Sorry this post is so damned long. But these are probably the most influential incidents in my life, it’s not gonna’ be brief. I hope that you think that it’s worth the time invested in reading it.
Sunday, May 14, 2017
I was raised up in a military household. My father was a career Navy officer, serving a total of 32 years active, before retiring to the United States. Dad was always strict- very much ran our household like one of his commands. (My sister and I often referred to him behind-his-back, and still do- as “the Commander”). Naturally, this was a very conservative environment- socially, politically, and religiously. When I became increasingly aware that I just did not feel attracted to the opposite sex, but rather to my own, this upset me greatly. From the nature of the talk around my home, both from Mom and Dad, gays were not just a source of ridicule (AIDS was seen as retribution sent to them from an “angry” God, etc.), but should have no place in our society for they were acting like a bunch of freaks, drawing all this attention to themselves protesting. There was no place, so I believed, in my family for these feelings I kept getting or anyone bearing them. I still do not believe this to be an inaccurate read of the situation as far as my family goes.
Bear in mind that this was the mid/-late ’80’s, the Reagan-era, and small-town America- not in a “socially-progressive” environment to put it lightly. In my hometown, being black, or of a different religion, was unacceptable. In fact it was not uncommon to hear of such persons being threatened, beaten, having their wells blown-up or worse. Nobody was gay, or would dare speak of it- this would have been a death sentence. Of course, I would have given anything to have changed these thoughts and feelings, and learned that it was essential that I do so, for my own survival.
I had a helluva’ time building relationships with my classmates, I hadn’t attended school in the United States until high school, and most of these kids had gone to school together since kindergarten! Many had never even left the Rouge Valley, and some still haven’t. Their world view was “limited” to say the least- however, we all discovered marijuana about the same time, and commonalities were discovered aplenty! Friendships grew. I had a few high school girlfriends. None of these ever went far, now I can see that was driven by my lack of interest moving things onto a sexual plane, not anything was wrong with any of them- it was all on me. I kept my distance, and simply shut down my emotions where love and sex and all that were concerned. I believed then, and still do to a great extent, that at that time I had a great deal to fear as a result of these thoughts even occurring in my brain, regardless of whether I had actually acted on them (I never had- either with a girl or another boy).
My high school years were actually a lot of fun, however in the midst of all the hell raising, I got into a bit of trouble with the law (a bunch of us vandalized an abandoned car while partying one night, and I guess the owner didn’t want its windows smashed out and reported us to the police). I was given the opportunity to join the Navy instead of getting in trouble with the courts, and did so. I joined under the DEP and went active within a week of graduation.
I was stationed aboard the USS XXXXXXX after I went active. Different commands approached the “No Gays” policy differently, some were very vigorous in rooting out gay persons, while others were not. My service occurred during the Don Rumsfeld-era of the DoD, when homosexuals were labeled as inherent “security threats”, and were vigorously pursued. During CDR. XXXXXXX’s tenure as Commanding Officer aboard XXXXXX, these policies were enforced enthusiasticaly. The outright hostility from the entire structure of the military, as well as aboard XXXXXX under XXXXXX was astonishing, especially to a naive teenager. As the whole AIDS crisis as well as Gay Rights thing gained momentum, the conservative backlash from these movements drove pressure from the White House and the DoD down upon the Navy to get rid of all the gays that could be found. The fastest way to get out of the military during this period was to claim that (or allow it to be determined that or even just rumored that you were) gay, often within the same week the determination was made! This had nothing to do with whether the servicemember had ever physically acted on these feelings, whether the servicemember was the perpetrator or victim of threats, repeated sexual harassment, a sexual assault, and without regards to the quality and character of service. If the allegation was made, that was enough to spell the end of a military career, and the command would not defend you in any way.
As I said, CDR XXXXXX implemented the anti-gay policy with gusto. The intimidation of persons aboard USS XXXXXX, the stigmatization, isolation, helplessness, and self blame of homosexual service members aboard my ship was rife once someone was exposed, or sometimes even accused. Physical violence against shipmates who were outed, suspected of being gay, or were merely effeminate was an ongoing issue both aboard XXXXXX and in the military in general. It was widely known that on other ships crewmembers reported to have “committed suicide” due to being gay had actually been pushed over the side. This was a terroristic environment, and the wrongs committed against gay servicemen and women were met by a conspiracy of silence and disbelief up and down the chain-of-command once actions were brought to their attention. A homosexual service member could expect no protection or shelter whatsoever from leadership, just as the perpetrator of harassment or physical violation would receive no retribution.
