Can a thin man be accepted into the military?

"From now on I am a woman"

Christian Hug was a man for forty years. Then the husband, father and lieutenant colonel of the armored forces became a woman. And from the wife a seeker.

The book is on the table in the room, the paper is glossy, and a picture of the couple is emblazoned on the front: on the left Tanja Hug, beaming, in a white wedding dress; right Christian Hug, beaming, in the historical uniform of a Swiss cavalry captain from 1926. They got married on August 2nd, 2008, a beautiful and happy couple, as the two of them still find today when they look at their wedding album. That was almost twelve years ago.

Outside, a poisonous wind blows around her house and the freshly snow-covered hills of Tscheppach, a village of 140 people, ten kilometers outside of Solothurn. The Hug couple are sitting in the room, Tanja on the left, Christine on the right - no longer Christian. Tanja's husband has become a woman. At the end of our long visit, Tanja will say: “Before I was lying next to a man at night, now I'm lying next to a woman. And next to a woman's body. Excusez, I'm muggish, I'm just fadegraad, but I miss my husband! "

In the twelve years in between there is a story about finding oneself; a story about courage, radical rethinking and deepest despair; about tolerance and its limits - and a lesson about how to deal with it in a remarkably open way.

“We both used to push a tank in front of us. With Christian, nothing more than a 'Hmm' would have come out when it came to such private matters. And I was too emotional. A conversation like this would have been unthinkable. It was a long and often painful process before we could really talk about it, just between ourselves. It’s all well and good when I read in these transgender papers that have fluttered into our house how important the tolerance of relatives is and how the environment should have an open heart. But in the end, I'm only human, ”says Tanja.

"That's the way it is, I can absolutely understand you," replies Christine in her soft voice, brushing one of her thin, shoulder-length curls from her face. Christine Hug, born in 1980, is a lieutenant colonel in the general staff and commander of a tank battalion, but at the moment she is recovering from the operation that finally made her a woman.

There is radio in the Soviet tank

For Tanja, 49, this story begins in the summer of 2004. At that time she was working as an assistant manager at Swissport in Kloten, she has a great job and a beautiful life again, and the divorce from her first husband got over her. In her free time Tanja is an active show jumper, she likes it when something is going, and is therefore immediately there when her friend suggests a visit to the Swiss Military Museum in Full-Reuenthal in Aargau. You can also drive old tanks there. The man who likes to show her the inner workings of a Soviet T-55 is called Christian Hug. During the hours of conversations in the tank, there was a spark between the two of them. The following weekend the two of them ride out together, and soon afterwards he moves into her home.

"I thought it would finally stop with the marriage," says Christine and refills coffee at the room table. But “it” doesn't do that and it won't be “it” when Julia, the daughter of the Hug couple, was born in 2009.

This “it” is noticeable for Christian in the first primary class at the latest. Chrisli - that's what his parents call him as a child and even when their son was in command of a tank battalion at the longest - Chrisli has just as many girls as Gspäändli like boys. He can't understand what the other boys of primary school find so terrible about it. Even during puberty, Chrisli “can't do anything with the masculine”. Football during the break? Awful. Instead, even then, the thought that came up again and again, what it would be like to live as a woman. "Even as a child I asked myself whether I could decouple the mind from the body," recalls Christine, "but I quickly suppressed that." As a schoolboy, he realizes that there is someone in his father's circle of friends who has gone from being a man to being a woman, which is perceived as completely absurd. “From then on I banished these ideas to the realm of the abnormal. I was ashamed of my thoughts, that didn't make it easier, »says Christine.

He still doesn't know exactly what "it" is. He doesn't dare to talk to anyone about it, not his brother, and even less his parents. Only with the advent of the internet can he slowly explore the trans world anonymously. Christian continues to hope that everything will be over as soon as he has a girlfriend. He found the first when he was 20, but even this brief experience did not change the feeling that he was stuck in a strange body. Several times Christian is on the verge of “taking the step to become a woman” - and yet again pushes his desire away.

