The Next Family approached Officer X, a gay military officer, by email after reading about him on Time.com. We asked if he would answer a few questions for our retired military readers and storytellers who served before the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT). Our sincere thanks goes out to Officer X who answered our exclusive questions.
How did you choose the military, knowing you would have to stay closeted?
I touched on this subject on my post “the decision to serve” At the time I decided to join the military, I wasn’t 100% convinced I was gay. I thought I might be but nah… That couldn’t be me. I was 19 when I signed my contract and being gay didn’t “fit the mold” (so-to-speak) of what I saw my life being. I honestly thought I could be happy finding some girl who would knock my socks off and things would be perfect. After a while I started to realize that there were plenty of awesome girls in my life, but I only wanted to be their friend. But the problem (and I hesitate to call it a problem) wasn’t with them; it was with me. I knew I wanted to have military service as a part of my life. The rest, I figured, would fall into place eventually.
Has your sexuality had any detrimental effect on your experience as an officer in the military?
As an officer, I can function. I repeatedly rank in the upper echelon of my peers when we get racked and stacked. My sexuality only offers an extra stressor to my performance –one that is capable of being overcome. But like any stressor in life that goes unresolved, the effects are cumulative. It’s made me cry behind closed doors. But with certain outlets it is bearable, whether by escaping to the city with my best lesbian friend to go to the gay bars, confiding in a close friend, or finding my current boyfriend, I have learned how to bounce back.
Did you find that your sexuality caused you to act in a way that might be different than heteros (i.e., making sure there was no one in the locker room or shower)?
Honestly this is a topic I try to avoid whenever possible. In situations involving locker rooms or anything like that, I do whatever I can to not attract attention to myself to keep from violating anybody’s trust or from feeling like I am being treated differently.
Did your sexuality affect the way you handled your subordinates?
As a pilot I don’t have as many subordinates as most officers my age and rank. I find I am often tempted to take the conservative route with them. I try to live by example. Post-repeal I feel it is my duty to come out, if for no other reason than to be a role model to any who may be struggling with their own identity.
Do you think your experience as a closeted officer is different from that of a closeted enlisted person? If so, how?
As an officer I am afforded additional liberties that many new enlisted personnel are not. It is easier for me to live off base, which makes having a relationship much easier. There is less sneaking involved with my lifestyle than someone who lives on base, most likely has a roommate, and shares a building with many other troops.
Has the mood of the military and/or civilian personnel changed since the repeal of DADT? How?
Slightly. I think the biggest changes will come once LGBT troops are able to come out and people realize that we’re not so scary and have been here all along.
Any military personnel coming out of the closet? If so, is it being done in a discreet way or more obvious?
None that I know personally. I think some of us feel less likely to try to hide it anymore, but are still not overtly expressing our sexuality. I have come out to my parents and brother since the repeal of DADT was signed into law, but not to anyone in my unit.
Are they coming out to a safe environment?
Because I don’t know anybody personally who is coming out in their unit, I can’t really say how safe the environment is.
Does there seem to be any difference between the services–
specifically regarding the attitudes about gays openly serving?
As with the civilian sector, there are certain professions where being openly gay is less accepted. For example, there are few openly gay athletes, and I think it will be a while before we see too many gay rappers. Similarly, I think certain professions within the military which carry a macho stigma will be less supportive, i.e. special operations, infantry, fighter pilots.
Is there a difference in the attitude of military personnel based on certain demographics such as age, religious views etc?
I have been surprised in a couple of instances by very religious people who have been accepting and open. It’s hard to pinpoint any specific demographic other than those who have never been exposed to the issue and have never really had it hit home for them personally.