My own experience involved a group of other guys who became aware of one another. Myself, as a new Deck Seaman, DK3 XXXXXX, MS2 XXXXXX, and FNSN XXXXXX, a fireman, became loosely acquainted with one another (although XXXXXX and XXXXXX eventually began a relationship- yet made certain that nobody knew about it aboard the ship). There were also others who would come and go, either due to EAOS or being accused and subsequently discharged with an OTH, labelled as having a “defective personality”. The possibility of my own discharge under those circumstances was unthinkable to me, both due to my own pride in my work and service to country, but also within my own family such a discharge has never occurred, especially under those conditions (my family has served Honorably in our Navy going back over 5 generations). I would have been better off dead than let go with anything other than Honorable Discharge from the service.
Deck Division was then, and is now pretty rough duty. The crowd is pretty rough too. It is a lot like the “jailhouse” of the ship in many of ways (the hours are long, work filthy, and the rest of the ship’s crew holds most “deck apes” in exceedingly low esteem), but I quickly established a reputation for being a hard worker, one of the guys who would “get the job done”, as i’m certain my LPO’s would agree. This means that I received many more of the tough jobs, however this also earns one the recognition accordingly.
Living in close quarters as we were, folks get a pretty quick idea for what one another is all about. Some of my shipmates guessed me gay, not because of my own words, but rather from things I didn’t really get involved in (all the stories about their girlfriends last week, porn magazines, etc.) because they just didn’t really interest me. Amongst these were three persons in my division (BM3 XXXXXX, SN XXXXXX, BM3 XXXXX ((I forget if that was his first or last name)), and BMSN XXXXX, among others). Rumors spread at a low level regarding myself and the others, but attention focused on another shipmates (among one who drove an orange Ford Fiesta, however I don’t remember his name, but was in Deck, too) and one of the reservists that got into a fight with XXXXX. Nevertheless, verbal harassment was constant on the messdecks, berthing areas, on watch, and everywhere else, especially shoreside. A lot of threats went along with this, and not occasionally sexual advances or even violence.
I remember the evening that I “knew something was up”. I was walking back into the berthing area from taking a shower after knock-off, probably about 6pm or so. XXXXX, XXXXX, and XXXXX were standing around talking, about some perverted subject, as usual, as I walked in. XXXXX made some comment to the other two along the lines of “hell yeah, I came out the shower one day, he saw me, and I tell ya’ what his eyes lit up like it was Christmas!! Hahaha!”, then seeing me, all conversation stopped cold, and all three focused their eyes on me… it felt like having spotlights trained on me. I can still feel the weight of those stares to this day. It was like daggers of ice stabbing through my chest, into my heart, and twisting, twisting, twisting deep. I knew I “had been made”, and I knew I was in deep shit.
A number of weeks later, XXXXX & XXXXX cornerd me while I was working in the forward line locker (a small area of the vessel below the foc’sle, where the 8″ mooring lines and their spares are stored in coil heaps on the deck and in the strakes. This is located below the waterline, just below the bow and above the sonar dome, as isolated a space as it can get). I recall XXXXX & XXXXX coming down the scuttle into the space. It became quickly apparent that I was going nowhere. The price of my exit was oral sex on both of them. This was my first sexual experience of any sort. The space was so brightly lit, as I recall, humid from all the damp lines, and stuffy and salty smelling. One of them said “I hear you like sucking dicks. How ’bout you start here…” then XXXXXX walked over to the heap of lines I was sitting upon, took me by the neck and forced my face into his crotch. He stunk. He was an ugly, pear-shaped red headded ass of a person, and I was repulsed. He forced me down, saying something like “Do it, do it now!” as he forced my head down. The sight of him, of it, it just grossed me out! But, he (they both, actually) outranked me what do I do? They were both bigger than I was, older, and outranked me.
