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Editor's note: OutServe: The Underground Network of LGBT Actively Serving Servicemembers is an organization comprised of LGBT members of the U.S. armed services. The organization provides resources and information to LGBT active duty while advocating for the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." OutServe's website, www.outserve.org, regularly posts stories from LGBT servicemembers, and the most recent is posted below.
I finished my service contract with the Army National Guard in October of last year upon completion of my stop-lossed tour in Afghanistan. My leadership always reflected high marks for my abilities and I was often reassured that I was one of the best medics in my battalion. I spent most of my tour in remote outposts, often as the only medical asset available to our small teams. The year following a combat tour is obviously tumultuous, and every day I experience that unreal moment when I want nothing more than to be back on the Pakistan border, convoying all over the Hindu Kush mountains. Then I remember the additional burden of stress DADT caused me during my deployment. Being a Combat Medic for an Infantry battalion made it impossible for me to confide my sexual identity to any of my peer soldiers. I don’t intend to detail my entire six plus years of service, though I constantly faced obstacles as a gay man living out, while serving in my hometown guard unit. Suffice it to say, it was rough. Nor did I experience any of those horror stories deployed LGBTQ soldiers face everyday on the battlefield. I did get to live in fear of those every day, though. People often ask me about being gay in the military, and I’ve found that few people actually recognize the mass of horrific details every LGBTQ service person accepts into their day to day life. Here are those details that were the most tolling for me:
- I was stationed at a Combat Outpost in an isolated part of the country in a team of 9 people. Those bonds transcend almost any relationship I’ve known. I will never share so close and intense an experience with anyone else in my life. I know that I could call any of these men and they would be there to help me no matter what the consequences. None of these people are aware of this one facet of my personal life that happens to be one of my most defining qualities. These, the strongest friendships in my life are based on non truths.
- Before I left for Afghanistan, I had to sit down with my Mother and Boyfriend to develop an alert plan in case anything happened to me during the deployment because my boyfriend would obviously not be notified. The few times we spoke on the phone, I had to use feminine pronouns with him. We didn’t really have an actual conversation throughout the course of my deployment, because you’re never alone in the MWR room. I hated the idea about lying about my relationship, so I generally acted as though I didn’t have one. After playing that role for a year, it started to become true in my head.
- I used to love being an out, gay man. The community and the culture were a large part of who I was, and I rarely made apologies for being who I am. Along with my relationship losing validity, I lost a part of my identity as well. Faking straight for 365+ consecutive days eventually reformats your identity. I’m not as comfortable being me anymore.
- There’s this amazing moment that happens when you get home. It’s sort of the quintessential, patriotic end to your deployment. You roll into a red, white, and blue plastered high school gym. Your entire family is there waiting, bursting to get to you. They release you from your formation and there’s a mad dash. All those wives and girlfriends sprint into the formation to, finally, wrap their arms around their men. It seems corny, but it’s almost like a small concession for the personal hell each of these relationships have experienced. When I came home I asked my boyfriend not to come. I didn’t want to risk it. However, my Mom and Dad (a retired MSG) insisted that he come. When I broke free from the formation he had to stand there, a family friend, and politely shake my hand. I asked him to not cry at the ceremony because it could be a give away. I can’t imagine how hard that was for him.