Here is part three and the final installment from Serena Storm*, a Black lesbian serving in the military. To go back and read parts one and two, click here.
To delve deeper into the core of my sexuality was an intense interrogation; do I favor men more than women or vice versa? Am I bisexual in that my sexuality is like a Mounds or Almond Joy candy bar where “sometimes I feel like a nut, sometimes I don’t?” Am I an acey-deucey switch hitter? Should I maintain the status quo of society and be in a heterosexual relationship to make everyone else happy or be true to myself so I can find a happiness that I’ve been denied of for far too long? I was eager to get to the root of my being so that I can move forward and close this particular chapter in my life with peace of mind. I won’t deny being involved in a (safe) bisexual relationship, but I found this to be emotionally unfulfilling as it seemed to be more recreational than nurturing. Again with being military, there weren’t many people I could discuss these issues with until I stumbled upon it somehow; only then is it possible to discover that there are a small number of “underground” gay/bisexual social circles that exist within the military. Albeit cheesy, it helped me figure out who I am and what and who exactly I’m looking for. After all of the experimentation and counseling, my conclusion was I am without a shadow of doubt a lesbian who deserves to be more than something to do for the moment–been there, done that, and got the T-shirt. After reviewing all of the relationships I’ve been in with men and women, I felt that anything that I would be looking for in a man during my straight days is the same thing I can find in a woman. In that respect, what I look for in a partner is the same thing I should be prepared to offer.
Admitting being a lesbian to myself was the easy even though I struggled with fully acknowledging it. I felt I needed to give voice to it by saying out loud to myself “Serena, you are a lesbian!” I looked in the mirror and I literally cried tears of joy because all of the inner turmoil of what was once unknown now has definition and it was finally out in the open for me to embrace and celebrate. Now I had to go through the gauntlet of the most important people in my life: My mother, brothers, and child. Telling them would be more difficult than telling a stranger; I don’t care what a stranger thinks. When faced with having to tell a family who’s been exposed to how negatively the society views homosexuality and the influences of peer pressure during the early teenage years, I felt it was almost worth it not to mention it and let them figure it out for themselves. After all, the majority of the time parents can’t, won’t, and don’t accept their child’s homosexual lifestyle and disown them over it. I didn’t want that to happen to me, but I didn’t want to go around putting on a front any longer either. I couldn’t handle losing my family over this, but I knew I had to be honest with them and myself and accept whatever consequences may arise. I decided to tell them on New Years Day (kind of a new years resolution) that I am a lesbian. I just slipped in there over dinner by saying “Please pass the chitterlings; by the way, I’m gay.” Shockingly, my mother’s reply was “Girl, where’ve you been? I’ve known that since you were a teenager, what the hell took you so long to figure that out?” She always said be yourself, and she meant that in every sense of the phrase unlike some who tend to mean it as be yourself as long as it fits into the mold that’s been conjured up in their head. My brothers have been equally understanding and supportive of my preference and have stated that “even your girlfriends will be subject to scrutiny” if they sense that I’m not happy. I’ve recently told my child of my sexual preference. Surprisingly, my child is just as accepting of my lifestyle as my mother and brothers are; my child’s attitude toward it demonstrates maturity beyond years and understanding about the world today. What a relief that was to have the weight of that emotional stress off of me.
A few years ago, I met Audrey* who was my girlfriend for two years. She was a smart and caring woman who I could talk to about anything; she was also my first relationship with a woman. I learned so much from her about functioning in an intimate relationship; (I was ignorant when it came to committed relationships since the majority of my previous relationships failed miserably or ended before it could get started) from communication to appreciation; from compromise to acceptance. I often spoke of her at work with my co-workers by using a male name by referring to her as Aidan* vice Audrey.* Our relationship ended over our careers and the fact that she had met someone who had more in common with her and could meet her needs. Despite all that I learned from her, I know it was hard on her to deal with deployments, extended hours, and other demands of the military life just as it was hard for me to understand and empathize with the demands of being a nurse. Audrey* and I are still friends; I would rather have her in my life in that capacity than not at all. That don’t ask, don’t tell policy limits everything. It’s hard being in a committed relationship with someone whose picture you can’t put on your desk while everyone else is able to just because they’re straight. I’d love to be able to put my lover on a pedestal and show her off just like my co-workers do with their significant others. Unfortunately I can’t; I’ve learned to accept it and keep my professional and private life separate…to the point of having it down to a science and creating my own language.
There are co-workers who know of my sexual preference and they neither gave me a hard time nor sell me out over it. However, there are some co-workers who don’t know and are so inquisitive about my business that they should consider doing CSI; these are the people I worry about each day because in that group is at least two people who will tell someone what they “thought” they heard. Sometimes I just anticipate being called in to discuss rumors about me with the powers that be; other times I’m not concerned. I’ve always believed that it’s not the homosexual people who hinder or initiate hostile work relations; it’s the homophobic, who focuses more on who is or is rumored to be a homosexual than the mission of their command or the task at hand. After all, how many news articles/reports have made mention of a homosexual committing a hate crime against a heterosexual? It seems to me that a rumor is all that is required to cause a stir in the military.
I’ve been with my current girlfriend for almost a year. I never thought it would be possible for me to fall in love again, but I have. Fortunately our careers are similar (although she’s not military) so we’re both very understanding about our careers and honest with each other. We have our issues like any other couple in the world, but we work through them and move on. Just like with Audrey,* I go through what has become the normal procedure of referring to her with a man’s name and never putting her picture on my desk. I have to hide her and my love for her from the military and as long as I’m in the military I’m hiding her and my love for her from the world as well. I hate having to hide my sexuality and my girlfriend; neither negatively effect my ability to serve the country. Sometimes the constant looking around, whispering, speaking in code, and backpedaling to correct a slip of the tongue wears out my psyche. But it’s what I have to do to continue a career that I love very much and maintain a relationship with the girlfriend who I love very much. I appreciate her unyielding support, her understanding, and her acceptance of having to constantly use discretion when we interact with each other. One day it won’t be that way anymore and we can live our lives freely and openly. For now we just live each day and enjoy our relationship one day at time…regardless of that don’t ask don’t tell policy, we’re no different than a heterosexual couple. She’s not just my lover; she is my very best friend.
I’ve had conversations with men who spew the classic statement “you just haven’t found the right man, we’re not all bad.” That’s not what I’m saying; I’m certain that there is a multitude of good men out there. In my case I’m just not interested in falling or being in love with a man; and after years of agonizing, analyzing, and rationalizing, all I can say is I am proud to be an African-American Lesbian in the military; and the only right “man” for me is woman!
Names with asterisk* are pseudonyms