I believe that I allowed myself to be coerced as a survival mechanism. They used this as a ploy to make me do this several more times. I did what I had to do in order to survive… due to the myriad reasons already explained in detail, there were no options of bringing this forward to my command, the Master-at-Arms staff, or anyone else associated with the Navy, so what were my other options??? The civilian police?!?
Not much time later XXXXX demanded the same thing. It was a dark space, where it happened, but I really recall very little of this incident. Odd. This only occurred once, but nevertheless shocked me as I had considered XXXXXX a friend! In retrospect, this one act has deeply, deeply messed me up psychologically. What, was this gonna’ be my new life?!? Having to blow anyone who wants it just so I don’t get the holy hell beat out of me or kicked out of the Navy and sent home in shame?!?!? The fact that a fairly close friend violated me… it boggles my mind how someone so close would do this, knowing the harm he was inflicting on another person, even a friend! Yet, all the same it did happen to me. What is strange is how the whole thing plays back in a series of “snapshots”, not like a movie, like other memories I have. It’s choppy. I dunno’ why. I remember forcing myself to “a corner” in my mind, where I wasn’t having to do what I was doing.
During this period of time, I had been preparing to “strike out” of First Division to become designated a Signalman. Obviously, this made striking not just something I wanted to happen, but needed to happen immediately. Eventually, I earned my designation, and moved not just to another workcenter, but into another whole division aboard XXXXX. It was obviously not just unpleasant to have to do these things, but I feared for my safety- not just from my 3 tormentors, but from other assholes aboard the same ship who may think they can torture me as well, maybe have this escalate into a rape, or see myself fall prey to one of those “apparent suicides”. Due to the “unique” employment relationship that the military has with service members, I was unable to just “quit”, to “get away”, or to leave in order to stop the further harassment from occurring without fear of being labelled as having a “personality disorder”, then receiving an other than Honorable discharge, prosecution or even jail. I was trapped, and forced to endure my suffering just in order to survive. All while my tormentors would have gotten off scot-free. Fuck the military leadership of that time. Fuck them all to hell.
I know I made a number of errors handling this situation at 17/18 years of age. I’ve made many since. I should not have allowed myself to be coerced into participating in these situations, much less allowed the ongoing intimidation to occur, although I am not exactly certain as to what it is that I should have done then that would have caused the manipulation to stop.
These situations have made it terribly difficult to trust anyone- not my family, certainly not those in authority, nor have been able to “love” anyone… including myself. I suppose I have some folks that I hold close to myself, however as a result of the unspeakably difficult pain that followed on from the events I have detailed above, I protect myself from further physical and emotional violations at all cost.
Subsequent to this, I proceeded to protect myself as much as I could, first from feeling “gay thoughts”, as well as insulating myself from any accusations that could be leveled at me for having them, let alone from any actions (which up to this point had only been the involuntary acts by my shipmates!). This emotional backlash resulted in my becoming involved with an ultra-orthodox, fundamentalist church and several long term heterosexual relationships (none of which can be described as “deeply nurturing” or “loving”) so that I could “pass”, at least, if not render myself straight. I twisted my self, my very soul and being to become someone I am not, in my own attempt to “pray the gay away” while protecting myself from any rumors (and I guess this was more or less successful, but at what a cost!). Dammit, those prayers didn’t seem to work, no matter what I did!
Thoughts of persecution have filled my mind each day & night after the first incident, as well as the subsequent ones by XXXXX and XXXXX, and then the one by XXXXX. I feared others doing the same thing to me and possibly worse, as well as prosecution by the command. This fear continued until I got out of First Division and they processed out of the Navy. I feared retribution, ostracization by my shipmates for having the command protect me from further assaults, and I have maintained that protective distance at all times in years since in order to protect myself from damage from other persons and the devastation that trust and betrayal bring.
I lied to myself, my friends, my family, everyone around me, my command, my country, and my God so that I could be who I am not in order to avoid the persecution stemming from the policies enforced by the military in which I had grown up, and was then serving. This futile attempt was doomed to failure from the start, however in my teenage naivete I was unaware of this and kept up the charade, all the while knowing both what I was, how I felt, and why I must never allow anyone to know.
