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A Soldier Comes Out

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So we just skirt the hallway sides
A phantom and a fly
Follow the lines and wonder why
There's no connection/And week of rolling eyes
And cheap shots from the trite.
— The Shins, "Phantom Limbs"

I had to chapter a Soldier out of the Army today. I had no choice. She was a good Soldier, but the laws are clear and the laws tie my hands.

The words that got the ball rolling on her separation from the Army were only four and they made up one of the most ridiculous sworn statements I have ever seen in my life: "I am a lesbian."

My commanding officer and I stood there looking at the piece of paper. “That’s it?” a look between us seemed to say. A straight, diagonal line from one end of the page to the other said that, yes, that was it.

I glanced over at my young Soldier standing there at attention, eyes locked at some point straight ahead. She had told me earlier while we both were outside smoking a cigarette she was going to do it — she was going to come out to the commander. Most of the unit already knew she was gay — no one really cared. She was smart about it though, keeping it hidden away from those who could put forth into motion processes she wasn’t ready for.

She knew the consequences of what she was about to do, but she told me she couldn’t do it anymore. She couldn’t live the lie, she couldn’t not be herself anymore.

“You sure this is what you want to?” I asked her.

“Yes, I’m sure,” she said, a quiver in her voice betraying the wall of strength she was desperately trying to project.

“Don’t lose your cool, don’t lose you’re bearing,” I said to her after we’d talked some more and affirmed a course of action.

“Be a professional to the very end,” I told her.

Glancing back at her as the CO signed the legal documents I was so proud of her, standing there, rigid, “yes, sir” and “no, sir” the only answers coming out of her mouth. Right there, at that moment, she was walking the walk of an Army value of personal courage, and as I looked at her, both pride and frustration at the current Army policy concerning homosexuals washed over me. This was only the beginning; it would take weeks before all the paperwork would be done and she was discharged from the Army. In the meantime, she was expected to go back out there and be a Soldier, albeit one who wasn’t living a lie anymore.

I said she was a good Soldier. That’s not to say there wasn’t a slew of problems – but they were the problems found in many a young Soldier: she partied a little too hard at times, she was late to unit musters without calling ahead, and there were other issues but nothing that would not have resoled themselves with mentoring and maturity. She is, after all, only 20 years old.

And then something strange happened, so strange that everyone around her noticed it. After coming out to the CO, she changed: she tried a little bit harder, she wasn’t late anymore, she did everything we asked her to and she did it with the passion and fire you expect from a Pfc. Her attitude changed; she smiled a bit more often, cut up with the unit more freely. She was finally comfortable in her own skin.

Living a double existence is one of the major problems of the current “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that doesn’t get much attention. I understand that it’s kind of a hard thing to encapsulate, but forcing someone to live a lie puts them in the position of holding back – how would you like it if always seemed like there was a thumb pushing you back down?

It’s time. It’s past the time, actually, to end this ridiculous policy and let those who are gay serve alongside anyone else willing to put their life on the line for this great nation.

An informal straw poll of some Soldiers around me revealed what most of us wearing the uniform already know — very few people care who you’re sleeping with. Almost universally, the answers went something like, “I don’t want to know who anyone is sleeping with gay or straight, I want to know that if it came down to it, could that person put bullets down range and could they pull my ass to safety if I should go down.”

Of course there are those who, for whatever reason, are still adamantly opposed to gays serving in the military just like there were those opposed to integrating the services back when blacks and white served in separate units. I won’t get into their logic because frankly, I don’t understand it.

And like those days of integration, there will be some high-profile problems if the decision to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is ever reached. But that can no longer be a reason for the delay; just because something might be hard and might come with new sets of problems is no reason to forgo the action. One of the things my dad, a career military man himself, told me long ago, that has stuck with me through all the years, was that most of the time, doing the right thing is the most difficult of all the paths ahead of you.

“Hey Sarge, this is all I’ve ever wanted to be, since I was a kid,” my Soldier said to me as we were back outside smoking another cigarette, an uncertain future ahead of her, “you think they’ll let me back in if they ever repeal this stupid law?”

I wanted to tell her it was a slam dunk, that, absolutely, if and when those in Washington who seem to delight in playing puppet master with peoples lives removed their heads from their sphincters, everything would be okay and she would be able to come back into the Army. But I looked her in the eye and held her gaze for a few seconds.

“I don’t know,” I replied.

 

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About Mr. B

  • doug m

    Thanks for sharing this story. It’s heartbreaking to read the sacrifice this young woman, like all gay people who serve, was willing to make for a country that expects her to deny who she is.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    The repeal bill passed the house a couple of weeks ago and should hit the Senate shortly, where the Republicans are unfortunately determined to filibuster it. Hopefully they won’t succeed. But it’s all come just a little bit too late for the soldier in this piece.

