Challenges and Pride

Brought to you in partnership with the American Military Partner Association: Connecting, supporting, honoring, and serving the partners and spouses of America’s LGBT servicemembers and veterans – our nation’s “silent heroes.”

I would say being in a same sex military family, brings equal parts pride and trepidation. I know everyone’s story is different but my “military life” started when I was a kid. My dad was in the army so I grew up having as a “military kid” of course as a child I took any benefits for granted, but I loved knowing that I belonged to this group. It was like a cool club, plus I got a photo ID at 10 years old and that was just cool when you were 10! I am now married to a proud navy sailor. I am also the biological mother to both our 9 year old son and our 7 year old daughter. This is our life in the military and the challenges we have faced so far.

When basic was over I was so excited, it was a little annoying that I couldn’t kiss my wife because we were still living under the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. The kids however, ran up and almost tackled her to the ground, putting a huge smile on my face and helping with my patience. I gave her a hug and tried so hard to maintain my emotions as she gave her parents and sister a hug. We waited for about an hour until we could get to a bathroom alone and I could finally kiss her, cry and tell her how much I missed her. We thought we were almost done being separated but had no idea about the battle we were in for.

At the time, we lived in Michigan where they have a ban on same sex adoption. As soon as DADT was over we petitioned the court for guardianship. Even knowing the military wouldn’t honor our marriage, we thought for sure that since she was paying 100% support for our children, then the military would accept her guardianship papers. Since she didn’t have any dependents and was under E-5, it was mandatory that she live in the barracks. We lived less than 300 miles away luckily, so she could come home on her off weekends, which was basically one day a month. The military denied her guardianship papers first because “The children didn’t live with the service member” even though all the bills for our house were in her name. DFAS did however admit that it was “A catch-22” because they couldn’t live with the service member until she had dependents and was allowed to live on base. Without a housing allowance we could not afford to leave Michigan because we had a very good deal on our house and Chicago housing is very expensive. We were stuck with only 1 day a month for the next 18 months.

It was so hard on the kids; first you have a parent who is very active in your school and your sports, and then suddenly they just disappear. We did our best to reassure them but our family definitely suffered. My son internalizes a lot like most boys. I remember coming in his room and finding him asleep with my wife’s navy picture in his hand and a letter she wrote him tapped to his wall by his head. They are so close and it was so hard to live in this gray area. We make jokes in our family that my son is my wife’s and my daughter is mine because they are so similar, and my daughter is just like me. I could feel his loss and it was so unnecessary, it makes you angry as a parent that someone is making life hard on your kid. My daughter is a lot more outspoken; she broke down a lot….and was very vocal about her pain and how much she missed my wife. 

We also ended up spending more money than she was making just to send her back and forth and for us to go out to Chicago every chance we got! We realized that she have made more money working at McDonald’s, because we wouldn’t have all the extra expenses from paying for us to travel. We were all so excited when we found out we were getting stationed in San Diego because we knew we could go through the adoption and hopefully then the kids could be dependents. We thought we were going to San Diego in June. Then in May we found out that her orders changed to Louisiana and we wouldn’t be in San Diego until November. The other families were not going to Louisiana but they hadn’t spent the last 18 months separated. We made the decision that our family couldn’t handle any more time apart and we would rather take the hit financially. We ended up selling all of our furniture because we couldn’t afford to move it twice. We have spent over $10,000 in replacing our belongings and our moving cost and we are still in Louisiana. We are saving for our next move to San Diego but we are concerned we may not have enough. I thought the financial issues were bad but it wasn’t until we moved here that I learned the hardest lesson yet. We don’t live on base and our kids are aware that they aren’t dependents yet but they know that we are trying. The thing about kids though….they don’t care about the politics. They are so proud they have a parent in the Navy! They boast about it at school; they want their friends to know that they are a navy kid and so they shout it to the world! They also have dealt with the pain of being a navy kid. My son was 6 and my daughter was 4 when we moved to our house in Michigan. They knew every kid in the neighborhood, every 5 minutes a kid would knock on our door and ask for them to play. They were allowed to ride bikes up and down the street and my family was 10 minutes away so they had cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents around too. They left everyone they knew. They left their school, they left their friends, and they left their sports because they have a parent in the military. We moved to a neighborhood with no kids, where I don’t know the neighbors so I don’t feel safe letting them ride more than 3 driveways away and we moved at the beginning of summer vacation so they only had each other to play with.

I will never forget the day my wife had a medical appointment on base and we had the kids with us, so I decided to drop my wife off and go park in family housing so the kids could play with other kids at the park. My daughter was so excited that she ran out of the car and absorbed the other kids’ attention instantly, but I expected no less! The weird thing was my son would normally be the same way. The whole summer he had been begging for us to find some kids for him to play with. He got out of the car and walked over to the playground with his head hung and stood there for a minute and then walked back to the car and sat down. I was so confused. I asked him why he didn’t want to play with the kids, and he just said “I’m OK.” It hit me so hard in that moment that he knew he didn’t fit there. Even though he’s gone through the same hardships that these other children have. He wasn’t a military child and in that moment it was rubbed in his face I believe like never before. It hurt me to see him so defeated because my son has the softest heart. He is the most understanding, accepting 9 year old you could ever meet. Watching him sit with his head hung low made me realize that this is the message that children brought up in a same sex military family are getting from society. That they don’t belong, that they aren’t included. It’s not right, and it makes me sad, but we hope to file adoption papers when we get to San Diego in November. Hopefully then some of this craziness can be over. As an adult I can wait for “The Politics”, but no American child should get the message that their family isn’t equal.