04/10/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

What's Missing From the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Debate

Simply put, I'm sick of hearing about Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Actually, that's not entirely true. Perhaps I should say that I've grown bored with the majority of the dialogue surrounding it, and at this point I'm not sure how the conversation is different now than it was 17 years ago when this issue was first raised in the public consciousness. Unfortunately, we're being presented with the same talking heads and the same high-level military leaders who both seem to think that they know the right answer to this issue, but we seem to be ignoring the men and women who actually live this, or have lived it before. I'm starting to realize that what is missing from the DADT debate is the stories of soldiers who survived it, who know what it is like waiting for the other shoe to drop if someone suspects too much and decides to play detective, or if you forget to replace "guy" with "girl" when you're pushed about what exactly it was that you did last Friday night while the rest of the guys and their girlfriends went bowling.

This was my life for nearly five years as an Infantryman in the U.S. Army, where DADT forced me to be someone I wasn't while I tried to figure out who I was. I survived under this rule and left the Army with an honorable discharge due in no small part to my ability to keep my head down and my mouth shut for my term of service. Having been unfairly forced to do so, I now realize that I have no desire to listen to newly enlightened politicians like Colin Powell tell me why it should be repealed 17 years and thousands of discharges later, and even less of a desire to listen to pro DADT ideas about "the desires of sexual minorities" from people like Senator John McCain, who continues to cling to ideas about gays in the military that would be more at home in a combat platoon in 1970 than in 2010. I will neither discount nor defend the homophobia that I experienced and witnessed in the U.S. Army, but I still truly believe that its soldiers are no more or less homophobic than anyone else in our society, and certainly not so socially underdeveloped that they are somehow less prepared for the kind of cohesion with people of differing sexual orientations that has become more or less commonplace in every other facet of working-class American society.

What this conversation needs is more voices from gay soldiers who survived DADT so that we can hear more personal stories about what it is like to live under the rule, the mental anguish that it causes, and the lack of trust between enlisted soldiers that it continues to foster. If these voices continue to go unheard, the national conversation regarding DADT will continue to go in circles like the proverbial dog chasing its tail, and this issue is far too important to let that happen. This conversation needs to become more personal so that we can get the American public connected to an issue that is deeply important within the U.S. Military that works tirelessly to keep us safe, and I believe that now is a more perfect time than ever to make it so. There are thousands of gay soldiers who are being rendered voiceless at a crucial time in this debate, which is why I hope these words that I write and speak can add to the dialogue regarding Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and crystallize its effects on the soldiers affected by it in the minds of those who may not be aware. It is only when this happens, and when the political becomes a bit more personal for most Americans, that we can come to an honest consensus about this and truly understand why it's high time to move forward with the repeal of this outdated and harmful rule.