Skip to main content

Gay Veterans Aren't Hiding

Yesterday, a veterans’ group I am part of posted an image of a rainbow flag and recognized its gay and lesbian members. Most of the feedback and comments were positive, but as you can imagine, there were also a lot of hateful and bigoted responses. The group administrator deleted those as they came in, but some of them were up long enough to be seen. Other responses were not positive but lacked the “hate factor” and were allowed to remain. One in particular caught my attention and prompted me to reply at great length. I share it here with the original poster’s name removed as it’s not my intention to attack or shame any particular person. Instead, I am choosing to use this opportunity to share my thoughts on being gay, being a veteran, and navigating the spaces in between.

First, the response to the gay pride flag being shared:

Honestly could care less about someone elses lifestyle. I live my own life. However, i come to this site to escape the gender poltics of this day and age, and yet here it is. Im a vwteran, and a biologist. As a a biologist, scientifically anything that does not produce offsprings is a waste of resources that ensures a speciea survival, and as a veteran, im well versed in people having beliefs i dont agree with, and living my own life. But as i said, i come here to escape the world of identity poltics. Its a shame thats no longer possible. In my day, we were all green. Your politics and personal identity dont mean shit. Keep it to yourself. You younger folks will never understand.

And my response:

There’s so much to unpack here, but it’s 3:30am, I can’t sleep, and I’m comfortable meeting someone where they are. So here goes.

It’s not a lifestyle. By definition, lifestyle is the”typical way of life of an individual, group, or culture.” It also denotes the choices a person makes in their way of life. For example, a lifestyle might be one of a soldier, a runner, a soccer mom, a hermit, or a party animal. Like straight people, lesbians and gay men are diverse in how we live and in the choices we make. Being gay isn’t a single lifestyle any more than straight people all share the same lifestyle.

Gender politics is the debate about the societal roles and relations of men and women. That has nothing to do with recognizing the diversity of a population.

You say that scientifically anything that doesn’t produce offspring is a waste of resources that ensures a species’ survival. Fun fact, human beings are more than cells in a petri dish. The complexity of the human experience not only allows for but actually thrives on diversity. Did you know that historically, homosexual Native Americans were considered “Two Spirit” and they played an invaluable role in tribes as nurturers and care givers? Who do you think raised the children of warriors who died in battle or mothers who passed away early? In our own more recent history, gays who typically did not have children of their own supported the survival of the species in two ways — they were more likely to be caregivers for aging parents, thus freeing their straight siblings to raise the next generation and they were more often available to provide financial and emotional assistance to those children. And of course, gay men and women have long adopted the unwanted children that straight people brought into this world but were unable or unwilling to care for. Finally, given the technology available currently, gays are just as capable of having and raising children of their own. And studies show that they are often better parents, perhaps because a gay couple is unlikely to “accidentally” get pregnant, so a child of a gay couple is wanted, prepared for, and financially stable.

Now you’ve switched to identify politics, in which groups of people having a particular racial, religious, ethnic, social, or cultural identity tend to promote their own specific interests or concerns without regard to the interests or concerns of any larger political group. I see no evidence that acknowledging the existence of gay and lesbian veterans adversely impacts the military or the greater veteran community, any more than a reunion group of infantry Marines or submariners somehow takes away from the cohesion of veterans overall. We often take time to recognize and celebrate groups of servicemen and women and no one thinks that takes away from our larger identity. We honor those who fought at Iwo Jima and don’t consider that insulting or degrading to those who fought at Belleau Wood. We honor our service members who are parents on Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day and don’t think that is any sort of slight against veterans who don’t have children. We are all many things, and I can be a proud gay veteran and a proud veteran at the same time.

So, in your day everyone in the military was “all green” and your personal identity didn’t mean shit. Sounds good, but I doubt that was true. If everyone was the same, why did married people wear wedding rings if not to tell the world that they had a spouse? Why were there so many battalion “family days” where soldiers were expected to bring their spouses and children? If your personal identity didn’t mean anything, why all the attention on who people were outside the uniform? Why did people working in an office have pictures of their wives or girlfriends on their desks? Believe me, straight people bring their sexuality into the public and into the workplace every single day. They just don’t realize they are doing it.

And you think people should keep their private life to themselves? So why did people feel the need to share where they grew up before joining the service? And why did Marines argue amongst themselves over the tougher boot camp, Parris Island or San Diego? It’s because serving in the military was only a part of our overall identity and it is human nature to seek out commonality amongst larger groups. Marines became brothers and sisters not in spite of their individual identities but because of them. They bonded over stories of childhood and discovered commonalities. They grew closer on weekend liberty, connecting with one another as more than just Marines but as friends with shared lives. You can’t hide your personal identity and expect to engage and be engaged with others.

Hopefully, what younger folks will never understand is that it’s okay to expect that anyone different from the societal norm will hide themselves away in shame and secret. What younger folks will never understand is that there is something inherently wrong with being gay or lesbian. And what younger folks will never understand is that some people are uncomfortable or afraid of gays and lesbians and prefer that they remain in the shadows.

It’s time that gay military personnel are able to serve without other people challenging their very right to exist. And it’s also time that the service of gay and lesbian military veterans is acknowledged and celebrated.

Any questions? You know where to find me.