Today marks the end of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.  I remember when Bill Clinton issued the directive.  I had just started college and attending meetings of the gay student organization.  DADT, at the time, was a terribly disappointing compromise, though, in retrospect, necessary.  Clinton’s promise to repeal the ban altogether would never have passed, given the hostile climate in Congress and from the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

I came to know two gay ROTC members:  a short, curly-haired lesbian from Georgia, Noel, and Patrick, a good-looking, blonde.  They took pride in their service but knew the possibly consequences if they were ever discovered.  I imagine them marching in uniform the way I’ve seen ROTC students practice their formations on campus nowadays.  I never knew what become of Noel — she transferred to another school — and Patrick hinted that his military career would continue after graduation.  In The Best American Short Stories 2006, Tobias Wolff’s story, “Awaiting Orders,” deals with DADT.   In it, an army sergeant hesitates calling his boyfriend a ‘partner.’  His fears of discovery and blackmail overcome his desire to reach out to the sister of a deployed soldier.  I wonder if this is what life was like for Noel and Patrick.  The need to hide.

The end of the policy came with little fanfare, which was what the military had wanted.  Just another day in the war machine.  In the media, however, there’s been a small flurry of stories:  a Navy lieutenant who wed his partner at the stroke of midnight in Vermont to mark the end of the ban; soldiers coming out to their comrades, superiors and families; remembrances of soldiers who could not.

The damage has already been done, though.

Late in Alexander Nevsky, the scene that follows the kinetic battle on the iced-over Lake Chudskoye slows the film to plaintive pace.  Prokofiev’s score takes an operatic note.  Eisenstein scholar David Bordwell calls the music a “threnody.”  Wounded and dying soldiers, German and Russian alike, lie heaped upon the ice, and Eisenstein tracks across them diagonally.  One lifts his head momentarily before crumpling face-down.  On the ice, torches appear, carried by women who peer into the faces of the fallen.  One man rises long enough to say, “Maria.”  As the women move from body to body, another soldier says, “Izaslavna.”  Another:  “Anastasia.”  “Sister.”  Wives, family members, all of their beloved:  their last breaths.  On the field of battle, a mother collapses on a body lying in the snow.

All the years the ban was in effect — how many gay soldiers weren’t able to speak the name of their beloved, even at death?  Who carried torches for them?  Who was allowed to mourn them?  This was the real tragedy of the policy:  silence.  Even in grief.

Sgt. Leonard Matlovich, the first gay servicemember to fight the ban, had this inscribed on his tombstone:  “When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.”

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