By Mel and Mandi
Can anyone see us holding hands in the car? There is a military sticker on the window. Is there anyone we work with in the movie theater with us? I want to give you a kiss. Has anyone followed me to your house? I want to stay with you.
Serving in the military under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was something my beautiful wife and I, along with so many others chose to do. And yes it was a choice. We knew what it meant when we joined. We signed the dotted line under our own free will. It was going to be another part of our lives we would sacrifice to serve our country. But knowing did not make it easier.
We shared a lot of the same concerns when we were dating since we were both in the military. We had to continuously look over our shoulders to make sure we didn’t see any familiar faces when we were out. We avoided wearing anything that had our military branches name, just in case. We literally feared being caught. From lying to our lady doctors about why we didn’t need birth control to avoiding the “What did you do this weekend?” and “Are you dating anyone?” questions, we felt as though we were living a double life.
With the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), a huge weight was lifted off our shoulders. We moved to the east coast about six months apart. We happily settled into our first home together in a cute little town on the Jersey shore. With no fear of being kicked out of the military for being together, we made friends with our neighbors and introduced ourselves as the couple we were. That was a strange adjustment. For years we had to talk in circles to avoid accidentally telling anyone about our relationship. We realized we faced a new challenge. How do we show the world that we are just a normal couple when we have been living like we were not? How do we ease the discomfort of others when we were uncomfortable talking about our relationship? We learned very quickly that a little respect and confidence goes a long way. If we showed that we were uneasy while talking about who we were, others would be uncomfortable. But if we talked about our relationship like it was nothing out of the ordinary, people didn’t seem to be caught off guard. It took a bit of time to openly talk about our relationship because it is true that old habits die hard. But now, obviously, we are willing to tell the world our love story.
Although we were thankful for the repeal of DADT and felt a big change directly in our lives, we still had a bitter taste in our mouth. We still weren’t equals. Our partners still couldn’t benefit from our service. We wanted more. As the old story goes, actions speak louder than words. We wanted more than being able to talk about our relationship, we wanted our relationship to be recognized.
We always say that we are lucky. We faced far fewer challenges compared to many other gay couples in the military. We were fortunate to be stateside and did not have to deal with any deployments. But there were couples who had to kiss their partner goodbye, behind closed doors, because they couldn’t see them off in front of other military members. Partners who couldn’t attend the spouse support groups when they needed a shoulder to cry on. Soliders/sailors, when returning from a year deployment, and wanted to wrap their arms around their love, but had to wait until they could escape to a hidden area just to embrace each other. And sadly, the partners to those who gave their lives, weren’t recognized at their memorial. They had to be another face in the crowd so their solider/sailors name would not be tarnished. They mourned in silence.
I sit here writing, snuggled next to the love of my life, with our two precious children in our laps, and I can’t help but tear up. We are so grateful for the life we have, the love we share and for our dreams that are coming true. I count my blessings as I look onto their smiling faces and my heart is warmed by the sound of their giggles. What we feared in the past is no more.