Chrisli in the testosterone group

What gives the young man support, also distracts him and makes him think differently: the army. This is no coincidence, because the military is very present at Hug. Christian's father was head of Zurich's criminal police for nine years until 1994, when Thomas Hug became the first public prosecutor in the canton of Basel-Stadt. His son also regularly helps with setting up the museum and with guided tours. At 20, Christian Hug joined the Panzer RS, became an officer, made cavalry his hobby and studied military history, where he wrote his master's thesis on the procurement and use of Swiss battle tanks in the 1950s and 1960s. The military is so attracted to him that he even became a career officer in 2009.

Since then, Christine Hug has spent half her life in the "Leopard" and among people who have the image of a testosterone group. «This image is not only wrong. But I myself have always avoided anything macho in the army. I'm interested in the technical, professional and historical aspects of armoring. And the direct contact with people. Gender was never an issue for me in the military either. You're in uniform and you concentrate on the task at hand, it's almost genderless. On the other hand, you have to reduce your own needs, and that suited me well, »says Christine.

The fatal accident

Horses are just as present in the life of the Hugs as tanks. There are currently four in the stable next door. One of them, a three-year-old Trakehner mare who was not ridden at the time, is out and about on a dirt road with Tanja and Christian on a December morning in 2011. Suddenly the mare kicked the second horse behind her, and when Christian looked back, his wife was lying motionless in the snow. The left half of her face is completely smashed, and at first he doesn't even know if she is still alive. This is followed by a 14-hour emergency operation and over the next two years eight more surgical interventions as a result of over seventy debris fractures and a destroyed eye socket.

«Christian saved my life back then, and I never want to have someone else first aider than him. Later on, my face was often so painful that I couldn't even touch it. It was Christian who put the day cream on me every morning; it was Christian who put ointment in my left eye every morning. He was always there for me. You don't just forget something like that, it welded us together, even at the moment when I had read his letter and lost the ground under my feet, ”says Tanja.

This letter - it will take Christian five more years before he will finally write it. First he made a career as a professional officer, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the general staff. The young family lives in a single-family house in the Thun region, daughter Julia is already in primary school, Tanja has also recovered quite well from her serious accident and is back to work. But “it” continues to gnaw in Christian. Every now and then he secretly orders women's clothes, and when Tanja accidentally discovers a package, she confronts him because she fears that her husband has a mistress. He doesn't have one, as he assures, but Christian also senses that he now has to do something to save their relationship. And yourself too.

The letter on the room table

«The most difficult thing was that I was able to accept everything for myself first of all and to admit that it is so. I was not yet in a depression, but I got more and more into a negative spiral and wondered what life is actually supposed to be », says Christine. Today, like Tanja, she knows about the American study according to which of the 28,000 trans people surveyed in the USA no less than 40 percent attempted suicide.

On January 13, 2016 Christian wrote a six-page letter to his wife and deposited it on the room table, then he went to Thun for work. He knows that from now on there is no turning back for him. He learned how to deal with stress in the officers' school and in the general staff course, but the tension he feels during these hours cannot be compared with anything. There can be a row, a separation, a divorce, he has to reckon with anything.

«I couldn't foresee how Tanja would react. In most situations in life you have a reference value, either from experience or learned behavior. But in this case you have absolutely nothing, zero. You come to a point where you can no longer feel your way, and then you are faced with the abyss. When I jump, I have no idea what's going to happen, ”says Christine.

Back from her work, Tanja finds the letter on the table, she reads it - and can hardly contain herself with anger. «Schliifts? Is it really no? " Christian writes that he is extremely attracted to women's clothes, but she doesn't need to be afraid, he just wants to be honest and now just has to try it out and see where it will all lead. The term transgender does not appear in the letter yet. When the front door opens in the evening and her husband is standing there - as a woman, in women's clothes, demonstratively made up - Tanja collapses. «I was in shock. I didn't expect that, never in my life! ”She says. Her own wife is the first person Christine can reveal herself to. But a conversation is almost impossible in the following months, Tanja feels too deeply hurt, too heavy is the suspicion that her husband might have a girlfriend after all. You suppress, function, take day after day.