  • Benjamin

    I do hope that if/when they repeal the law there will be some provision that allows discharged under the old law to return to service.

  • Cannonshop

    If the repeal comes through soon enough (Fingers crossed) she should be able to appeal her discharge, or re-up without problems. In a way, it’s kind of funny how society’s turned- the “Gay dodge” was a fairly frequent method of avoiding military service back when we were under the Draft. Seeing that done away with and the reg changed to allow good soldiers with some…different…habits to stay in (or, return) makes sense.

  • Jeff Forsythe

    I read a piece just yesterday where yank marines beat a young bloke to unconsciousness and then legged it. When the naff lot was nicked they crapped they fled because he was trying to chat them up. Two bloody hard marines at sixes and sevens over being afraid of a “dodgy” Nancy boy-a jolly well bit of bottle that took.

    Jeff

  • STM

    Good on her, if that’s what she wanted to do. It’s her business.

    Nice hat, too.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Well-written article. Thanks for sharing.

    I hope that as this policy is being shaped and worded that all those discharged for their sexuality would receive some type of amnesty, whereby their records are amended and they are allowed to reapply if they so choose

  • http://jetsgaypride.blogspot.com/ Jet Gardner

    amen

  • Jordan Richardson

    Tremendous article. Very powerful. I especially applaud your mention of integration, as it truly highlights what sits at the core of these sorts of issues as nothing more than raw fear of the Other. What’s more, the public rarely seems to share the views of those who consistently tell us to be afraid.

  • Tim

    Good riddance. We don’t need homosexuals in the military. It she want’s to be one, that’s her business. But they have no place in the military.

  • http://delibernation.com Silas Kain

    Good riddance? When you decide to post without anonymity, let’s chat. Until then, you are yet another typical manifestation of the gutless, cowardly Far Right fringe which preys on everyone to advance their own cause. Thanks to you and your ilk, the GOP has become a shell of its former self. Thanks to you and your band of hateful zealots, the Party of Lincoln has become diametrically opposite to those principles upon which the GOP was founded. If there is a Hell, hope I am on the welcoming committee giving out the assignments. I’ve got a great one planned for you.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    Tim:

    Tell that to Alexander the Great when Silas introduces you to him.

    :-)

  • Tim

    Yes, the GOP has changed. It’s far too liberal. Homosexuality is not a right, so people can’t claim it as a right and be angry when they’re punished for beign homosexuals.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    You’re a righteous-thinking American, Tim, ought to be proud of yourself.

  • http://delibernation.com Silas Kain

    Yep, that confirms it. Language like that means ONE thing — latency. Look it up, Tim.

  • Mark

    hmmm

    latency:

    1. the state of being constantly behind on trailer rent

  • Dan

    Wonder why it’s so hard to keep your sexuality to yourself? The obsession with forcing everyone around you to acknowledge your personal sexual proclivities seems pathological.

  • Tim

    For people who preach tolerance, you guys don’t seem very tolerant of my opinions. I could get into all the reason why I don’t think that homosexuality is a right, and why I don’t think they belong in the military. But I won’t because I already see that you’re not tolerant of the views of others when they disagree with you, even though you want me to tolerate homosexuals in the military even though I don’t like it. That sure sounds like a double standard to me. If you truely believed in tolerance, you’d tolerate my views even though you don’t like them. After all, that’s what tolerance is; accepting something even though don’t necessarily agree with it or like it. At least I don’t preach tolerance, because I’d be a hyprocrite if I didn’t accept the views of others like you’re doing. You’re saying that the ban on homosexuals in the military should be repealed because it’s not fair that they shouldn’t be accepted because their lifestyle isn’t normall considered an acceptable lifestyle. But then you turn around and respond to my comment with sharp critizism and refuse to accept my point of view. It seems like you’re refusing to tolerate my intolerance, which is hyprocritical and a complete double standard on your part. If you really believed in tolerance, you’d accept any and all views that you didn’t necessarily agree with because if you didn’t, you’d be intolerant. See, preaching tolerance like you’re doing is a huge double edged sword. You order me to tolerate things I don’t like, but won’t tolerate things you don’t like and won’t tolerate opinions or views you don’t like. I never intended to give all the reasons why I don’t like homosexuals in the military, I just wanted to see what you people would say to my comment. I just wanted to prove that you don’t practice what you preach. I’ve succeeded. Just six comments after mine have proven my theory that you’re hypocrites. Only tolerating the views that you agree with is not tolerance at all. Rather, it’s a double standard.

