by Aion's Anima
As a gay Airman, I provide my leadership with personal insight after the repeal of DADT.
|The following is a speech I was asked to give during my base's first annual Pride Day conference. I stood before my wing's top brass and civilian officials to speak about the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.|
Commanders, Chiefs, First Sergeants...
On the 22nd of December, 2010, at around 0700 hours, my rest was interrupted by a phone call from someone in my squadron kindly informing me that I had to report for a "commander's directive". I knew quite well what that meant, and I wasn't too happy, especially when I hadn't had much water to drink the night before (an empty 2-liter of Dr. Pepper was haphazardly laying on my floor).
When I arrived at the Drug Demand Reduction office at the clinic here, I poured myself a cup of coffee, grabbed two bottles of water, and waited patiently for my bladder to decide to cooperate and get the ordeal over with. On the news that morning was our Commander in Chief, surrounded by his entourage of government officials, the Vice President, a few faces I hardly knew... I was tired, so I had absolutely no clue what was going on for a moment until I listened to the man's words.
"For we are not a nation that says, 'don't ask, don't tell.' We are a nation that says, 'Out of many, we are one.' We are a nation that welcomes the service of every patriot. We are a nation that believes that all men and women are created equal. Those are the ideals that generations have fought for. Those are the ideals that we uphold today. And now, it is my honor to sign this bill into law."
His words did not fall on deaf ears that morning; but I wasn't sure what to make of them. You see, at the time I - obviously - wasn't out to anyone. To be so before that fateful morning would have ended my career immediately after it began. What's more, I wasn't even out to myself. Since I began to connect the dots in high school, I had been trying my utmost to suppress a side of me that I considered to be demonic, dark. I told myself that I would never give into my same-sex desires.
When people asked me why I joined the military, I gave a robotic, canned response: the economy, stability, and a reliable job. But in truth, I joined because I wanted to be reborn into a new human being, one that was disciplined and orderly, a good man. And I am such a man today, or I'd like to think so. But they didn't take away that part of the old me that I hated most. My desires to enjoy the company of other men were still there.
I suppose it would help to explain why I had this line of thinking. I come from a very conservative household. My brothers and I were raised to think that sex and marriage should be strictly between a man and a woman - to say nothing of our religious beliefs. But I was not like the other males I had grown up with. Though I could easily fit the role of the God-fearing, conservative minded son my parents wanted me to be, I knew deep down inside that I was not so picture-perfect. I was a queer, a homosexual, a degenerate, a sodomite... a certain "F-word" that we hear a lot.
When I was in high school, I was on the debate team (which also leads people to ask why in the world I joined the military; even more frequently: why I chose to be a cop!). My very first debate was over the issue of "same-sex marriage", or as I call it now: "marriage". I took my usual born-and-raised conservative stance and stuck to my guns, vigorously arguing against it. When I was finished with my speech, a female student in the back of the class had more than a few heated questions for me. The "debate" quickly fell apart into an argument, and my coach and the varsity could only lean back in their seats and watch us have a go at each other.
...I didn't realize until it was too late that she was lesbian. I had greatly wounded her pride as a human being.
I fought so hard. I tried prayer, I tried ignoring it, I tried crying my eyes out at night, and I even tried to rationalize it all away and almost convinced myself that this was all just "a phase" that young boys go through. Finally, I thought the military would beat it out of me. My step father told me that they would "break me down and build me back up". I believed that. So, on May 11th, 2010, I boarded a white bus out of Dallas and rode down to San Antonio to begin a new life as an Airman. I worked to perfect my facing movements, my push-ups and sit-ups, my run time... I worked to solidify my discipline and attitude. I became stronger...
...But not strong enough to change that one thing about me that haunted my dreams. I couldn't change a reality that was slowly consuming me from the inside. So I had hardened my heart so much then, forced my mind into submission when I saw the beauty in another man, that I practically didn't bat an eye at the news when our President signed the repeal of that repressive law.
I finally came out about two years ago. I was tired of wrestling with who I eventually came to realize was the true me. One of the first individuals in uniform that I talked to about my struggle for the first time - one year after the repeal of DADT - was a Staff Sergeant that I looked up to, someone that I had worked with since my arrival to Altus, and someone that looked after me during my first deployment. When he asked me why it took me so long, I replied, "I couldn't trust anyone. Even after that bill was abolished. And I didn't want anyone's help; it was my fight."
He looked at me, shook his head, and replied, "James... if you can't trust the same people that will pull your rear over the sandbags when under fire, then who can you trust?" (An expletive or two was replaced, I'll admit).
"Out of many... we are one." - You see, I get that now.
When I started drafting this speech there were approximately 7,238,347,563 people in the world. The most fundamental, in-the-box minds cannot possibly think that more than seven billion human beings can be wound up like cuckoo clocks and repeat the same thing over and over again on the hour. Every adult body of those seven billion is made up of approximately 37 trillion cells, which each cell consisting of 23 pairs of chromosomes. That pairing complexity is further defined by the fact that no single coupling of DNA in one human being is matched by any other of the seven billion.
We are as much a part of the human race as anyone.
I was asked to speak about what it means to me to be able to serve openly as a gay man in the military. ... It means a lot of things, actually. It means that I can once again take pride in my country's ideals. That I can fight for freedom for all Americans; including those that are LGBT, and not feel like a hypocrite. I no longer have to betray myself before my brothers and sisters in arms, nor feel ashamed or dishonorable. Finally... my sight is made clear, so that I can once again see the real enemy. "A house divided against itself cannot stand."
Today, in an age where LGBT service members can serve openly as the individuals they are, I can feel safe; protected by my second family, valued for who I am.
Emma Lazarus' poetic words, adorned by Lady Liberty, say,
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless,
Tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door."
Our nation claims to be a melting pot of people and culture from the four corners of the world, yet time and again, we must stop and check ourselves to see who we are leaving out, who we are failing to protect and guide. It fills my heart with joy to see that our military has once again answered liberty's call, well before many of our own civilian communities: we have accepted citizens of all classes, citizens of color, women... Now we have accepted people such as myself, and many others in this very room. We are ALL treated as one. That speaks volumes!
Looking back... While I do often wish I could have had the courage to come out when I was younger; I am glad that I still chose to wear this uniform. For I am a part of a proud heritage of men and women that know what it means to sacrifice; sacrifice time with family, sacrifice parts of who we were, sacrifice old pride. But in return, we are - as I was promised - built back up again. We become members of a new family, discover a humanity within ourselves we never knew we had, and gain a pride befitting of warriors, of patriots, and of just men and women.
We have become one.
Thank you for your time.