American Heroes

I’ve written before about my experience serving in the pre-DADT military, and the status of lesbian & gay service members has continued to be cause near and dear to my heart. In the days before & during DADT, the military was a less-than-welcoming place for LGBT service members. Those who served lived with the constant fear of “outing” and investigation, arrest, courts martial, and sometimes even physical attack. In every case, discovery meant certain expulsion from the military, regardless of one’s record of service or ability, and the less-than-honorable discharge would become a proverbial scarlet letter, affecting employment and one’s standing in the community forever.

For those who remained in the military, the ever-present fear kept them firmly entrenched in the closet, unable to speak openly or acknowledge their own families in public. I wrote a short story a few years back about a lesbian soldier whose partner endured the indignities of military send-offs and welcome home ceremonies that never allowed for the emotional connections or public displays of affection afforded to their straight counterparts. One didn’t risk a kiss or tender touch, let alone expect to be treated with the same dignity as other military spouses upon your wife or husband’s death. That was just the way it was.

Then history shifted. DADT was repealed in 2011, but standing federal law still prevented recognition of LGBT patriots’ families. Just before DOMA fell in 2013, I received a letter from an Army National Guard Sergeant, who had read my first novel about a lesbian serving in the military. AJ had already completed a tour of duty in Iraq, and was preparing for yet another deployment to Afghanistan with her unit. We struck up an email correspondence in the ensuing months, comparing notes on the military’s progress and the progress still needed. She shared her fears that her family wouldn’t be taken care of should something happen to her, because marriage still hadn’t been possible prior to her deployment. It angered and saddened me to hear her story, knowing there were so many others like AJ, serving our country in the midst of a war zone, yet still unable to quite find that elusive security for their families.  

 DOMA was struck down while AJ was deployed. Soon afterward, policies were revised that would protect military families. More states repealed their laws to either allow same-sex marriage or to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. This month, Virginia became the latest state to recognize other state’s marriages. Virginia. That just happens to be AJ’s home state. Her Guard Unit hails from the Commonwealth of Virginia and they were leaving Afghanistan any day. The symbolism was something I couldn’t ignore. Sometimes fate is pretty cool. But expressions of love are profound.

1960320_581351918619000_935343532_nOn Saturday, The 1710th Transportation Company arrived home in Virginia to the cheers of their loved ones. Facebook was flooded with joyous and loving pictures of many reunions, with one that stuck out like a beacon in the night. In the crowd stood a woman proudly holding up a large hand-made sign that said: “My wife is MY American Hero.” She stood there among the other wives and husbands without fear or reservation of any kind because this was her right, to stand there beaming with pride, awaiting her soldier. Her wife. The image and its significance brought tears to my eyes. Catie’s one simple act of love and devotion. A brilliant testament to a human victory finally won.

The march of equality moves on. Welcome home to all our American Heroes.

Indeed.

Thanks for reading. Peace~ LM

 

Equality lessons for the next generation

My good friend, Nadine Smith, Executive Director of Equality Florida, wrote a piece last week on race and same sex marriage discrimination in her own lifetime. It’s a great look at the historical parallels of our current struggle for full equality regarding same sex marriage in this country. Like the issue of interracial marriage, these battles will now be waged state by state, until one day we are finally rid of the issue for good. But that’s going to take time.

Nadine’s article brought to mind my youngest sister’s family. She is married to a fine man, who happens to be bi-racial, so my niece and nephew include African-American in their ethnic heritage. I was thinking today about how to talk to them about the historic Supreme Court decisions of this past week. I want them to have a sense of how truly important the rulings are to me, their aunts, personally, not in just some abstract “oh, that’s cool” kind of way. I will tell them that less than a generation ago, their own parent’s marriage would have been illegal in many states, just as mine is today.

 I won’t let this pass without the teaching lesson, because on a basic level, I want them to understand that matters of equality are always tremendously important. As Nelson Mandela stated, “I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.” In our current age, where history and civics are increasingly squeezed out in budget cuts, or simply re-written to fit the politics of the time, it has never been more important to understand the gravity of civil rights victories. We are always better as a country when the rights of all are protected equally.