Tanja's deep confusion

In the summer of 2017, the Hug family moved to Tscheppach because they finally found what they had been looking for years in Solothurn: a house with a stable and an adjacent paddock for their two horses, because the passion for riding has remained, despite everything. “A lifelong dream,” both say. But everything else hangs in the balance. Nobody knows about it yet, not even her daughter Julia. In between, Tanja tries to calm down with the idea that it might be a nice change if Christine is now also interested in elegant blouses and beautiful shoes in the shop window. "He used to have combat boots and a pair of starting shoes, done," says Tanja. «Women's clothes? There are worse spleens. " But when she begins to realize that it's not just about women's clothes for a long time, the first shock is followed by “deep confusion”. Your husband, if he is still one, is not a transvestite. He finally wants to be a woman - in all consistency.

After all, it will be two long years in which Tanja and Christine carry their secret around with them alone. The two of them only manage to talk about it with the help of a psychologist, and later a couples therapist. It quickly becomes clear: Christian is a transgender woman whose gender identity does not match her external gender characteristics. None of this has anything to do with Tanja. She says: “That was when I realized I couldn't fight it. Swimming against waves takes way too much vitality. Either I'll go with you or I'll go under. "

According to a report by the psychologist, Christine is allowed to start her hormone therapy in May 2018, with which she suppresses the production of testosterone on the one hand and supplies estrogen to the body for the rest of her life on the other. When Tanja sees the first package, she immediately throws it in the trash. “It was really tough when these hormone therapies started. It was like a cold withdrawal. Suddenly the familiar smell was no longer there, no more aftershave in the morning that I love so much. No more whiskers either. It's not funny to watch a man get skin like his own. This is not sexy! Men feel different, they smell different, they are different too. It is no longer the same person in the same body, ”says Tanja.

Christine thinks that what is hard for her is wonderful. The male sex drive gone, no more smell of sweat, the voice higher and more melodious, fewer biceps, but a small bosom. And more emotions. "They used to be blocked, today you can let your own feelings out much better and are more open because you are closer to yourself," says Christine, who still prefers to say "you" than "I" when she talks about herself .

"I would feel a lesbian"

The couple is slowly venturing out into the public again, for the first time to Solothurn for dinner. But Tanja has a lot of trouble at first when Christine insists on make-up, skirt and blouse. She'd rather go out with her husband than hers. . .– yes, what should she even call the woman at her side? "Husband" or "partner" is no longer possible, and "partner" does not fit either because it would "make her feel lesbian". So she settles on "Chrige" because in "Chrige" there is still a remnant of man to her. "Chrige is no longer my husband, but my favorite person."

“Those are the sticking points when someone suddenly leaves their role in a straight couple. I am not a rainbow woman and I cannot suddenly pose as a lesbian. That exceeds my imagination and is against my innermost convictions », says Tanja.

Over time, she starts to get used to the woman next to her a little better, and sometimes it even gets really funny. «Youuu, could you give me echli manicure do? ”then says one to the other in front of the bathroom mirror. Or when Tanja Chrige visits the hairdresser for the first time, a long-time friend of both, and advises her on hair coloring (“you could be a little more experimental”). Or when “Chrige” throws away all of the men's clothes and goes on a shopping spree with Tanja (“It doesn't have to be cashmere”).

As if there weren't enough other troubles for her, Tanja hit her horse's head unhappily in the summer of 2018, shortly afterwards she broke her nose twice, and everything together has been causing her face to suffer terrible pain ever since. Who will take care of you again: your favorite person.

