I have been a member of the United States Air Force for just over a year, now, and I have about three years left, provided I don’t re-enlist. Some of you may not be aware of the reasons I joined, so I wanted to take the time to discuss them, and use them as a point of discussion regarding the broader state of our nation. As with anything else I write, I do not speak for the United States military or in any official capacity. The perspectives I share are my own.
The reason I joined the military ties all the way back to the reason many could not join prior to 2011: I’m queer. As many of you know, I grew up in a conservative Evangelical household, the third child of a worship pastor at a Baptist church. From a young age, I didn’t accept myself, I didn’t affirm my own queerness, because I believed that it was wrong. My parents communicated clearly to my siblings and me that “homosexuality is an abomination.” When I realized I was queer, I was devastated, and prayed that G-d would take it from me. Well, G-d didn’t, and with prayer, through many tears, I came to accept my own queerness. At the time, it was helpful to read books from those who had studied the Bible and come away with a different interpretation than that of my parents. Unfortunately, no matter which books I asked them to read, my parents were unwilling to consider an interpretation of the Bible that suggested G-d made queer people on purpose, affirmed the journey that trans folks must undertake, and supported the preaching ministry of women faith leaders. After much turmoil, I felt I was forced to move out of the home of my parents, the only place I remembered living.
Thankfully, a family I knew through the homeschool community which I grew up in allowed me to stay in their home, and for the ten months I lived there, I felt safer and more loved than ever before. Once I secured a full-time job, though, I decided to get a roommate and move closer to my workplace. I signed my first lease in October of 2019, and within a few months, it became clear that saving money would be difficult. This put a damper on my goals of moving across the state to get a degree in American Sign Language interpreting, like my older sister had received, from the college she had driven to while living at home. Soon after moving into my new home, I began talking to others at my workplace regarding what their career goals had been when they first graduated high school. Despite speaking with several people, and many of them being happy with the work they did on a daily basis, it seemed few had planned to end up where they were, and I was determined to not let myself follow the same path. The very week I was feeling restless, I received a text message from a recruiter for the United States Army. Within an hour, I had decided I was going to join the Air Force. About six months later, as quarantines began and the world fell headfirst into the pandemic, that’s what I did.
I joined the Air Force to do something adventurous, to get out into the world, but mostly, to secure economic stability and benefits I could have gotten from my parents, had I been straight. If I wasn’t queer, I could have lived at home, gone to college for the degree I wanted, and been able to afford it, because I wouldn’t have been paying for rent. I don’t share this part of my story to garner pity. I’m glad I joined the Air Force, and I’m not sure I would go back and change it, losing all the experiences I’ve had and friends made along the way, just to have the life I wanted. I share my story because it’s not just mine. Every day, queer folks are forced to make decisions that put them at a disadvantage because we live in a world full of many people who would rather we not exist. That’s why allies are so important. Even if you live in a place where most parents would embrace a queer or trans child, there are probably parents who would not, and that’s where you can come in. You can be the buffer that keeps an LGBTQ teen from remaining in or moving into an abusive situation, or becoming homeless. I owe the fact that I’m alive today to the family who took me in when I couldn’t stay one more day with my parents. And someday, I will owe the fact I have a college education to the United States military.
My time in the Air Force will always be a part of my story, however much I struggle with the ethics of being a part of what the military does on a global scale. And I want to make it clear that, while I’m in the military because of prejudice against queer individuals, I have never encountered anti-gay prejudice on the part of leaders or supervisors appointed over me. On the contrary, I’ve only ever felt compassion and support from people in leadership positions when my being queer has anything to do with the conversation. That doesn’t mean my peers have always been the kindest, and other people will have different experiences. It often depends on one’s career field and certainly the branch of military they are a part of, and it’s important to remember the stories of folks like Lauren Hough, Air Force veteran and author of Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing, who was violently harassed because of her sexuality and ultimately came out to her commander in order to be discharged under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell because the harassment became too much to bear.
If a young person were to ask me today, “should I enlist in the military?” my answer would depend on their financial outlook. If they were in exactly my shoes, struggling to get off the ground and get the education they want, I would probably tell them it’s a good idea, but to make sure they spend their four-year commitment preparing for life on the outside. On the other hand, if someone were to ask me whose parents were supporting them financially or with resources like a place to stay, I would tell them to lean on that, and get a degree as inexpensively as possible.
As enjoyable and as memorable as my military journey has been so far, there are certainly parts that have been more difficult than others. Basic training felt like two years when it was only seven or eight weeks, tech school made me feel like I was in high school for the six months I was in training, and I reclassified out of my original career field because I had ethical qualms with doing the work that may have been required of me had I continued. If you’re considering joining the military, do your research and consider if the United States Department of Defense is an organization you’d like to support. You may find the benefits the military offers worth taking part in missions you may not fully understand, but unfortunately, many don’t consider this aspect before joining.
I’m glad that this is where my path has taken me, that this is the road G-d has set aside for me. On the other hand, though, children deserve the unconditional love and support of their parents, and as citizens of a country as wealthy as this one, we should all be able to earn a degree without going into debt or committing to years of military service. As the economy has grown and inflation has caused everything to get more expensive, wages have become stagnant, thanks to Reagan-era economic concepts positing that tax breaks and decreased regulation to the benefit of corporations ultimately benefits the middle class. As anyone who has attempted to attend college debt-free, without scholarships could tell you, it certainly isn’t as easy as it used to be.
The ironic truth of the matter is that the state of the military, the state of the economy, and the fact I had to join the military in order to secure economic stability and a solid education all tie back to the same source: White Evangelicals and their disproportionate influence on American society. But I’ll get into that later.
Note: this article and the next are littered with links. A few of them will provide some informative context, and some might be more humorous, while providing informative context in their own way. I do this so that people with a background and perspective wildly different from my own can still understand some of the reasoning that guides my thinking and even the jokes or asides I employ.