Life Beyond Therapy
DADT and Mental health
Published Thursday, 30-Sep-2010 in issue 1188
Over the years, I have been the psychotherapist for many active and retired military personnel. It has been my privilege and honor to be able to support these fine men and women in whatever ways I can. It is clear to me, however, that DADT has been a major roadblock to their mental health.
As a federal law, DADT institutionalizes several phenomena:
• Forcing active and retired servicemen/women to lie, deny and hide who they are as LGBT people
• Making it crucial that LGBT servicemen/women take on a false identity, e.g. pretend they’re heterosexual
• Labeling LGBT people as unacceptable
• Putting extreme social/financial/emotional pressure on servicemen/women to keep pretending, lying, denying and hiding
In essence, DADT is a legally mandated ‘stay in the closet’ program.
In essence, DADT is a legally mandated “stay in the closet” program. As a psychotherapist, this is really bad news. Over the past few years, since DADT was signed into law by then-President Clinton (oh Bill, how could you?), I have seen how it slowly but surely destroys the self-esteem of not only my military clients, but also the self-esteem of their partners/lovers/boyfriends/girlfriends.
Let me give you an example: one of my clients, a handsome young businessman, lives with his partner of 3 years, an equally handsome young man who is active military here in San Diego. As a result of DADT, my client has to be really careful of what he says about his partner. He can’t put his picture on his desk, he can’t say much about him to his friends and colleagues, because if one person at work gets pissed off at him, they could get revenge on him by outing his partner to the military. Not only does this put incredible pressure on my client and his partner, but it also puts a lot of pressure on their relationship. Another client of mine, a single woman who is active military, said that she is afraid to break up with a woman she has been dating, because if her girlfriend gets angry enough, she could “out” her at the base.
Some of my active military clients tell me that they’re just waiting to retire and to continue to get the many benefits they (well) deserve for risking life and limb for this country. Whether you’re a fan of the military or not, LGBT men and women work long and hard for their paychecks and benefits, often risking their lives on deployments. They deserve every benefit they can get. From my (therapist’s) chair, when you see a client who has come back from his/her third deployment, and witness the mental and physical anguish they’ve suffered, it is clear that they deserve all the help we can offer them in adjusting back to life here in San Diego.
And yet, DADT threatens to take away all their current and future retirement benefits with just one angry phone call to a serviceperson’s commanding officer or superior. DADT encourages this kind of high-stakes blackmail. Being at the risk of blackmail is horrible for anyone’s self-esteem. Imagine if you had to keep everyone in your life “happy” for fear they might call your boss at work and tell them that you’re LGBT. How could you ever relax? How could you be honest with people? How could you feel safe enough to let people really know you?
And what about your sex life? Why do you think there are all those Craigslist sex ads for “DL (down low) military” guys? Because, like all of us, they need and deserve a fulfilling sex life, but how to get it if it could mean the end of your military career? The necessity of keeping your sexual life “down low” is based on shame and fear of being LGBT. Being on the “down low” means you have to hide a really important part of who you are: your sexual expression. This makes it impossible to feel good about yourself, and it’s hell on your mental health. Yet DADT makes being on the “down low” a necessary part of life. Ugh.
From a mental health point of view, DADT is nothing but bad news. It needs to be repealed. Now.