You know those nice commercials with the service members? You know the ones, with instrumental music in the background, maybe an American flag? Then the camera cuts to the service member surprising her kid at school, or walking on the football field when his son doesn’t expect it, or stepping into an airport to thunderous applause? Those commercials that make you think, “I am proud to be an American! I am proud of our troops!” Those commercials?
Those commercials only tell half the story.
That’s like opening a fairy tale to the last page and reading only the happy ending when the entire family is reunited in the castle. The villain? The spell? The eternity spent apart? That’s what military life is actually like. It’s long days and longer nights apart. It’s hearing about casualties on the news, unsure if your loved one is safe. It’s knowing your family always takes a back seat to the jealous mistress that is the military.
Which is why it baffles me that we want to tell people who actually want to serve that we don’t want them. This isn’t an easy life, and it isn’t one that people tend to want for selfish reasons.
And still, I am proud — SO proud — to be a military spouse. I have the privilege of being surrounded by those who put a cause greater than themselves ahead of their own needs, who wake up in (what I consider) the middle of the night to stay ready, who work longer hours than anyone wants to admit, who put themselves in harm’s way on a regular basis.
Having an all-volunteer force means that the people who raise their hand to sign on the dotted line do so when others don’t. I know I sure didn’t. When I was in high school and people asked me what I planned to do after graduation, “join the military” never once crossed my mind.
But for hundreds to thousands of people who are trans* (accurate numbers are impossible to secure for many reasons), it did. They made a sacrificial decision that less than .5% of our population makes, even though most declare it honorable and inspirational. Especially when those commercials come on.
And today, those hundreds to thousands are wondering how much longer they’ll have a job.
For so many years — well, all of them up until very recently — it wasn’t safe in the United States to serve your country as anything other than cisgender and straight. The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” made it easier for those who were LGB… but the “T” were left out until last year, and we’re still working on the “+”…
Well, strike that. Come to find out, we’re still working on the “T” too…
As I encountered the tomes written on those few short tweets issued by our president, I read and reread each sentence through the eyes of a trans* service member. The numbers, the statistics… they are all real people. Real people who have been through enormous pain. Real people who serve honorably. Real people who are loved by God, fully. Real people who possess the imago dei — the image of God, the divine spark of humanity — as much as any cisgender neighbor of theirs.
And on that day, my heart broke.
So today, I’m holding close those caught in the midst of online battles, those who are looking for enough support to take the first brave step to fully be who they are, as people created and loved by God. It has never been easy, and it just got even harder.
For all who serve,
thanks be to God.
For the one who taught us to love all equally, without question or caveat,
thanks be to God.
And for a world in which “all” actually means all…
God, in your mercy, hear our prayer.