I’ll share my experiences with the younger members in my family. The way it hurts me when people who say they are my friends—or even my own family—remain silent when laws are passed to take away my rights, whether as a woman or a lesbian. I want them to understand that nothing is more important than one’s own personal integrity. Standing up for the truth is right, even if it makes someone else uncomfortable, or you unpopular. One of my other friends, who is a lesbian, is fond of telling me that I shouldn’t “push” people. When it comes to our relationships, people can know, but they don’t necessarily want to know. She wonders why I can’t stay quiet and live my life. I guess that means using vague language and omission in an attempt to avoid making people uncomfortable. I don’t get that. I’m not getting in everyone’s face every day, but I feel it’s important to be authentic and own who I am openly.

Even though 37 states in this country still disrespect my marriage and deny my right to exist as a married person, I will still introduce Sandy as my wife—regardless of who asks me. It’s the truth. When the children in my family ask me if Sandy and I are married, of course I say yes. They need to see that truth and integrity, not waffling. To do anything less shames Sandy, me, our relationship, and sends a message to the outside world that I agree we’re not worthy. I don’t agree.

So, it’s my hope that all of our children will learn about the day the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act as a pivotal moment in American history, as a lesson in equality and human dignity. And maybe my nieces and nephews will  remember the way we were able to talk openly about fairness and love. Most of all, I hope they’ll live in a world where this debate seems foreign and arcane, and love and commitments are celebrated always. But, as Nadine says, part of the conversation will always be, “That’s why Aunt Sandy and I were married in Massachusetts.”

Check out Nadine’s fabulous writing at the Grio or at Equality Florida.

Peace and Happy Pride~ LM

Owning our authentic voice

Hi gang. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the importance of living and expressing our authentic voice. In my life, just as many of you, I’ve experienced homophobia in various forms. I lived as a closeted lesbian in the US Army in the pre-DADT days, when just the whisper of innuendo was enough to get you hauled into an interrogation room and run out of the military—no matter how competent or capable you were. Being lesbian automatically made you unfit. After a couple of near misses under investigation, I came to realize that I couldn’t live dishonestly and left the military with a heavy heart. But I made myself a promise to live my truth and never again let anyone else bully or define me, or make me feel that my authentic self was less than worthy.

I read the most recent coming out news this week about NBA center Jason Collins. Collins is receiving the distinction of being the first pro athlete to come out. He follows US soccer star Megan Rapinoe last summer and Baylor women’s basketball star Brittney Griner, who will be member of the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA this season. In his interview with Sports Illustrated, Collins talked about the same need to live authentically. It’s a common thread virtually all of us share.

But to live and express ourselves authentically, while universal, is a bit different for each of us as individuals. LGBT people are still marginalized by the world. Although acceptance is increasing exponentially, there is still a large segment of our society that feels that we really ought to shut up about it, already. Why do we have to keep telling them? They wonder. Because it’s still legal to discriminate against LGBT people. Because DOMA is still on the books, denying same sex couples the same benefits as straight couples. This means LGBT members of the military, law enforcement, and fire fighters can continue to risk their very lives for you, but their families will not receive the same survivor benefits as their peers.

So, back to the question: Why do I write lesbian fiction? I write lesbian fiction because I want to tell my story—our stories—authentically. I don’t want to ignore the totality of our experiences as lesbians. I don’t mean to disparage, but let’s remember that as women, we do have a different experience even from that of gay men. Yes, the human condition is universal in many ways, but to deeply grasp the emotion and experience of any human, one cannot edit out sexuality. Humans are the only species whose sexuality is inextricably tied to emotion, and this is especially true for women. I want to write stories with lesbian heroines who are strong, capable, sensitive, and yes, sexual.

I’ve seen a lot of discussion recently surrounding the debate of sex in lesbian fiction. Both sides have valid points. Every writer has her own style, and decides how best to tell her story. That’s as it should be. However, I don’t believe including the depictions of the sexuality in my characters automatically demeans my story. I get the irritation that the label “lesbian fiction” is sometimes equated with pornography. That is demeaning on it’s face. It says what the straight world has always said to me: “I can accept that you’re a lesbian, I just don’t want to hear about it.” Why do I have to edit out the sexuality of my characters in order to be taken seriously? Wait. I only have to edit out the sexuality of the lesbians. That’s really the truth. A lesbian author who has had success in the mainstream market says that her publisher doesn’t care about her sexuality, as long as she writes a good story. I’m sure that’s true. They also say she writes badass women characters. She does, and I’m a fan.

