Truth to Power

Why the repeal of DADT matters- to me

I’m not gay.

I think anyone who enlists in our military is a fool.

So why do I consider the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to be a landmark day?

Because I loved my father, and I wished I could have known him better.

My father joined the army the day after he graduated high school. He did so, I imagine, for two reasons. One was to be able to attend college under the GI Bill. The second reason was to get the hell out of Cario, Georgia. You see, my father was gay- although I never heard that from his lips. I have to imagine that his sexuality was a major factor in his life, as it is in most peoples. But he wasn’t able to talk to his only son about one of the core issues of his life, and now, twenty years past his death, I’ve been giving a lot of thought as to why.

It’s because he wasn’t just gay- he was queer. The dictionary defines “queer” as strange or odd from a conventional viewpoint; and of a questionable nature or character; suspicious; shady. I can only ponder how “odd” my father felt in south Georgia in those days, how different he pictured himself from his town, his friends, and his family. It never left him. And the reason he felt this way was because people made him feel that way. He was made to feel ashamed of being different, and it silenced him his entire life. He escaped the small town of his birth and became an army radio operator at Fort Benning, and then onto the University of Georgia, but he never escaped that feeling inside him that he had something to be ashamed of, something to hide, even from me.

He felt ashamed because society as a whole found homosexuality repugnant and unnatural. It wasn’t until 1973 that the American Psychiatric Association declassified it as a mental disorder, but I doubt that made any difference to my dad. I was 11 then, and my parents were still married, such as it was. It wasn’t long after that he left the house and began life on his own, a life of community theater and risky behavior, that ended with his death from AIDS in a VA hospital. He died alone, other than me, his mind rotted away from dementia. When I closed out his house I came across things I wish I hadn’t, things that confirmed my suspicions about his lifestyle, and while they shocked and saddened me then, that wasn’t as sad as my realization that he had left them there purposely, so I would know. I wish we could have talked. I wish he hadn’t hated that aspect of himself so much that he felt he had to hide it from me.

DADT was one leg of a table called discrimination. It is a table that allows a small group of people to stand above others and look down upon them, to ostracize them, to shun them from “normal society”. DADT mainstreamed hate, gave homophobia the government stamp of approval. It was just one more door slammed in a persons face, one more avenue closed, one more reminder that you are different, wrong, something to be avoided and feared and loathed. DADT was a leg of table that stood forever between my father and I, and kept us from fully being a family. That table robbed me of a part of my father, of a part of my life that I’ll never experience. There are still many legs to that table, more than I’ll live to see gone. But maybe by the time my son is my age, he’ll live in a different world, a world where haters are shunned, not championed. A world where whom a person loves is no ones business but their own. A world where foolish gays can serve the American empire in its final days, if they so choose.

A world, I hope, where fathers can talk to their sons.

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