers sponsored by GEAR, members of the group asked Spradlin to join the steering committee.
“It’s been a privilege,” she said. “It’s a joy for me to work for the transgender community. To help yourself, you have to help others. It helps you to understand yourself.”
For more information on GEAR, call 214-528-0144.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 8, 2008