A few weeks ago, my husband and I were driving home from the base. While listening to the radio, the first few lyrics of a song I had not heard before grabbed my attention. At the time I did not know it was Same Love by Macklemore. I did know I had never heard anything on the radio like it before. I listened and it brought tears to my eyes. If you are not familiar with it, I encourage you to You Tube it. The artist writes of struggling with the fear of being gay as a child and goes on to make a point through utmost thoughtful words.
I find a little irony in the fact that we were driving back from the base when I heard it. I’m a newlywed. I married into the Navy, and while being a Navy wife is new, the military life is not. My father was a lifer.
For all the ways I love the opportunities that military life afforded me, growing up, it was also often a conundrum. You are taught the men and women of the United States Armed Forces fight for the freedoms of all, yet there was an underlying current of inequality; Officers vs. NCO’s, men vs. women, one branch vs. another and eventually heterosexual vs. homosexual with the passing of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. The Oath of Enlistment is also common knowledge which states a member of the military will defend the Constitution, a document which clearly defines this nation’s Establishment Clause, separating church from state. Despite this fact, most non-Christians were at risk of being called out and criticized if they were open about their beliefs or lack thereof. It still happens. We lived in this melting pot fortress and our friends were black, white, Asian and every color of the rainbow. On the surface, it was great. Peeling away the layers, it was an onion that could make you cry.
In our house, racial slurs did not exist. My father, a white man for all intents and purposes, married a Colombian woman with African roots. Had they met eight years prior, a union between the two of them would have been against the law. Eight years. He fought in Vietnam alongside his brothers. And in war, there was no color. This is what I was taught.
Yet it was on those very bases I would hear racial slurs (growing up Hispanic, but looking like a WASP it was often eye opening when I was told that it was Hispanics who are ruining this country and its military) and comments like, “That’s gay,” or “Don’t be such a fag,” were commonly heard as though someone was stating the sky is blue. As a child I did not fully understand the weight of those words. I remember getting into debates with other kids telling them that gay means happy and that a fag is merely slang for a cigarette; that they sounded ignorant and they should at the very least try to sound more intelligent. I was an ambitious child.
Fast forward and I dated men who were in other branches of the military long before meeting my husband. Back on base in male-dominated situations I sometimes felt I had regressed back to childhood. The only differences were the slurs against the LGBT community were more aggressive and I actually understood what they meant. I actually witnessed a man once punch a hole through a desk exclaiming how much he hated f*cking faggots. It is my understanding he is now in a long-term relationship with another man.
As the significant other of someone in the military (MILSO), there is an expectation that you are to measure yourself by a different set of standards than if you were dating a civilian. You respect rank. You keep your mouth closed when it’s appropriate and you never give off an impression of anything that could be construed as disrespect to your significant other’s peers or superiors. That’s tough. For me, it was (still is) impossible to keep my mouth closed and I ended the relationships, but not before speaking up and answering the question I am so often asked:
“You’re straight. Why do you care?”
Hello pot. Meet kettle.
Here is why I care: My father served this country for almost twenty-nine years so that his children could grow into adults and become what they want to be, love whomever they please and lead happy lives. He did not put conditions on this. He did not say, “You must be a straight, Wall-Street tycoon and live in a mansion or it was all for nothing.” The men and women who remember why they serve/d – they did it and they do it for ALL of us, not just those among us who happen to be heterosexuals. This includes my husband, who lived and served on a ship for eight months out at sea with his lesbian and gay colleagues. Except they were people, just like him, on duty for this country doing the jobs they were there to do. No more and no less. No labels necessary.
I believe in separation of church and state and I do not want to live in a country that bases its laws on the Bible. We are not supposed to be a dogmatic nation. Those members of the military who opposed overturning Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and DOMA need to re-examine the career for which they signed up. I am not trying to forsake the right of anyone to practice his or her religion, but in this country it is not legal to enforce those beliefs upon others through legal channels. Yet here we are with cases going to the Supreme Court because the majority of our state lawmakers want to keep breaking the law. There is something seriously wrong with that picture.
It is not my right or my job to make decisions in the personal lives of others. Marrying my husband was my decision and mine alone. I could not imagine what it feels like to have politicians, media, friends, a nation of strangers, AND the state and federal supreme courts weighing in on the decision of whom I may or may not marry as though it somehow affects them. I am just thrilled that two more people are spreading love into this world. Otherwise, it is not my business.
Friendship. I have watched my gay friends grow into love. I have watched them form amazingly strong bonds with their partners. Their love is no different than mine toward my husband. In fact, we have had it easy. We have not had to fight decades of discrimination in order to be together. My friends deserve the same joy and happiness I have, and so does everyone else for that matter.
This list could go on forever. It is my hope that all of us who care can make a difference. The good ol’ boys mentality is slowly being chipped away. Times are changing. It is my hope the military will keep changing with them. I don’t expect miracles overnight, but I expect them to step up to the plate and be the tower of strength that they declare themselves to be and do the right thing, which isn’t always the easy thing, but when has the military ever been “easy”? Until then, I can hope, but I know hope is not enough…
My husband and I threw a Harley Davidson themed karaoke engagement party and we had quite the guest list. We told everyone to dress the part and come ready for fun. I admit I was nervous. My friends, his friends, his military buddies, shipmates, my parents and a few co-workers. Up until then there was never an instance of negativity surrounding equality that came to my ears. And you know what? It stayed that way. I worried about the possibility of tension. I was wrong to worry. Gay friends, lesbian friends, bi-sexual friends, friends from the south (say that with a twang now) and friends from the north celebrated us and our happiness, sang karaoke together had a great time. No one batted an eye. There was a lot of joy that night.
I confess I was afraid when I became involved with my husband that due to how outspoken I am about my beliefs he’d catch flack for it. While his thinking is in line with mine, I am much more vocal and active in social media than he is (he hardly even keeps up with Facebook). That has not been the case. I do hear a slur every now and again and I am quick to remind others of what is appropriate and why. I cannot be a one-woman crusader, but as military partners, we serve this country and we have a voice, too. I think we are being heard, ears are opening and minds are expanding.
Until we can truly let Love Love, we should keep raising our voices. We are a powerful force. And while the entire military has not quite seen the light, our partners go to work each day so we can make a difference. Let’s keep doing just that.
Heather Wilson is a 30-something self-proclaimed events extraordinaire, travel fiend, proud three-time cancer survivor and Air Force Brat who married a Navy man. She is a new bonus mom (steps are for staircases) who loves riding on the back of their Harley, wine, cheese, UNsweet tea and their scale babies – a bearded dragon lizard named Dr. Zhivago Einstein and a frilled dragon lizard named Glider. You can follow her adventures at liveofatravelingnavywife.blogspot.com.
Photos via Powell Woulfe Photography