The coming out

It is probably also the hormones that urge Christine to make the next big decision, because they make her more and more feminine. In March 2019 Tanja and Christine decide to stop hiding, they want to come out. Christine has to go first, says Tanja, “that's your burden”. Julia, who will soon be eleven years old, will also find out, as will her teachers later. According to the parents, Julia reacts surprisingly calmly. "Shall I tell you mommy now too?" The daughter wants to know first, but Christine is and remains the daddy for Julia. At least within the family. And for outside, Julia invents a second nickname for him: Nana. But something else is much more important to her than the name: That Dad stays here.

“In the beginning I asked myself so often: what will people say? What will the village say? Do I have to put on a magic hat every time I go to the horses? Then we realized that openness is the best weapon against embarrassing silence or weird questions. Especially in the village. If someone then walked past the paddock and was embarrassed about the question of the name, then I said: 'I'm just as confused as you. Do it like me and just say Chrige,' "says Tanja.

When Christine tries to talk to mother, father and brother in the following weeks, she already knows in advance that she will stay on her way, regardless of the reaction. "Why did I never notice?" Asks the mother. "I expected everything, except that," says the father. And both assure: "Either way, you will remain our child."

Existential fears

But what if the superiors in the army react negatively to your outing? What if she has to give up command of her battalion or even quit her job as a career officer? In retrospect, Christine says: “I would have been willing to quit. I didn't know how it would turn out, I just knew that if it stays as it is, it will turn out badly. " Tanja says: «I had to expect that he would lose his job.So of course I wondered if I could find work again. What would that mean for Julia? What would happen to the horses? At that moment I had real existential fears. "

Christine's direct superior, Brigadier Fridolin Keller, is not completely surprised. Because he too had noticed the growing hair length of his lieutenant colonel. In addition, Keller had already dealt with a transgender soldier once in 2014, and since then the army, which today calls itself the “largest society of diversity in Switzerland”, has given this issue even more weight and hired its own diversity officer in spring 2019.

The brigadier reacts soberly and informs the chief of the army, who in turn informs the new head of the DDPS, Federal Councilor Viola Amherd, and that's it. The proud 12th Panzer Battalion, the oldest still active tank unit in the Swiss Army, is commanded by a woman - just like the second tank battalion is led by a woman, Lieutenant Colonel Corina Gantenbein. The news quickly seeps through half of the Federal Palace, and when media inquiries from the army pile up, Christine makes it public herself.

In October 2019, Lieutenant Colonel Hug entered the refresher course in Thun with 6 companies, 28 battle tanks and 35 armored personnel carriers. On the first day she stands in front of her 800 men and 3 women, announces the program and finally says briefly what everyone already knows from “20 minutes”: “Those who have known me for a long time know me as one other name. This year I decided to no longer continue my life as Christian, but as Christine. " Then the Gladius exercise begins, in which the battalion rolls through half of eastern Switzerland to remind the population once again that the Swiss army also has tanks.

The courage to be true to yourself

At the big final defile at the Dübendorf airfield, Captain Frank Lorenz, the battalion's pastor, said in a short address to the assembled troops: “In the past few weeks we have witnessed an astonishing change, which, however, basically only comes from the loyalty of a person himself came. You, dear Commander, showed us all what it means to stand by yourself. You have shown the courage to become someone else in order to be and remain true to yourself, deep down. I think I can speak for us all when I say: Brava! Well done! We are proud to serve under you because you have reminded us of the importance of first fighting with yourself and winning before we start the fight with external opponents. "

What almost nobody knows at the moment: Lieutenant Colonel Hug has to have her fitness for duty checked. Because according to the currently applicable guidelines, transgender people are classified as unsuitable. That is why she has to appear before the medical investigation commission on the last day of the WK, is questioned briefly on a pro forma basis and found to be “suitable” again. The paperwork in the army is significantly smaller than at the Solothurn district court, where Christine also has to have her new gender and name certified.