  • Mark

    …tolerance?

    Sounds like a personal problem. Take it to the chaplain.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Mark, check this out, especially the comment thread.

  • http://delibernation.com Silas Kain

    I don’t preach tolerance and I don’t tolerate those who anonymously post inflammatory remarks without benefit of engaging in a dialog which may actually accomplish something.

    I love this Country with every fiber of my being. I would fight to the death to defend your right to spew your brand of hate. I’d doubt you would reciprocate.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Well, Silas, your betrothed has betrayed you. You had better get a divorce or an annulment at least. You won’t be able to see and think clearly until you face the facts.

  • http://delibernation.com Silas Kain

    Which facts, Roger? That this country isn’t worth loving any longer? That our government is completely in disarray and in need of a wholesale clean out? That we’re evolving to a day when there will be one world government?

    The handwriting is on the wall, Roger. We’re poised for a global conflict. Few people in this country see the ramifications of Hamid Karzai’s decisions regarding natural resources. Afghanistan and Iraq are going to look like strolls through Disney World, my friend. As they say in the Boy Scouts, “be prepared”.

  • Tim

    You may not acknowledge it, but you do preach tolerance. The entire point of the repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is that it’s not fair that homosexuals have live a lie if they’re in the military, and that I should accept their lifestyle even if I don’t like it. The only other option is for you to force me to actually like it. There are no other options; either you want me to accept it even if I don’t like it, or you want me to actually like it.
    You people just want us to accept homosexuals for who they are even if I don’t like it. Acknowledge it or not, that’s what you’re doing. You are preaching tolerance, yet you refuse to tolerate dissenting views.

  • http://delibernation.com Silas Kain

    The entire point of repealing DADT is because it should not have been on the books to begin with. A soldier is not defined by sexuality. Just look at Alexander the Great. Oh, I forgot, he doesn’t count in your world because he was before the Lord when all those pagans didn’t know the Good News. When a country is in trouble and needs the aid of its military, the LAST thing on one’s mind is sex.

    I suppose you support gay WalMart employees being forced to wear a yellow vest. And, if so, you probably agree with the slaughter of all the innocents who wore pink triangles in the concentration camps.

  • Tim

    And why exactly do you think that it should not have been made in the first place? Nobody’s forcing homosexuals to be in the military, if you want to join an organization, you must abide by their rules. They’re not being forced to live a lie. They’re doing so volunatrily.

  • http://delibernation.com Silas Kain

    OK, so you’re logic is no fags in the military, right? And your logic also says that all organizations should be allowed to have discriminatory rules. Right? So, by your logic I could have an organization which would not allow the employment of White Fundamentalist Christians. Right?

    We’re all living a lie, Tim. Every citizen of this country. Sometimes it’s voluntary. Sometimes it’s a matter of survival. The world is black and white. And within that white lives a spectrum of colors which liberate from your darkness.

  • Benjamin

    Hey Tim,

    I guess I don’t really understand your logic. Repelling DADT doesn’t mean you have to accept homosexuals only their right to serve in the military. Yes, I fundamentally disagree with you on some of your points but you’ve not really offered any reasons to back them up other than you don’t accept homosexuality. I for one believe that homosexuality is genetically determined and can’t see holding anything against a person due to the accident of birth. So, why do you think DADT shouldn’t be repelled?

  • Tim

    That’s exactly right. What’s the point of having rules if you’re forced to reapeal them based on arbitrary definitions of discrimination? There is none.

    And Ben, repealing DADT does mean that we have to accept homosexuals. I don’t believe that homosexuality is determined by gentitcs, rather, it’s determined by the will of the person. Repealing DADT means that I’m forced to accept them becuse I have to work with them. White supremacists allowed in the military. If they were allowed to be in the military, people who don’t like it would be foced to accept them. In reality, people who are in favor of the repeal of DADT really are preaching tolerance. Yet you don’t tolerate my intolerance for homosexuals.

  • http://delibernation.com Silas Kain

    I don’t believe that homosexuality is determined by gentitcs, rather, it’s determined by the will of the person…

    OK, Tim, I’ll bite. So you think homosexuality is a condition and not genetic. Right? Well if that is your logic it would stand to reason that Maggie Gallagher would turn straight men gay and Rush Limbaugh could make a lesbian out of Michelle Bachmann. Shit. You may be right after all.

    P.S. The spelling police around here can measure a person’s true intellect. Grab a dikshunerry.