But. Why can’t the leading ladies be badass and lesbian? And if they are, why can’t we see them as authentic, whole beings—sex and all? That’s the character I want to read and write about, and if the sex works within the context of the story, I’ll include it. I read a wide variety of books—fiction, non-fiction, mainstream and lesfic. I think every author should write the story they want to write. When this debate comes up periodically, I fear that what we’re actually doing is applying the mainstream, straight world’s biases in the reverse. The straight stereotype accepts kick-ass women, so long as they still need a man between the sheets. The straight male execs at Amazon are the ones who lump us into one category based on the ‘lesbian’ label. Let’s agree that’s wrong, rather than fighting amongst ourselves over how much or little sex determines whether we’ll be taken seriously. When we throw stones at each other for including sex, we’re telling ourselves that depicting our sexuality automatically shames us. I disagree.

Right now, I can’t find those positive representations of myself, or lesbians in general, out in the mainstream, straight, fiction world. Therefore, I choose to write those stories. My writing is my way of taking back my own power to live and express my authentic self. So, for me, I’m not writing lesfic as some lead-up to hitting it big in the mainstream world. Unless the mainstream world is ready to accept unabashed, fully developed lesbian characters. I pray that day arrives. Until then, I am proud to wear the label: “Lesbian Author”.

Thanks for reading~ LM

Why is this so hard to believe?

Many of us were saddened by the news of the passing of CW2 Charlie Morgan. It’s a tragic end to a story about a woman who lived a life of service in the shadows, during the years when DADT was the policy of the US military. Like so many other lesbian and gay service members, Charlie served her country at a huge personal cost. After the repeal of DADT, while many others still feared repercussions with DOMA still on the books, Charlie had the courage to tell her story.

Charlie served proudly in the New Hampshire National Guard for seventeen years. More than ten years ago, she and her wife, Karen, entered into a civil union in Vermont, and last year wed in their home state. They have a daughter who is eligible for healthcare and survivor benefits, but her wife is not. Charlie simply wanted to take care of her family, just like any other responsible spouse.

Charlie was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008. She underwent a double mastectomy and chemotherapy. When she was said to be cancer-free, she was deployed to Kuwait for a year’s tour. But last September, she was told the cancer had returned and was in her lymph nodes. The cancer was now incurable. So, like any other dedicated spouse, Charlie felt a renewed urgency to fight for a change in the law because that was the only way to secure the benefits that her family deserved. The benefits she earned during her years of service to this country.

And Charlie knew first hand how much those benefits meant. Her father had been killed in an accident while on active duty when she was three, and his survivor benefits were her mother’s source of support. But with DOMA still on the books, her wife would not receive those same benefits. So, Charlie wrote to the Speaker of the House, John Boehner. Her requests for a meeting were ignored at first. Finally, when a news organization got involved, a meeting was granted, but after she made the trip to DC, the Speaker sent an aide to meet with Charlie. She told her story, told him her time was short, and that her family needed their help. The aide listened and then told her the Speaker would continue to defend DOMA.

When Charlie’s wife, Karen, was asked about what a repeal of DOMA and full recognition as a military dependent would mean, it is said that she stated it would be great to be able to go to the commissary to shop for her family. The simplicity of a request to perform such a normal task is heartbreaking in its significance.

Charlie’s letter to the Speaker said, “Mr. Speaker, as a member of the Active Guard, I laid my life on the line for my country, and now I need my country to protect and care for my family. My wife and daughter face an uncertain future, unable to receive the same family support services as our counterparts who render the same service, take the same risks, and make the same sacrifices.” For those who serve in our military and sacrifice so much for our freedoms, that doesn’t seem like such a huge request.

Charlie Morgan lost her battle with cancer on Sunday. Charlie, like every other lesbian or gay service member—or indeed, every lesbian and gay citizen—wanted exactly what you want, America. The chance to live freely and receive the same benefits for hard work as any other citizen in this country.

That’s all we want. Why is this so hard to believe?

Peace~LM