This will necessarily be vague with some details changed. But back when I was a newly out lesbian, I dated a military officer who lived on a base. When I lost my housing due to a bad landlord incident (his bad, not mine!), my girlfriend and I decided to live together.
How to do that was a bit of a quandary. This was long enough ago (not necessarily all that long) that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) was in full force, so we had to have an excuse -- besides our relationship -- for me to live with my then-partner.
Ashley Broadway and family, from the CNN video below.
Fortunately, she had a young daughter. So I became “the babysitter,” and was able to get a temporary base pass, which I had to renew every ninety days -- in order to come and go to and from my own home.
I used to love driving my partner’s car past the day guards who wouldn’t bother to check my pass, but would see the officer sticker on the windshield and salute. I would chuckle to myself every time, wondering how they would feel if they knew who was driving the car.
But for all that, it was no fun living a forced lie. The military didn't forbid our relationship, it just forbade our being honest about it.
Being a closet military wife doesn’t mean no one knows. It was “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” not “Don’t Be, Don’t Know.” In my case everyone knew. I got invited to all the parties, welcomed to all the spouse-y activities, talked to and treated like a military wife ... but all without being able to express it openly.
In my case, this meant never being able to disabuse any potential homophobes of the myths they held about what my relationship with my girlfriend really meant. They thought they already knew, and because I couldn’t tell, their assumptions went unchallenged ... and so did mine.
In other words, DADT didn’t keep queers out of the military, it just put up a wall of silence between people who might have liked to get to know each other on a real, human level.
When DADT fell and the military started opening up to queer personnel -- both those who wanted to enlist and those who had served for years in the closet -- I had long been parted from my officer girlfriend. In fact, this year, my current partner and I will celebrate our tenth extra-legal wedding anniversary. But nevertheless, I cried tears of joy.
The end of DADT means women like I had been could, you know, come and go, to and from their own homes without sneaking around with a misleading temporary ID calling them a babysitter. The very idea was stunning.
To be honest, it still stops me short when I think about it.
So imagine my thrill when I read the news that this year, Fort Bragg chose Ashley Broadway, 15-year lesbian partner and co-mom to two small children with Lt. Col. Heather Mack, as the military spouse of the year.
To make the victory even sweeter, Broadway had been denied membership in the base military spouse’s club and had fought that denial publicly.
According to NBCnews.com:
Broadway has volunteered to tutor soldiers’ children in reading, briefed inbound Army families on local school districts, and helped transferring soldiers with housing-location decisions.
"When I was denied membership, I asked to speak to the club’s board. I was convinced that if they’d just sit down with me for half an hour, if I could talk to them about what I’ve been doing, what I’ll be doing in the future, they would see what an asset I would be to the group," Broadway said.
The meeting was not granted.
"That was the most frustrating thing," she said.
Her situation gained a lot of publicity and eventually, garnered her a lot of support, ultimately resulting in the honor she won in a landslide—or as the founder of Military Spouse magazine and the Military Spouse of the Year award, Babette Maxwell, said “by a country mile.”
Having won the Fort Bragg title, Broadway is now in the running for “Army Spouse of the Year.”
Good luck to her, and to all the same-sex military spouses out there who now have the exhausting privilege of "telling" -- and educating the world about who they really are.
This veteran of the military spouse closet salutes you.
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