I’ve been thinking a lot about “family readiness”, as we all dwell in the Land of DADT Repeal Limbo… You know the place, right? It’s where we’ve all been since repeal legislation passed, as we patiently wait for ‘certification’.
And it is a very strange place indeed. The Powers-That-Be officially recognized the folly of keeping such a blatantly damaging and discriminatory policy on the books, yet the political compromises necessary to pass said legislation have left us waylaid in the land of in-between; in-between the crushing weight of not telling and the promise of… of what exactly?
For our queer servicemembers, it’s the promise of not having to choose between the closet or career suicide. The fear of being outed will remain for many – many who might not feel safe from harassment in their present work environment… Attitudes don’t change overnight, and many will remain closeted for this very reason, but the difference will be that our servicemembers will have a choice.
For us partners, it is the promise that the load our partners carry into battle will be just a little lighter. For me – as someone who fretted about how the stress of being forced to live a double life affected my husband’s state of mind during deployment – this is my primary concern.
Yet for all of us there is also the promise of inclusion. We realize that this will not be easy, nor will it come right away. We realize that we will have to make it happen ourselves. Because of current federal law and even differing levels of social acceptance, ‘Family Readiness’ is not likely to be inclusive of OUR families in the near future.
This got me thinking about the development of our military’s “Family Readiness” as it stands today. I had a theory that my parents’ and grandparents’ generation were basically on their own in this regard. So I called my mom and asked, for she was a military spouse in the 60’s, and her dad also worked on the shipyard during WWII.
She told me that her first experience with ‘Family Readiness’ was when a full-bird Colonel made all the officer’s wives line up on stage in order of their husbands’ rank. He then told them, “Now don’t you feel silly? Rank doesn’t matter to you. The only way you’re gonna get through this is to stick together.” And that was it. So they stuck together.
They had cookouts and cocktail parties. They played a lot of bridge. They dreaded when the chaplain drove up, because they knew someone would be getting the news that they were now a widow. At one of their bridge games, three of the ladies at the table got that very message.
She matter-of-factly told me that you were given three weeks to vacate base housing after your husband was killed – no exceptions. There were two reasons for this: 1) base housing was tight and 2) grieving widows were a morale problem. So they banded together, packed up their friends, and sent them off to their respective families.
The one big difference, of course, is that they had the freedom of association (and base access…) This allowed them to bond and be there for each other in times of need. Partners of queer servicemembers face many hurdles in our quest to get to know one another. Web-based interaction can only go so far when what you really need is someone to lean on when things get tough.
I’d like to end with the final paragraph of the letter my mom wrote about her life as a military spouse:
“In the instance of how partners of gay men and women can best determine the support level needed, it would be extremely helpful if you could all meet at an on-base facility, openly, and know who you all are and where you live. Because that will start the ball that cannot be stopped rolling. Gay men and women SHOULD NOT BE GRATEFUL THAT THEY ARE ALLOWED TO SERVE, the United States of America SHOULD BE GRATEFUL THAT THESE MEN AND WOMEN ARE WILLING TO SERVE.”