What a fascinating time to be a gay man in the U.S. military. This time last year, I was sure the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy was here to stay for the next 2 to 3 years. I never thought by now I’d be in a unit where almost everyone has received post-repeal training. While not entirely satisfied with the training process, I believe the overall message has started to stick: lesbian and gay troops are soon going to be open in the work place, and despite the commotion caused by this change in policy, it’s really no big deal.
Enter my involvement in Time’s Battleland blog. I have been given the opportunity to share my firsthand experiences from the inside as I watch the fall of a policy that is undeniably discriminatory. By “not asking” and “not telling,” the people repressed by this policy have been robbed of their voice to speak out. As a result, the impact of such a policy doesn’t hit close to home for enough families, friends, or coworkers. By blogging here, it is my goal to share the excitement felt by every gay and lesbian service member as this burden of lies, cover stories, and double lives is lifted.
As a young, gay officer who is currently serving on active duty, I have been waiting years for the day when I can show up to work and not have to lie about what I did on the weekend or the gay circle of friends I spend much of my free time with. As you can undoubtedly imagine, I was anxious to hear what my superiors had to say on the subject of the post-repeal military.
I held my composure as I stood in the back of a small but crowded room with standing room only. The formal briefing was a slightly awkward attempt at a conversation between one of my superior officers and the 40 or so of us squeezed in that room. He was clearly not used to talking about the topic of homosexuality as he seemed uneasy, but his overall message was a good one: “Soon you will be working around openly gay people. This change is akin to the integration of blacks into the military and the key to a successful transition is professionalism and mutual respect.”
As with any other conversation about gays in a setting where I am not “out,” I found myself reverting to old defense mechanisms. I tried to laugh, but not too hard. I listened intently while trying to look as if I was barely paying attention. I looked to see how everyone else was reacting only to mimic their posture, their level of attentiveness, and their own reactions to the conversation.
A good friend of mine, also gay, was standing next to me throughout the briefing. We barely looked at each other the entire time. His posture was much like mine, only he didn’t laugh. He didn’t smile. There was a cold emptiness in him which I had rarely seen before. I guess that was his way of not drawing attention to himself.
While the “training objective” was met that day, the real training did not take place in that room. In almost every instance since, when someone has made a homophobic comment, the problem has been self-policed. Someone usually makes light of the situation. Either the person making the comment has said “Wait, I can’t say that anymore,” or someone else has given them a sarcastic spot-correction.
Whether or not they mean it is a moot point. The fact is, the seed has been planted in their minds, and they know what they are saying is wrong – and probably have for a while. I’m sure this type of “humor” will linger even after DADT is no longer in effect, which is okay by me. Humor can still be used to correct people without making a big, unnecessary scene.
From my personal experience, the official training was probably unnecessary. The most important part was hearing a superior take a stand and lay out a policy and a plan of execution. Since that seed has already been planted, I can’t understand waiting around for months before repeal takes place. After all, thousands of gay troops like me are being silenced when we would be much more effective if we could actually engage in the conversation about gays in the military.
When DADT is history, we will reach our desired level of military readiness. Until then, I will continue to stand against the wall in a crowded room, trying to blend in to a conversation without drawing too much attention to myself. I encourage you to tag along.
– On Twitter @TIMEOfficerX