“I was amazed myself that afterwards, of all people, a couple of the hard-nosed Panzer Grenadiers congratulated me on my courage and said they would go to war with me at any time. Because I don't rely on the loud shouting and the absolutely strict, it was sometimes said that I wasn't a typical officer. But you are no less demanding, it's just a different way of dealing with people, and that is very much appreciated by subordinates, especially in this environment. Up until 2004 we had no women at all in the combat troops. When the first came, you heard that it wouldn't work. But various studies have long shown that it goes very well up to the top or even better than if it were a purely male troop, ”says Christine Hug, who continues to call herself a commander and not a commander.

"I was also there with our daughter and Christine's mother at the handover of the standard because we want to acknowledge Chrige as a family," says Tanja. “Whether Chrige, as a tank commander, is a man or a woman, it doesn't matter at all, it's all about professional, managerial and social skills, not gender. For me, that's real equality, that's how it should be everywhere! "

With all the encouragement from the ranks of the army, neither the commandant nor the pastor have any illusions: Not everyone thinks her outing is great. Some just don't care; others think she is overdoing her public presence; and especially critical are those who would prefer not to have women in the army, even though they only say so in a low voice. In an interview, Captain Lorenz says: “Even in the military there is this longing for an area in life with a clear, classic assignment of roles. Christine questions this radically. "

"You are now a role model for me"

It moves Frau Oberstleutnant to tears when soldiers or a company commander tell her: "You are now a role model for me." You, who never had role models, whether as a man, woman or trans, should now be one yourself. She is now helping a lot with the women's advancement program of the DDPS, and a major bank has already booked her as a consultant for diversity management. But Christine Hug certainly does not want to become an LGBT icon. The politically correct world of stars in the cities is too flashy and too ideological for her.

At the end of 2019, Christine still has the last step in her long metamorphosis ahead of her: the sex change. «Does it have to be? What for? In order to possibly desire a man later? ”Tanja asked again and again. “I understand your question, but for me it's a minor issue. With the assimilation of the sexes, I no longer need to worry in the bathroom or while showering and can lead a completely normal life. That is the point and not the sexual orientation, »says Christine.

Tanja finally comes to terms with it and says to Chrige: “If you are happy after the operation and can feel good for the next forty years, that is okay, even if I am deeply sad about it personally. But one thing is clear: I will certainly not accompany you to the hospital if my husband is buried there. "

A new gender in six hours

At the beginning of February 2020, Christine moved to the University Hospital Zurich, without the slightest nervousness and without any doubt that she made the right decision to end her life as a man after almost forty years. In a six-hour operation, a plastic surgeon removes her penis and testicles and reshapes parts of them into a vagina, labia and clitoris; an operation that takes place here every to every other week and is covered by Christine's basic insurance without any problems. From the hospital bed, Lieutenant Colonel Hug is planning the next WK of her battalion.

Nine days later she is back home, still the same size and broad-shouldered as Christian, but with a new gender. Tanja barely has a chance to look at her favorite person who has recently undergone surgery when Christine suffers severe blood loss on the first morning at home as a result of a ruptured vein and loses consciousness. «That was one of the worst moments in my life when I saw Chrige lying there. I was of course very worried, her pulse was hardly noticeable, we had to call the ambulance immediately. And at the same time a thousand curses went through my head. Your own fault, why did you want this operation! "

Meanwhile, Christine is feeling better again and the wound is healing according to plan. But now it is Tanja who is about to have a hospital appointment. Her face has to be operated on again and her left eye has to be straightened, hopefully for the last time. And it's Christine, Chrige, Nana, your favorite person, who will be waiting for you at home with Julia.

Tanja says: “In the near future I will have to take care of myself above all. As for us: We want to find a common path, there is so much that connects us, you don't just pack your bags. I am glad for Chrige that she now rises in this new cocoon and a butterfly comes out that has to get used to this new body. But you have to get used to each other again, and that will be a tough effort, mentally and physically. The outcome is completely open. Perhaps we will discover a path on which we will say afterwards: Why were we so afraid of it? As I can often say looking back on our lives, it was turbulent, frustrating, confusing, chaotic, but in the end we achieved something together. "