|"Don't Ask, Don't Tell"
Two former senior-ranking Naval officers look back...
Terry and Darcy (not their real names) were kind enough to chat with QME about life under the
military policy infamously called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” They are a lesbian couple who have been
together for 22 years, and both were in the Navy. Darcy was active for 10 years; Terry retired after 30
years of service. They met and started their relationship in the Navy, after being stationed in the
Their end of our conversation was held via speakerphone, and so their voices mixed and mingled.
Except where noted, their answers have been blended.
QME: Are, or were, most of the friends you socialize with in the service?
T & D: Most are military.
QME: So they must have known you are a couple, right?
T & D: Some knew, and some suspected.
QME: Was DADT officially presented or explained to service members?
T & D: Yes, the navy is required to do that. A policy has to be trained before it can be
QME: You mean that a policy has to be understood in order to be enforced?
T & D: Yes.
QME: What was the policy before DADT?
T & D: [Being gay] wasn’t allowed. Period. If you were caught, you were booted.
QME: W as DADT ever discussed among service members?
Terry: I heard remarks, but I didn’t discuss it. I’d decided early on that I’d maintain my
privacy...you have to remember that Darcy and I were both senior ranking officers so there
was a lot at stake...
QME: I guess, never having served, I can’t picture how the set up was where you were...did you mingle
Terry: Well, I smoke so I’d go out to where smoking was allowed and there’d be a mix of
officers and others all together.
T & D: It’s the same thing as in an office, you are around everyone all the time.
QME: Terry, you mentioned to me that you were so young when you joined the Navy that you really
didn’t know your sexuality yet.
Terry: [laughs] I was too naive to know it could be a problem.
QME: During all this time, were you out to your families?
Terry: My family knew. My dad is retired Air Force and was at my retirement. He was just
in awe that I could keep it a secret, and that I could have such a successful career for thirty
Darcy: Being from [the rural Midwest], and particularly the area where I grew up [religious
fundamentalism is alluded to], you just don’t discuss your sexuality. I never confirmed or
denied... I was never able to be open with my parents [though her siblings are supportive.]
QME: Terry, your retirement was the first time you were seen together in public...
Terry: [correcting]...at a military function...
QME: What was it like not being able to acknowledge Darcy as your partner?
Terry: It was really difficult. If it ever came up over the years, I’d say she was my “house
manager while I’m away” or a female roommate...
Darcy: Many people knew why I was there [at Terry’s retirement] but the majority did not.
“Insignificant Other,” is what I call it. It was hard to be pushed back so far emotionally...
Terry: I had just never let the two, the personal and the professional, cross over...
[After so many years of practicing how NOT to properly acknowledge Darcy, it had become routine.
Which took a different, but equally difficult, emotional toll on them both. Darcy was introduced and
acknowledged as Terry’s best friend, but both agree now that the retirement event which “should
have been enjoyable and fun” was strained by Darcy not being able to participate as an open partner.]
Darcy: I told her, I am your best friend and there’s no shame in that. But, believe it or not,
we never discussed it beforehand...
[The two had discussed the logistics of the event, but not the possible emotional ramifications of the
evening for both. The phrase Darcy coined, “Insignificant Other,” is what sticks in my head from this
part of our chat.]
QME: Terry, I think you told me that sexuality has no place in the service...?
Terry: Part of me believes that, at the time, it [DADT] was a good policy. Privacy is a good
policy. In the Navy, you have to live and work at sea in close quarters...you're away for
months. I went to sea for nine months once...
QME: What do you mean? I can’t picture what you’re saying...
Terry: An aircraft carrier may have up to 5,000 people on ship...
QME: Oh my gosh, I had no idea! I didn’t know so many people could fit on a ship...
Terry: [laughs] I don’t mean to laugh at you, but yeah...and a berthing space may sleep
from 15 to 150.
QME: That’s one heck of a dormitory space...
Terry: Yes, it is.
[Terry believes that variables such as individual personality, and time spent in an enclosed space,
should factor into policy decisions. Most non-personnel, such as myself, are clueless about simple
issues like military accommodations.]
QME: Is DADT, or your pensions, why you wanted to speak anonymously?
T & D: We still have pensions at stake, but the policy is gone now...we could probably live
as openly gay and still get our pensions. But, it’s an election year, and you don’t ever know
what’s going to happen...
QME: [teasing] Are you two thinking of marriage or a commitment ceremony...?
Terry: Right now we’re still adjusting to my retirement. In fact, every time I went to sea
and came home there were adjustments... [We chat about adjustments that military members
and their partners make when the active member returns home. But my innocent question brings up
another disturbing memory from the days of DADT.] Actually, we made plans for a ceremony
once, but one of our ‘friends’ mentioned it to one of my bosses and I was called into the
office and questioned about it. Darcy was, too. I had to lie and say, “Marry her? Of course
not.” It was the most stressful couple days of our lives! It almost ruined our careers!
QME: Thanks so much, ladies, for being willing to talk with me about this subject.
T & D: You’re welcome, Suzanne.