As a result of the harassment and coercion which I experienced during my active duty service, and the steps that I undertook to prevent my discharge therefrom, as well as to try to protect my physical and psychological well-being as best I could at the time and under the circumstances, I suffered greatly. These situations occurred as a result of blatantly ignorant and bigoted policies of leadership negligently creating an environment – and as is now apparent, both in the subsequent change in attitude as well as the change in policy, in which not just myself, but many, many other hardworking, loyal, and patriotic service members endured similarly, attached to commands that solidly and enthusiastically enforced those policies that had wrongly been pushed down to them, and a bunch of oversexed young men willing to take physical advantage over another shipmate in order to get their rocks off.
Those acts and the darkness that has followed in their wake have been a driving factor in my “turning inward”, my isolation, and these damned depressions that have become overwhelming in the past 2 years. The lack of trust has forced me to construct walls between myself and everyone else in my life. Re-living these incidents have been amongst the very lowest points of my life, and I find myself unable to trust. Love is for others, not me. I just cannot and will not allow myself that vulnerability, the fear is simply too much of a burden for my soul to bear today. There have been times where I have just wanted it to end, and have made plans for this, and set a date. Others have pulled me back from that ledge. For the time being.
It has taken me until now to really address this. This is the first time I have examined in detail let alone discussed what had happened, and I am now rapidly approaching fifty years of age. The shame, humiliation, fear, and self-loathing have to stop. Hitherto, I have mistakenly felt that the military’s shift in policy, allowing homosexual servicemembers to serve openly was a necessary change benefiting today’s soldiers, sailors, and marines. I was incorrect. This shift in policy is nothing less than the correction of a monumental wrong under which untold numbers of excellent service members have had to serve in silence, have suffered physically and psychologically, had their military careers ended, and some even been killed. Just due to the idiocy and stupidity of those in our military leadership.
The man I would like to become in the future can both trust and love. I cannot do so now. I do believe that I am worthy of both. Maybe someday.
I’m still uncertain that I would advise another gay to enlist in the service, regardless to their commitment to honor and country. Our military has the mechanisms to address these wrongs as efficiently and effectively as no civilian court can. However, command dedication to focusing on the character and quality of one’s service varies wildly from one command to another, just as it has done so in years past and present for blacks, Filipinos, women, and others. Many complicit military leaders buy the allegiance of their subordinates by allowing them to seriously breach codes of conduct towards others within that very chain of command while offering little or no recourse through the UCMJ or other disciplinary channels to those victimized against their aggressors. The dark and cruel days past must end.
To service members presently serving, EAOS’d Honorably, or those “awarded” an OTH because of one of Don Rumsfeld’s witch hunts, I say WE FIGHT. We need to fight like hell, fight because of the way we were treated and what happened (both to ourselves and our fellow service members)- we must fight as if we are fighting for the life of another comrade we will likely never know, because we are. We owe this debt to ourselves, to the untold number of servicemembers who have suffered and served in silence, both present and past, afraid of retribution from their shipmates, their command and denied protection through their so-called leaders. We must stand behind the men & women these recent changes protect, and for the honor of our American armed forces. We must fight those who would reinstate the savage policies of the recent past. The misconduct tolerated in so many commands (past, present, and future) must end now and be set right. We must hold the leadership accountable for their lapses. Through the DAV, and other organizations like it, we have the tools to do so.
The events I outlined from my own experience were evils perpetrated during a time in which America was just beginning to recognize the wrongs that it was permitting against its gay citizens and service members, amongst others. As all Americans deserve, we must be judged by the quality of our service, and not by ignorant and arbitrary prejudices, as that is a disservice to our country, denying her the best possible defense from many of the best qualified candidates of our citizenry.
I now see it as a duty of mine, as one of those effected by the bigoted, vicious policy of those dark days to see that my brothers and sisters-in-arms shall no longer have to suffer what I had to suffer, endure what I had to endure, and that our military can get back to being the best damned fighting force this world has ever known. Our military has proceedures available to see that our men and women in uniform are judged only by the character of thier service, and not by personal whims such as race, religion (or the lack thereof), politics, sex, or sexual orientation. Civilians should be so blessed. We all love this country and have sworn to defend her with our lives. Let’s get to it.
“The Sea Lion”