With the ending of the policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on Sept. 20 there has been a sense of jubilation for the gay, lesbian, transgendered and bisexual community for the completion of a goal that was almost 20 years in the making. It is well deserved. For the estimated 13,000 members of the United States Armed Forces who have been discharged for being gay under the now former policy I am sure their experiences and their emotions today are profound. Even more than those who have been discharged are the service members who have had to live their life in hiding, in a quiet shame, simply because of two things: they loved their country enough to serve it and they are gay – it is from their perspective that my story is told.
I wanted to wait to let the reality sink in of what a world without DADT is like because ever since December 2010 when it was announced the policy would end, I was not sure of how I would feel once it was completely gone. I wanted to let it all sink in and then figure out how I feel because I, like thousands of others, have a story of how “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” impacted my life. Or in my case, how it took a potentially great opportunity away from me. My story is nowhere near as deep as others and nowhere near as painful, but today I suspect not many of us as students at OSU have had a personal experience with the former policy. I have and I hope my story can open some minds to the reality of what DADT was like.
My story is a story of possibilities lost. A few years ago I met a guy on AIM in a gay chat room. I am out as a gay man and had been for a while before then so I was used to talking to people in chat rooms and social media sites as a way to connect. This guy, it turns out, lived about 13 minutes away from me, so we ended up having a private IM convo. Those internet convos turned into phone conversations and eventually we met up in secret. Whether it was on the phone or online we would talk for hours on end about anything and everything and though I suspected he was gay (I did meet him in a gay chat room) he did not at first confirm it to me. Finally one day I asked him flat out, was he gay, and after a long pause (a sign I was on the right track) he said yes, but that he could not talk about it.
After getting to know each other for a while I learned why he could not talk about being gay: he was a member of the United States Military and because of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” talking about being gay could end his future career. As we got to know each other better, we formed a chemistry that was immediate. We are both sarcastic, we have similar world and political views, we have similar goals for ourselves long-term. I am a very private person and I don’t open up easily, yet he was able to get through the walls I put up and he made me want him to get to know me better. For reasons I did not understand at the time it was suddenly very important for me to know everything about him and for him to know everything about me but there was always a distance between us.
No matter how close we could get, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” always stood in the way. When we spoke on the phone if he was not alone he would tell his friends that I was a girl named “Michelle” because they might ask questions if he spoke to a boy for hours at a time. We could never go hang out together because though I am not stereotypically flamboyant, it is not hard to figure out I am gay and he was paranoid about someone finding out. I could not get to know his friends or his family because someone might reveal the truth and the career that he was working so hard for would go away. I did not even feel secure in telling my family and friends his name because of the possibility someone might know someone who would figure out who he was. Coming out of the closet was a long and painful process for me, one that almost ended in suicide, and for this guy I was effectively being put right back in the closet once more.
This became a point of tension between us because “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was pulling him in so many different directions. It messed with both of our minds and even through this difficulty I think I was starting to fall for him. I could see myself with him. I could see us having careers and a house and who knows? But there was always this shadow, this dark underlying force, that hung over anything where we were concerned. One day he would be warm and talk about us having a future together and the next he would be distant and would have a hard time even admitting he had any feelings for me whatsoever. On the days when he would be warm and positive of our future he would talk of plans we could make with the most common being he wanted me to go with him whenever he was stationed somewhere other than my home. My usual counter was “Oh yeah? How do you plan on explaining to your bosses and friends about the one random guy that keeps showing up in every city you’re deployed and perhaps even living with you?”…he never had an answer for that question. I have come to believe it is those moments where he would think of me in his future that his true heart was guiding his mind and in the moments where he was distant “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was breaking that heart.
In the end the distance and the secrecy that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” required for LGBT members of the military and the people in their lives prevented us from ever really getting serious. We skirted the issue for a long time but I simply could not live a life in hiding, even for a great guy like him, and he simply could not risk it all. Perhaps I am wrong and he never really cared much for me but I believe he had developed real feelings for me and I know I could’ve truly loved that boy if only we had been able to have the chance. Sadly, that was not our reality. I haven’t talked to him for a long time and I don’t know what his life is like today or what the ending of DADT means to him. This story, his and mine, is not even close to the pain and suffering that so many LGBT service members and the people they love have gone through.
And even though I have not seen or spoken to him for a long time when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ended on Sept. 20 (my birthday no less) it was him I thought of. As I write this right now I can see his smile in my mind and I can hear his lame jokes that would make me roll my eyes and I can remember the feeling of waiting for his phone calls. When I think of the end of DADT I think of him and the dedication he had to the country that did not always thank him or appreciate the sacrifices he made. I think of how he made me laugh and how I could hear the struggle in his voice when I would ask him to just tell me how he really felt. I think of how he made me feel like a better person. I think of how he got me without even trying.
And I think of what might have been.
Goodbye “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”