A soldier’s Coming Out in a season of Pride

For a soldier, as for any citizen who is leading a whole life there are seasons of growth, study, work and family. At each stage, there is reflection and there are decisions and hopefully support for them.

Advice columnists

Advice columnists

A soldier seeks an answer on how to stay true to his identity as a gay man and also to share this with his unit. A timely question, it is answered here by Shaun and Pamela Collins in their He Said She Said column. It appeared at Ft. Leonard Wood‘s publication, the Guidon under the original title: Soldier considers ‘coming out’ as partner moves here.

MilSuccessNet is reposting it given that USA now has the Marriage Equality Act and it’s the season of Pride events across the country.

Here in their own words, including the soldier who wrote in: 

Ever since “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed I have wanted to be more honest with my unit about my sexuality.

I am a hardworking Soldier and have a stellar reputation with my battle-buddies and leadership. The problem is one of my direct leaders uses the word “gay” a lot. He says, “That is so gay,” or “don’t be gay.”

I am worried that he will look down on me when he finds out that I am gay. It doesn’t really bother me that he uses that term, I am just afraid since he doesn’t understand that he is using it incorrectly that he is against homosexuality.

Soon, my life partner will be moving to Missouri to live with me. I am sure it will be a lot harder to hide after he gets here. How can I talk to my leadership without offending him or making him mad at me? I don’t want to disappoint him.

HE SAID: I honestly cannot say I know how it feels to feel like I have to hide such a core part of my identity such as my sexuality — but I am glad the military finally lifted the “Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell” policy and allowed people to openly be who they really are.

Shaun Collins shares his experiences of snags in his own military to civilian transition

Shaun M. Collins

I can say that I spent many years of my life working as an undercover Criminal Investigation Division agent and from the full array of my 23 years in CID, nothing I ever did was more caustic to my soul than living a lie, gaining people’s trust for the sole purpose of eventually betraying it and having to reconcile the fact that you cannot live a lie and not have it impact all other aspects of your life.

After leaving my last assignment working in this capacity at a pretty intense level, I vowed to never be anything I am not again, but I have to be honest in telling you it took me a long time to even recognize the levels to which these assignments damaged me and it has taken many more years to figure out how to be the authentic me without shame.

If there were such a thing as a “reset button” I would not hit it, as I firmly believe it is the sum of our life’s experiences that form who and what we are. I now very much like who and what I am, but the road to get here was not an easy one.

You have your own road to travel — you can let people into your life as quickly or slowly as is good for you, but understand there are still bigots in the world, yet more and more people are beginning to understand the biases implanted as children were more out of a fear of the unknown than the reality of things.

You are who you are and as you become more comfortable letting people know who that is, you will do so on your own schedule; I just ask that you try not to live a lie any longer than you have to, as I can attest — that creates its own demons.

SHE SAID: Allowing Soldiers to serve who are openly homosexual is a fairly recent phenomenon in the military. There are many Soldiers who have yet to adjust, both their attitude and their vernacular, to this change.

As much as we try to encourage tolerance, there are a few areas that the military has informally been less tolerant of. Homosexuality is one of them.

Pam Collins

Pam Collins

With the new policies, there are many Soldiers who find themselves in the position of wanting to disclose their lifestyle to their friends or supervisors but fear doing so, based on the way they talk around others, they would be less than accepting. I will tell you this — some of those words or phrases are just habit. We don’t think about them, unless we are told who others find them offensive.

The word “retard” is a good example. We don’t think of it as offensive. We don’t find it offensive in certain circles, but there are others who have Family members or children who are mentally disabled that may be offended by it.

I say all that to say this; just because your boss uses the word “gay” doesn’t necessarily mean he’s intolerant. On the other hand, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s not. If you have a partner moving into the area, now is a good time to have this conversation. There will be logistic issues that may arise that may make explaining your significant other necessary at some point.

I would say it is best to do it right up front. I would suggest you do so one on one, closed door, without anyone else. As much as you may want to “be honest with your unit,” I would venture to say that, once your partner is around, this information would come out. But the bottom line is, you have the right to a personal life. Don’t feel compelled to over-explain yourself.


Photo credit to the artist Rachel Ilanit for her illustration of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell used in the banner with this posting on Military Success Network: https://rachelilanit.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/dont_ask_dont_tell_by_yesi88-d32zdur.jpg


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