Transgender King County sheriff's deputy shares his 'scariest' journey

SEATTLE -- Five nights a week, you will find King County sheriff's deputy Jaime Deer patrolling the streets of King County until the sun comes up.

“I joined the police department to help people, so if this is just another way of doing it that, that’s OK,” says Deer.

He puts his life on the line to serve and protect and, now, Deer is putting his personal life on the line, too, in the hope of helping people on a deeper level.

For the majority of his 19-year career, he was known as Melissa.

“When I first met him, he was Melissa and I knew him as Melissa. He never seemed comfortable in his own skin. He never seemed happy. He tried to be one of the girls, and we were friends, but he never really was one of the girls,” says Sgt. Christine Elias, who has been a co-worker and friend of Deer for 17 years.

“Ever since I can remember, I thought I was a boy,” says Deer.

He’s one of the first openly transgender law enforcement officers in Washington state.  And he went through his transition later in life, in a very public way -- on the job.

“So for probably for the first, say, up until (age) 37, I pretty much tried to make it as a straight woman,” says Deer.

In the spring of 2010, Jaime met Kay.  And, at that time, Jaime came out as a lesbian to family, friends and co-workers.

He married Kay in October 2014.  And while they were very much in love, something wasn’t right.

“Even calling myself a lesbian just didn’t feel right, but it just fit for the moment,” says Jaime.

So, after much soul searching and with Kay’s love and support, Jaime came to a decision.

“I was already taking hormones and seeing a psychologist and going to the doctor and changes were starting to happen a lot faster than I anticipated. So it was at a point where I needed to come out anyway,” says Jaime.

Jaime says coming out the first time, as a lesbian, was hard enough. But coming out again, as a transgender man, to his family and his fellow deputies, was terrifying.

“I think of the scariest call I’ve been on, or the weapons calls and fighting with bad guys and I think coming out to the department and coming out to my family is probably the worst.  And coming out twice, you know in my lifetime, I’ve come out twice!  I don’t recommend that to anybody. It’s not easy,” says Jaime.

With the support of his loved ones and his co-workers at the King County Sheriff’s Office, he made his official transition from Melissa to Jaime just six months ago.

“I said, ‘Hey, this is going to happen and I want to send a letter to the sheriff and let him know as of July 9th I will be transitioned,” says Jaime.

Jaime says he thought about changing police departments; it would be easier to start with a clean slate as a man. But in the end, he chose to remain a King County sheriff’s deputy.

“I can’t imagine working anywhere else. I love and respect the men and women I work with. I don’t want to go anywhere else. So, I just decided to take a chance on these guys,” says Jaime.

He says he was happy that soon after, the King County Sheriff’s Office adopted transgender training policies first created by Seattle Police, including SPD’s training video, now used by police departments around the nation, teaching officers how to respectfully interact with the transgender community.

“I am very, very, very proud of him.  I know how scary it’s been and how terrifying it was for him to have to not only come out to his family, but then the entire police department. And now pretty much the world,” says Jaime’s wife, Kay.

While the world may know Jaime’s story, he’s knows not everyone accepts him.

“Seattle, it is, you just take for granted how open-minded it is out here. You still run into little pockets, even for instance, Enumclaw, we lived there and there’s still some small-mindedness when it comes to these issues. But there are many people who are starting to figure it out,” says Jaime.

Ultimately, he says, this is really a transition for everyone.

“I think a lot of people have these misconceptions of what being trans is. I think a lot of it is just because they don’t know. Not being educated and being ignorant on stuff leads to a lot of fear and the fear becomes hate and the hate transcends into some of these issues that we see,” says Jaime.

He appreciates the support from his loved ones and co-workers. And he realizes people are going to makes mistakes from time to time using “she” instead of “he”.

“It’s kind of cringe-worthy when you hear it. And I know people aren’t messing up on purpose, but to even have the old pronouns be used is very, it’s kind of frustrating at times,” says Jaime.

Jaime accepts the risks of his job and the risks of coming out, because, he says they could never outweigh the risk of not being true to himself.

If you are wondering why go from Melissa to Jaime? He says when he was little, his mom told him that before he was born she chose two names:  Melissa for a girl and Jaime for a boy. And so, when he came out to his family, he asked his mother to name him again. And he says she chose the name Jaime because he is her son.