  • Benjamin

    Tim — I’m not sure where I’ve not tolerated you’re intolerance. Hell, if anything I’m trying to engage you.
    I’m not asking you to accept homosexuality, only to allow them to serve in the military. As I stated in the article, I don’t want to know anyone’s sexual preferences, I hate the straight guy telling me of his weekend conquests just as much as I hate the gay man who details his weekend at the club and subsequent conquests.
    But who you have sex with should not be a condition of military service — it has absolutely no bearing on your ability to fire a weapon, decipher a message or any of the tasks the military asks their people to do.
    I have no idea how many gay people you’ve been around or how many you know who’ve served but I know that the one’s I’ve known, who’ve come out about their sexual preferences tend to become the type of service members we want — motivated, hard-charging and all that. I couldn’t tell you why. I can only assume that living with that secret, hiding your true self in order to serve must weight on a persons psyche and once it’s lifted, they’re allowed to fully become the service member they are.

  • Tim

    @ Silas: [personal attack deleted by comments editor] I spell one word incorrectly, and you have to use that to shift the focus from you to me.

    @ Ben: If you’re so adament about not caring, why are you making a big deal about it? You are forcing people to accept homosexuals if you’re allowing them into the military. I’m not a racist at all, nor do I advocate racism, and I don’t disagree with the decision, but the courts have forced whites to accept blacks in schools by forcing integration.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Tim, you’ve hinted at but not actually offered much in the way of argument as to why you don’t want gays in the military, other than that you just don’t like the idea.

    I don’t much like the idea of some of the clients I’ve got to interview tomorrow either, but that’s no reason not to go to work.

    We’ve heard some of the top military brass speaking out against the repeal of DADT citing various vague reasons, principally the one about it being bad for morale. Precisely why it should be bad for morale never seems to be explained.

    If I’m not much mistaken, there were similar objections when the proposal to end racial segregation in the military first hit the floor.

    But it turned out then – and, if Ben’s straw poll in the article is anything to go by, it’s much the same now – that the prevailing mood in the military was (and probably is) that it doesn’t matter what colour your buddy’s skin is or who he or she sleeps with – as long as you can rely on him or her to have your back in a firefight.

  • http://delibernation.com Silas Kain

    I’m not a racist at all, nor do I advocate racism, and I don’t disagree with the decision, but the courts have forced whites to accept blacks in schools by forcing integration.

    When they start with “I’m not a racist…but…” that cinches it for me. This exchange isn’t worth my valuable time.

    In the meantime any American who is willing to sacrifice his/her life on my behalf in the military has my full, unbridled support and gratitude — regardless of his/her personal beliefs.

  • Cannonshop

    #33, #34-have the right of it. But repeal of DADT doesn’t begin to address the real problem-that being the UCMJ’s “military Laws” regarding all sorts of private behaviours, with attendant penalties.

    For instance, you can get a prison term in the army, if you’re caught committing Adultery, or getting a blow-job from your Girlfriend (or performing cunnilingus, anal, or any position other than missionary.)

    I shit you not on this. All these regulations within UCMJ are put there by one body-Congress.

    Unless the repeal also removes THOSE regs, people with Tim’s attitude can nail-with-the-reg-and-out-of-the-service gay soldiers who simply admit to being sexually active-because in order to do so, you’re automatically violating several military laws…which carry prison time and the big chicken dinner. (The policy DADT had a lot to do with a ham-handed attempt to PROTECT gay soldiers, because that’s how the army got rid of them before the policy was put in place by executive order.)

    If the repeal does not address this, gay soldiers will still be targeted with administrative separations and/or formal charges, depending on the domestic political climate.

  • http://delibernation.com Silas Kain

    Very, very interesting points. So basically what you’re saying is that the entire UCMJ needs serious reconsideration. And, what I find most interesting is the injection of Fundamental Right Wing Christian ethics in the code. It may have been appropriate in days past but these are changing times.

  • Irene Wagner

    I don’t want to be associated with mean-spirited campaigns to keep gays from living lives just like anybody else.

    It may bug some that I am a very conservative Bible-believing Christian, but I’m an American who believes in a fair shake for everybody, too, and the two don’t have to be incompatible.

    I don’t want to get in a discussion with anyone on this thread about it. You can cut me down if you want, but please don’t feel miffed if I don’t answer. I just felt like I needed to say something.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    “For instance, you can get a prison term in the army, if you’re caught committing Adultery, or getting a blow-job from your Girlfriend (or performing cunnilingus, anal, or any position other than missionary.)”

    Which makes you wonder. You’ve got to be really desperate to join the Armed Forces.

  • Benjamin

    Well Roger, I’ve been in the military nearly 15 years and I certainly don’t feel desperate for doing so.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    No Spartan would, Benjamin.