“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”: External Pressure or Internal Struggle?

Leading can be lonely

The end of the 60-day waiting period for the full and final repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is rapidly approaching. On September 20, the first day I can legally be “out,” I have a feeling it will initially feel just like any other day. At this point, I have no idea what country I will be in, but when the alarm on my cell phone goes off to wake me up, I guarantee I will have to continue to remind myself what that day means.

After talking with some of my fellow gay servicemembers, I have realized 20 Sept will not be a day of relief for every closeted troop. Instead of having the external pressure of a discriminatory policy hanging over the entire Department of Defense, the only pressure keeping gay troops in the closet will come from inside. Not every closeted person wants to come out or feels comfortable doing so. I know this because at this time two years ago I was one of those people.

It’s easy to get caught up in the constant posturing of pretending to be straight. I’ll admit I used to tell gay jokes to fit in. I would hit on girls at the bar because my buddies peer-pressured me to do so, and even went home with a few on rare occasions. Why? Because I didn’t want to be different. I wanted so badly to do this job I was willing to cut my own arm off if Uncle Sam gave me a uniform with only one sleeve. Whatever it took. I know I am not alone in this.

I would imagine a lot of these people who are still scared to come out are the same way. Sure in five weeks it will be legal to be openly gay, but that doesn’t mean we won’t face adversity and career impact. There will still be organizations like Christian Fighter Pilot who make official statements like this one.

“From a Christian perspective, the decision to repeal laws banning military service by open homosexuals has the result of normalizing immoral behavior. Such an outcome is disheartening, but it is not an unforeseeable result in a fallen world.”

I get it: these brave guys and girls who have sacrificed so much to get to this point, can’t afford to risk having a bad performance rating from a commander who can’t let go of a deeply ingrained personal bias against homosexuals. The military’s performance-reporting system works in such a way that one bad write-up can literally end someone’s career.

Maybe I’m still young and naive, or just too darn stubborn, but I refuse to let that type of fear paralyze me. If everyone stays quiet, there will be no progress made. The official policy battle over "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" has ended and those in favor of open service have won. (I’d like to think the American people won as well on this one.) But the social and cultural struggle within the military and the private sector will still go on. As such, I have come to the following conclusion:

I sat for years in fear and in the closet, wishing someone had come before me to make this struggle easier. Not a soul on this Earth can change the past, but as I’ve matured I’ve started to realize what can be done about the future. I know that most of us who come out on or after 20 Sept will face some form of adversity. At times it will be unpleasant. I know I will have to fight to keep the respect I have earned from doing my job to the best of my ability. Nonetheless, a good officer leads from the front and sets the example. What kind of leader would I be if I sat silently in the back and let everybody else take the flak for me? The answer is clear. It is my responsibility to come out for the sake of those around me who are too afraid to take that first step.

- Officer X is a young, gay military officer who is currently serving on active duty despite the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ban on open service. He is a pilot and regularly flies throughout the world both in and out of combat. His views are his alone and do not reflect the opinions of the U.S. military, its branches, or any organization. Follow him on Twitter @TIMEOfficerX or email him TIMEOfficerX@gmail.com

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