Military Spouses’ Support Group Welcomes Same-Sex Partner

by Ariana Bostian-Kentes

“My name is Ariana and my partner is an active-duty Army officer currently deployed to Afghanistan.”

That is my introductory sentence that I rehearsed over and over again in my head before attending my first meeting at the Michigan Military Family Support Forum last October. I had sent a nervous email to the facilitator when I first heard about the group, asking whether the inclusive language used in the posting really was meant to be inclusive (spouses, significant others, children, parents and relatives). I actually saw myself in the description; for once it wasn’t limited to military dependents or wives or husbands… But I had to know whether or not it was a mistake. Had I actually found a space where I, as an unmarried, same-sex partner of a Soldier, was welcome? Yes; the facilitator let me know there weren’t any other same-sex partners in the group but to come anyway. My partner had just deployed less than a month prior and I was feeling more alone than I ever had in my life. I needed this – I needed to talk to other people who knew what this lonely, frantic, desperate feeling was like. There had to be someone there who I could sit with face-to-face and who would get it.

Now that the first hurdle was jumped, I had to actually find the courage to attend. I envisioned a room full of military wives who would all welcome me when I entered but as soon as it was time for introductions, all bets would be off. I’d introduce myself as a “partner” and use “she” when talking about my other half and they’d look at me funny and slowly scoot their chairs away from mine, leaving me out of the conversations and out of the community…again. I debated with myself for days and made excuse after excuse not to go. Then I remembered the LGBT partners out there who don’t have the resources or the support system of people that I do – the ones who haven’t found others yet. Not everyone has a group of LGBT military partners on speed dial if they need someone to talk to at all hours of the night. I asked myself a question that I often ask my students when they’re considering coming out to their families: what is the worst case scenario and if that is what happens, will you be able to handle it?

I decided that I could.

So I practiced my introductory sentence. A lot. In front of my friends, my cat, and my visor mirror on the way there.

When I arrived, it was my vision come to reality: a room full of women, talking and sharing and laughing… It seemed like everyone knew each other. I sat down at the massive conference table at an empty seat next to a blonde woman with a beaming smile and forced one too. I could have sworn everyone around me could hear my heart beat out loud. The other women quickly introduced themselves and asked me where I was from. Most of them did already know one another because their husbands were all in the same National Guard unit. Then they asked the question: “So what branch is your husband in?”

I froze for a second…this wasn’t how I had thought it would happen. I thought we would all be going around the table and introducing ourselves one by one so that there wasn’t any room for questions after. No less than 7 women were staring at me, eagerly anticipating my response. I cleared my throat.

“My partner is active-duty Army.”

“Oh, where is your husband stationed?” asked a middle-aged woman in an American flag sweatshirt.

Another pause…

“Actually, it’s not my husband, it’s my partner…and she’s stationed in Texas but she’s deployed right now.” I replied.


Awkward silence…I waited for them all to stand up in disgust, tell the facilitator that they weren’t comfortable having me in the group, and kick me out.

Then the smiling blonde I had sat next to spoke up, “Well it’s so nice to meet you! I live in town too – we should get together for coffee sometime.”

I was stunned into silence.

I truly don’t always expect the worst from people, but I had grown so used to disappointment when it came to the military and my inclusion in anything at all. At best I was a “friend” or a “cousin” and for awhile a “roommate”. My experience as a member of the military community, as a military spouse, was finally validated by a room full of straight women in patriotic clothing, drinking Diet Coke and complaining about their hard-nosed husbands. I had never before even fathomed being welcomed into this space. I felt like a real Army wife when by the end of the meeting I was commiserating with them over awkward phone conversations with our deployed partners about the weather and the pets/children and our lonely Friday nights in front of the television. They got it.

I like to think I have a pretty good track record of taking risks and being brave in the face of adversity, but this was one of the most nerve-wracking times of my life. My first experience entering into a military space where I was the only (openly) queer person, and being able to talk about it out loud for the first time. It went much more smoothly than I had imagined and I was lucky; it won’t be the same way for every other partner who takes the same type of risk. But I was prepared to handle it and still be okay if things hadn’t gone as well. If I had gotten chased out of the room with chairs and slurs being thrown at me, I would have survived. I know that I have a wonderful, friendly, brave, loyal LGBT military community behind me and that they would have been there for me if I needed them because we created a family and a support system for ourselves where none existed. I could not be more proud of that fact. It is nice to know now that the division of our military communities is becoming more and more indistinct and right now it feels as though we are pioneers venturing into a new and unknown frontier. We will certainly continue to be met with challenges along the way but we are blazing the trail for those who come after us and being brave with our lives so that others can be brave with theirs. I now look forward to my military family meetings each month and have even taken the lead on planning several social gatherings in my city. I haven’t found any other LGBT military partners in the area yet but I know they’re out there. If you feel like it’s safe to do so, I would really encourage other partners to knock on those doors that we’ve been conditioned to think are locked to us. You might just find your place in the military community behind them.


About Ariana

Ariana Bostian-Kentes is the President of the Military Partners and Families Coalition (MPFC), a non-profit organization founded in 2011 that provides support, resources, education and advocacy for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender military partners and their families. Her partner is an officer in the U.S. Army who recently returned from a deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Outside of her role as the MPFC President, Ariana works full-time as the Program Coordinator of the Spectrum Center, the nation’s oldest LGBTQ center on a college campus, at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI.

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  2. AD
    February 29, 2012 at 7:04 PM

    I’m glad to hear that you had a positive experience at what I suspect was a Yellow Ribbon event. These are ‘purple’ events that are intended to link families up with resources to family members (significant other included) during a deployment. Events are held before, during, and after deployment with different topics addressing each stage of the process. All travel associated costs are paid for by the military (at least the Army does) for ANYONE (two attendees per Service Member) that the service member so chooses to attend.
    I deployed prior to these events being held/repeal of DADT and my partner was effectively in the dark with no outlets to talk with anyone experiencing the same emotions and challenges while I was gone.
    This Congressionally mandated program perhaps didn’t allow for the inclusion of ‘significant others’ specifically to include the partners/husbands/wives of gays and lesbians deploying, but it is a wonderful benefit nonetheless.
    Thank you for your support to your deployed partner in service to our country.

  3. William Field
    February 27, 2012 at 9:18 AM

    Those of us who are straight are tired of the pain we have caused. Thank you for speaking up, and thank you for spreading the welcome you got.

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