“My son is 20 years old, and just came out to me. I love him no matter what, of course. But he is currently serving in the military, and I can’t help but worry what that will be like for him, especially if he chooses to come out. Is this a valid fear, or I am making something out of nothing?”
Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by Kai River Blevins
You’re doing a wonderful job of supporting your son by accepting him and asking questions. Knowing that he has that type of support will make a world of difference, regardless of what he goes through inside or out of the military. It is so important to have a family member (especially a parent!) supporting someone who is going through the coming out process. Thank you for being that person, and for expanding your ability to support him by reaching out to My Kid Is Gay!
Since I won’t be much help going back and forth between “if” he comes out or “when” he comes out, I’m going to focus on what is stressing you out the most: your son’s experience when he comes out in the military. I don’t think that coming out in the military is inevitable for him, but I do know from experience that lying about who you are can cause much more anxiety and stress than dealing with whatever horrible situations we dream up while we’re in the closet. For this response, I’m going to assume that he will, eventually, come out in the military.
Before I get to your question, I want to respond to one of your statements: “I can’t help but worry what that will be like for him, especially if he chooses to come out.” First of all, it’s always okay to worry about a loved one, especially a child. After all, we worry because we care! The trick is to not overwhelm him with your worrying since he’s the one facing the difficult decision of coming out and will need your support either way. Second, I want to acknowledge how wonderful it is that you say you are worried about him “especially if he chooses to come out.” Whether you realize it or not, you are already communicating that you are going to give him however much support he needs from you. Since you communicated that in your question, I’m sure your son knows it too (though it never hurts to say it again!). Finally, when he decides to come out in the military, try to focus your worrying energy into support. While I can’t say what your son’s experience will be like, I do know that coming out has its mixture of positive and negative experiences. Make sure that you remind him of all of the positive aspects that come from being true to himself: he can be honest, with himself and others; he doesn’t have all of the anxiety that comes from constantly lying and pretending to be someone he isn’t; and he can fall in love and have deep, meaningful relationships that he would not otherwise be able to have. Remind him that coming out is a gift that he’s giving himself, not a burden he’s giving to other people.
Now on to the rest of your question. Yes, your fear is valid. The military is often described as a hypermasculine environment, where “masculine” qualities are expected and encouraged. As I’m sure you’re imagining, being gay doesn’t often fit into that type of culture. While that may be an aspect of military culture that is much stronger than it is in our civilian culture, we often overlook the close relationships that are formed in the military through the dedication to teamwork. When you are part of that team, who you fall in love with is actually irrelevant. The people you spend every day with in the military come to rely on you, like you rely on them, and most people are only worried about whether the people in their team are trustworthy and competent. So you’re definitely not making something out of nothing, but I would bet that what you’re imagining is far worse than the negative experiences your son might have.
I enlisted when I was 17 years old, and I was in the military for six years. I served under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) for two of those years, and I continued serving for another four years after it was repealed. What is important for you to know is that DADT was repealed at least two years before your son joined the military, and the military culture has changed significantly in that time. When I finally came out after the repeal of DADT, I was terrified! But the reaction I got from my command was that being lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) didn’t matter. My command was concerned with my well-being and my work performance, and they were adamant about fostering an environment that supported teamwork and trust and that excluded discrimination or harassment.
The military is focused on the mission, and the mission can’t happen if co-workers are harassing LGB servicemembers for being themselves. The military has taken a strong stance on discrimination of LGB servicemembers. They conduct trainings every six months to explain the military’s policy regarding LGB and other minority servicemembers, give examples of what homophobia and discrimination look like, and introduce servicemembers to the unit representative who handles anti-LGB discrimination. Overall, the military is now a much more accepting place of LGB people than we remember it to be.
Part of the reason it is so accepting is because there are a number of nonprofits working to make sure that all servicemembers are treated equally. Out Serve-Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) has been supporting LGB servicemembers since 1993, and is continuing to support them through legal services, chapter-based networks, and leadership conferences. They also have an extensive list of general resources and servicemember-specific resources. For LGB military families, the American Military Partner Association and the Military Partners and Families Coalition both provide resources and support in a number of ways.
I hope that this puts your mind at ease! It is never easy to support someone who is coming out in an environment that we don’t see as accepting. Just remember that no matter what happens, your son has the support of the military, an extensive network of LGB servicemembers who have been in the same situation, and a family that is doing everything they can to make him happy.
Kai River Blevins is a genderqueer/femme poet, community organizer, and graduate student from western New York who now lives in Salem, Oregon. When Kai isn’t doing homework or writing on their blog, Queer as Life, they love to read, color, cook delicious vegan food, and spend time with their loving partner and adorable fur-child, Sir Reginald, the Earl of Puppydom. Follow them on Twitter @queeraslife
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