Asking and Telling

Kristin Flickinger

National debates based on our lives are nothing new to the queer community. With the rash of celebrity outings and the prominence of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in the media, questions about coming out are heavy in the national consciousness. And we have an opportunity to contribute to the conversation.

First I want to say that the question of whether to come out is an intensely personal one. We all have our reasons for the specific timing that we choose. My personal view is that the more people who come out, the easier it will be for all of us, queer, straight and everything in between.

The question of “why” isn’t a new one either.

The first time I faced it was when I put a rainbow bumper-sticker on my car in college. And when I covered it up for my trip to Idaho to live with my parents for the summer, unable to explain its importance.

Until Oregon’s 2004 gay marriage vote, when a straight staffer came into the campaign office with a story about driving through a conservative part of Oregon. “I get it!” she told us. “Now I understand the rainbow stickers.” Feeling more and more alone, in the sea of anti-gay propaganda, she had seen a single purple sign.

“It was like seeing a friend. I knew I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t the only one! Is that what it’s like for you every day?”

Yes! It’s exactly how it was. The sticker wasn’t just about me, but about signaling to other people that they weren’t alone.

With the recent stories about isolated queer youth, feeling alone is something most people can understand. It’s part of the reason it’s so amazing when celebrities and sports figures come out. It’s like a great, national bumper-sticker.

But there’s more. Which brings me to Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

This Christmas, like every Christmas, my family gathered at my parents’ house. Including the grandparents. Who are old. My grandfather served in WWII. He was in the Navy, assigned to the USS Detroit in December of 1941. Stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

I grew up with a mythology about military service. Of the great pride and honor in serving your country. While in law school, I considered the JAG corps; serving in the Navy, like my grandfather. I had skills to contribute to my country. I had a willingness to serve. And I had the values learned from my family: honor, strength and honesty.

But I lived my life as a very out lesbian. I had a girlfriend, and involvement in several GLBT organizations.

If I joined the Navy, I would have to hide who I was, something I had resolved never to do. People might laugh, but the idea that I was a lawyer, for me, included living my life in the most honest way possible. The idea that, in order to serve my country, I would have to be dishonest, was something I was unwilling to accept. More than that, it was something completely counter to the honor I had always associated with service.

That didn’t mean that I wanted to screw my bunkmate, or violate non-fraternization policies. It simply meant that I wanted to share the most simple and important parts of my life as openly as any other service member. I didn’t expect that anyone would ever ask, “Flickinger, you gay?” But questions like, “what did you do on leave?” are tantamount to the same thing. Ultimately, I decided that it wasn’t a good fit.

I had never heard my grandfather talk about Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. I’m not sure I’d ever thought about his views on the subject. Until Christmas. The 90-year-old Pearl Harbor Survivor stood in the kitchen with my dad.

“I don’t understand the military anymore. What is this thing about a big ol’ Marine being afraid of some guy kissing him in a foxhole?” My ears perked up. My grandparents were the last family members I’d come out to, officially transitioning me into “out-to-the-world” status.

“That’s what this is all about, isn’t it?” he continued. “You know, I served for decades. We lived together. We bathed together. It was never an issue. And you can’t tell me there weren’t any then.” There it was. My grandfather knew there were gay people serving with him. He didn’t care.

So why do we need to be out? Because if we live our lives in the open, it takes away the mystery. It takes away the fear of the unknown. Takes away the shadow and the murmur. Our neighbors associate “lesbian” with the woman who rakes her lawn – or Ellen. And our grandparents associate “gay” with the men they served with. Men of honor. Politicians are no longer able to say, “there are no gay people in my district/state/country.” And we begin to face each other more fully.

Kristin really likes telling. You and your grandparents can ask away at

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    Kristin, thank you for sharing this with us.

    It just goes to show -- sometimes people can surprise you.

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    I love this post. In fact, it may be one of my favorite posts at Blue Oregon.

    This is a story of being who you are--knowing why it's important and insisting on boundaries to maintain that self truth. And then having acceptance from those around you.

    It's also the story of how smart, thoughtful people can win the day. And that's always awesome.

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    Awesome post! Thanks for it.

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    Thank you Kristin. It is a wonderful post!

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    Fantastic post, Kristin. Thanks!

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    Kristin, Thanks for a great post. I'm also from a military family and that fact that I wasn't able to serve openly and honestly has always troubled me. DADT is a civil rights issue, and one more step in us having equal rights as LGBTQ Americans.

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    Thanks for sharing. It is a shame that the military lost out on having someone who would be a good soldier. I considered JAG before law school, but on the eve of me going to law school the Iraq war broke out and I chose not to. However, as a straight guy, I had the option of going and being open about my authentic self, something you have been denied.

    I still remember sitting with my now deceased grandfather probably 7 or 8 years ago. We were watching tv and something DADT-related was on the news. My grandfather, then in his 80s, said, to paraphrase "what's the big deal? I served with plenty of gays in the war." He was also a proponent of marriage equality. My other grandfather, a WWII vet as well, has the same sentiments. He lives in Arizona and laughs that anywhere else in the west he'd be considered a moderate but that in AZ he is considered just to the right of Mao.

    Sometimes I wonder if this is just another example of the right using the troops but not really supporting them like they say they do. Out of the several vets I know, only one has ever stated an opposition to the repeal of DADT. Yet, the right likes to trumpet this as supporting the troops.

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