"I want people to know who I am first and know what I'm about before they make a judgement call based on my appearance."
Karen Kendra Holmes wears so many hats. She’s a safety officer for the federal government. She's a staff sergeant with the Maryland defense force who was voted soldier of the year in 2013. She’s a volunteer with the American Red Cross.
Holmes is also an advocate for the transgender community, but different than Caitlyn Jenner.
"They know Caitlyn Jenner because of her status and her celebrity and all that kind of stuff, so I basically, I look at it as I'm going to seize the moment you know me personally I'm going to tell you my story."
Karen, used to be Anthony. On Oct. 1, 2010, she transitioned from a man to being a woman.
"I kept crying out to God asking him to show me what's going on, why do I keep going back to the same thing over and over."
The back and forth was between clothes, but in her heart Holmes knew she was a woman. After attending a conference in Philadelphia on transgender issues, she was convinced.
Her family from her father, to her mother and brother were all supportive.
Her transition at work and with her volunteer organizations also went smoothly.
"I'm definitely fortunate and blessed about everything with family, work and my volunteer groups that know. When I told them hey I have to tell you , and when I told them I was transgender they said, wow, I thought you were going to leave the organization. To me that was awesome."
Holmes set her plan in motion. Within five years, she would undergo gender reassignment surgery.
"It's that completeness, the wholeness that I wanted to feel inside."
And on the outside too. She remembers one incident in particular.
"I was having total knee surgery and they were going through my medical stuff for treatment and they said what is this medication for and I told them. They came back and said they were going to have to put male on your waistband, as your gender. I said why, my driver’s license, passport, social security card all say female. They said we don't want to shock our O-R staff."
Today Holmes uses her previous experiences to educate others. She speaks with families whose young children are having gender identity issues, as well as medical students.
"I told them you are going to be the one that's going to make or break the life of a transgender person in your care. I said it's up to you to change that whole mentality."
She wishes the rest of society would follow, but laws like what states like North Carolina are passing about who can use what bathroom are discouraging.
"I don't know why people are so hung up about the bathroom issue. Transgender people are like everybody else, normal people we just want to go to the bathroom and bug out. "We're not there to camp out or scope out anything that's going on in the bathroom."
"We have so many transgender people who want to be happy for who they are. They transition to be happy but because of the way society is, they either lose their family, their jobs, their homes, and they commit suicide."
Holmes is no Caitlyn Jenner, but wants to offer hope for real people going through the struggle.
She was married for 18 years. Now she's moved on to a new chapter just trying to live a new normal, but still very mindful of the life she left behind.
"I'll still never forget where I came from. I'll definitely say look this is who I used to be, and I'm proud of it. Tony lived a great life back then being involved in volunteering. It was a springboard to who Karen is today."