It’s been about two and a half weeks since the policy known as Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed. The hype has died down and the festivities have subsided, so now I find myself looking back into the mirror again; I’m not sure I recognize what I see.
The truth is, DADT left a lasting effect that I had not fully anticipated. It’s common knowledge that living as an LGBT military member during the days of DADT forced one to conduct two lives, or shut down a fundamental part of themselves. However, what happens when those two lives come crashing back together, or the other self you’ve kept hidden away starts coming forth at the most unexpected times? I’m not sure I was prepared for that.
For me, my persona was split, one part a somber, albeit creative Airman who kept people at arm’s length. The other part compensated by being a somewhat more overt, flamboyant self constantly cracking jokes and puns about sexuality. I’d like to think my true self is somewhere in the middle. I entered the military before I was truly out or even comfortable with my sexuality, so even after seven years of this duality, these personas never had to learn to coexist rather than just take turns.
The result of their unification is a somewhat tumultuous flooding of emotion and opinion, and having to redefine what is socially acceptable to me and what is not. I find myself second guessing my actions, relearning to interact with people like I’m an insecure teenager all over again. One could even equate this to the awkwardness of the growing teenage form, as I trip over my own morals and norms because they’ve grown or changed without me realizing it. It’s both exciting and frightening.
In the midst of this, there are external influences as the me that exists in the minds of those around me shatters and is replaced with this new, more complete me. I’m a very empathetic person, so I see how people’s views of me are changing. Thankfully, this is mostly for the positive. People tend to respect someone who is true to themselves, even if they don’t necessarily agree with that truth. Even for those that are less positive, I find myself caring less about what others think of me now that who I am is not a product of what I want their perception to be. I can’t say it’s all gumdrops and rainbows, but it’s a relief to shed the facade and have people see the real me.
Then again, other people are not the only ones caught off guard by this new person who seemingly changed overnight. I find myself in unfamiliar territory now that looking into a mirror reveals all that I am, rather than just a piece. It’s not as nice a view as I had hoped. I can’t use DADT as an excuse for not getting close to people, or why I don’t get out and meet new friends. I can’t blame depression over repressed feelings for why I stay at home watching movies. The excuses are gone, and here I remain. It’s a hard thing to look at yourself when all the illusions have faded…
Really, the biggest thing holding me back seems to be attachment to the past. It’s ironic, I suppose, after the long blogs I’ve already written about how terrible DADT was, but it’s true. In some ways, it’s almost like a self-imposed Stockholm Syndrome. The problem is, you can’t step aboard a new ship and set sail without first stepping off the docks that have kept you shore-bound. I can’t expect all the things I liked to remain, never leaving my comfort zone, and simultaneously expect new good things to come. It doesn’t work that way. I admit, I particularly liked the anonymity that DADT afforded, but if I want to connect to people more, I need to let go of that crutch. I have to shed all the expectations I’ve placed on myself in both my on-duty and off-duty time, so I can use a fresh canvas to paint the new me. Only then can I truly find out who I am.
It’s a brave new world, but I need a brave new me to meet it.
P.S. – In many ways, this particular blog expounds upon the topic of a song I wrote a few weeks ago. This song “Mirror,” was written when I realized there was a clear separation of my daily existence to who I am beneath the surface. Listen in the player below.
Very well put! You touched on the very thing that has been giving me trouble since the repeal…how do I merge my two selves into one? It is a question I still have not answered, but I am diligently working towards a happy medium. Thank you for your honest assessment and acknowledgement that the repeal didn’t just make everything easier, the are still adjustments that need to be made. I do believe I will be following your blog more closely!
Thanks Stacy. It’s not easy to put these emotions into words that can be communicated to others, so I’m glad they’re coherent enough to help.
I fear that the longer someone served under this policy the harder the bad habits it built are to shake. I left the navy after a decade of service about 17 months ago, and even more than a year after leaving the military I can relate to the author here. That pernicious policy did more to the psyche than people know – it shaped personal interactions and mores in ways that are unhealthy and difficult to alter. It built habits of unnecessary self-editing and pulling away from possible new friends that even now, a year and a half later, keep me reserved and aloof, afraid to show too much of myself for no reason other than ten years of fear under DADT.
Superb write, sweet website design and style, maintain the great work