I took a week off from blogging because of an incident I might talk about here in a couple of days. I just didn’t feel like writing. But, I wanted to write about my feelings about the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell last week.
I entered Navy boot camp on June 3rd, 1992 in San Diego. George Herbert Walker Bush was still the President. But, the campaign for that fall’s election cycle had begun. By the time I walked into boot camp, I suspected that Bush wouldn’t be reelected. But, I planned on voting for him anyway. Boot camp was only 8 weeks. And you do get to read the newspaper every Sunday. So, although I was busy, I knew what was going on. Throughout my first year, I knew how Clinton wanted to allow gays to serve openly in the military. But, I was already seeing signs that it wouldn’t work out very well. Occasionally, you would hear derogatory comments about gays that were laughed at by your superiors.
I never considered myself gay. But, I also knew that if anybody found out how I felt about my gender identity, that I would be discharged administratively. Or worse. When your hiding like that, you start to get a little more paranoid than you would on the outside world. I made sure that I didn’t go anywhere near a gay bar. You’d hear stories how the then called Naval Investigative Service had people watching areas where gays would hang out. In that kind of atmosphere, you do everything you can to make sure you don’t come under suspicion.
Thankfully, after nearly 20 years, things are starting to change. I was only in the Navy for four years. There was a time, early on in my enlistment, when I thought about doing 20 years. But, by the time my enlistment came to an end, I had feared that I would either be killed, or I would take my own life if I stayed in. So, I turned down a $20,000 reenlistment bonus to get out. I wasn’t on the security detail. So, I didn’t have access to the armory. But, I did stand watch in port. And as part of that watch, I would have to carry a gun. I worried that if I was really tired and depressed, I would do something stupid, like put it in my mouth and pull the trigger. Which is really too bad. I did love my job. And I loved the ocean. I felt free when we were out at sea. In my mind, there really isn’t anything quite like it.
When you start off a career in the military, you see your friends start families and move either into base housing or somewhere off base. If your gay and your hiding like that, what kind of life can you have? When your young, you can go out and party. But, if your a guy, you can’t really go out on a date with a guy. You can’t move in with a guy. You can’t start a life with a guy. It’s just not possible. Now, imagine living like that for 20 years. I can’t imagine. Now, try to imagine that you’ve lived like that, as a single sailor for 20 years. You might have a place off base. You might even be lying about having a girlfriend. What now? After a 20 year career of avoiding living a true life, what are you going to do? Are your really going to just jump into a relationship with someone? Are you going to go on a date with a guy? I imagine you’ll probably have a really hard time, psychologically. Do you remember the movie Shawshank Redemption? If not, go see it. What an amazing movie. Anyhow. During the course of the movie, you learn how people become institutionalized. It’s harder to live on the outside after spending so much of your time behind the walls of a prison. Some people can’t handle that new freedom. I’ve heard from more than one person that after so long, it’s easier to continue to be quiet about who they really are. They’ve become institutionalized. The system won. Those old Admirals and Generals who forced Clinton into a compromise have forever changed an entire generation of sailors, soldiers and marines.
Last year, I sat in on a session at the Conference on World Affairs at CU Boulder. One of the Army officers on the board given the task to dismantle DADT was speaking alongside some gay activists and former servicemen who had been discharged over DADT. What I heard there, convinced me even more that this policy had to be done away with. I learned that other countries like England, Australia and France allowed gay service members. And none of those countries had the issues that homophobic people said would happen if we allowed gays to openly serve.
The end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell shows us, as a country, that we have grown. There are openly gay people in the media. Most of us have, at the very least met someone who is gay or lesbian. Some of our closest friends might be gay. Or, we might have a family member who is gay. Gay people aren’t monsters. And being gay is certainly not a choice. We have changed. The true impact of the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell will be felt from today forward. We will no longer toss aside quality sailors and soldiers just because they prefer to sleep with people of the same gender as them. And in return, they will be free to live a healthy and happy life.