Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Life as the Gay Military Partner

This Christmas, I’m away from my partner, Kristin, a piano player in the Army band. Though we met and formed a friendship nearly two years ago, we discovered a romance between us about a year ago. We refer to each other as “partners,” because sometime after we became “girlfriends,” it was apparent that we share something incredible. Not only is she awesome as a lover, but she is also my very best friend, my buddy for any new adventure we wish to embark upon, and last but not least, my co-parent to my two children that originated in a previous marriage (and failed attempt at “straight”…that’s another story though…I guess I wasn’t always strong enough to be who I really am….anyway…).
The funny thing is we probably had a few opportunities to potentially date each other, but something always stood in the way. The first time I ever met her was through email. She caught my attention with her profile on Planet Out, so I emailed her, only to discover she was the woman my first ex-girlfriend, the only ex-girlfriend I’m not on civil terms with, had gone out with a couple of times (though nothing came out of it). Then one night in Feb 2006, a friend of mine introduced me to her and I, not realizing she was the woman I had emailed before, was struck by her instantly (This doesn’t happen to me, okay?). We really hit it off in conversation. I thought I felt a warm vibe, only to realize she was actually on a date with this friend who introduced us (I promise, it was not obvious though). About 6 months after that, we hung out with the same group of people on a skydiving trip and discovered we had not only the same musical interests, but the same zest for outdoor adventures. We started hanging out often, except this time, I was involved with another woman. That relationship failed, of course, but I still needed some time. By this point, I was adverse to relationships and thought I would probably never partner up with someone. However, the friendship really blossomed, and like I said, I always felt something spark in me whenever she was around. After a while, I just couldn’t deny how I felt and we got ourselves together. Due to my issues in getting too close to others, the relationship wasn’t always easy. Yet, she stuck by me…good days and bad. the time we got together, she had already re-enlisted on the condition of a yearlong tour in Korea. No, she won’t be making a career out of the Army. It was only a challenge she decided to face while dealing with her mid-20s crisis. Yet after 3 years, when it was time to think about re-enlisting, she faced the possibility of being transferred to a division band and being deployed to the war zone. Yeah, they even send the band to war these days. So, by re-enlisting and agreeing to a year in Korea, she was able to specify that she wanted to return to the same post from which she left (Ft. Gordon, GA, near Augusta). This way, she’ll be only a couple of hours away from me as opposed to a hemisphere away.
She’s been gone since October 9th of this year. What I’ve faced has been tougher than I expected, and yes, being gay didn’t exactly help matters. See…Kristin and I don’t call ourselves “married,” because we are waiting to have our ceremony when we can actually live together. If we were straight, though, it would benefit us to get married. Now, I don’t advocate doing such a thing just for benefits, but in our case, we were ready. Both kids, Chandler (age 8) and Morgan (age 10), adore her. I have let Kristin in way farther than anyone else, and it took a lot of risk on my part as well as a lot of patience on hers. We really did start functioning as a family unit. For the first time in my life (including the time I was married in the past), I knew what it felt to experience true multi-faceted love, to give it to someone, and to have it given back. It’s amazing how much the quality of life changes when you have this. It’s good for us and it’s good for the kids. The physical, mental, and spiritual support is more than I can put words on. So…since we aren’t straight and can’t get married, what happened is that I have gone back to being a single parent. On days I feel weak (and I am human and do have moments of exhaustion and frustration), there’s nobody to help pick up the slack. This makes parenting more difficult, and this makes life, in general, more difficult. Don’t getme wrong, I have some amazing friends. But, I haven’t fully opened myself up to any of them, because I don’t want to be a downer. In fact, I see any given friend on occasion. I don’t seem to have a “regular” group, and it seems there’s no two weekends in a row I’m with the same bunch of people. I know….heterosexual military spouses go through that as well, but there’s more.
How many military spouses, at home with kids, refer to a one-room efficiency (essentially a weekly rate hotel) as their home? This summer, I moved from Augusta to metro Atlanta, to take on a job teaching in an alternative school…it’s a job I love and it’s a move that was good for me and the kids…but with only my income, I just haven’t come up with all the tremendous deposits yet. Although I had an apartment back in Augusta and wouldn’t have needed to deal with moving expenses, we just weren’t thriving in that place. So for now, I’ve had to work two jobs, so I may be able to get ahead and get a permanent address (as well as a few Christmas presents). If we were straight and married, though, housing wouldn’t be a problem. Healthcare is another issue. I always hope we have no emergencies, as the co-payments would do me in. How ironic that I pay so much for health insurance (which would cost the same even with a working spouse on the plan), but truly hope I don’t have to use it, because I cannot afford to use it! We’d have healthcare if we were considered “real” family. Last week, when I was battling the flu and a hacking cough, I could have gone to a military doctor without sweating over co-payments. I haven’t even got to the part about how much Kristin is underpaid. After all, salary is based on family size, among other things. They pay her at the single rate and she would make much more if they could see her as “married with step-children.” Therefore, she and I cannot pool our resources together like we will after she gets out of the military.
I really shouldn’t spend too much time thinking about the worst case scenario…like, if heaven forbid, something terrible happened to me, she wouldn’t be able to come home on emergency leave. Let’s not think about the worst right now. And to think that many heterosexuals wonder why we make such a big deal out of marriage equality.
I guess those who oppose extending marriage benefits to gays believe that we are doing something wrong. They are entitled to such beliefs, but the point is that the law isn’t supposed to be based on personal beliefs. Fortunately in America, even though we can’t have the legal rights (and Kristin is actually out-of-the closet…her commander said he “doesn’t care”), we still get to live the way that feels natural to us. We won’t be hung in public for having a family together, and we freely walk around holding hands and sharing affection considered “normal” to heterosexuals. Most of all, it’s important to realize that our lack of benefits or equal rights won’t break us apart…that true love does prevail nonetheless.

Guest Columnist
Brandi A.