If you don’t mind, I’d like to let you in on a little secret about Gays In The Military and the draconian laws of the Uniform Code of Military Justice…
As I’ve mentioned before in other posts, I served two deployments to Iraq as a combat medic in an Airborne Infantry unit. Yeah, that’s me with the so-thick-I-can-see-the-future glasses. Anyhow, among the soldiers I worked with, I knew two dudes who were gay, one who was bisexual, and another dude who had two moms. And that’s just that I knew of—it’s not like I’m in the habit of inquiring about people’s sex lives, you know?
The point being, there are already gays in the military. And would you care to guess how the rest of us felt about that?
If your answer was anything other than, “We didn’t give two shits,” you’re wrong.
What you have to understand is that everything you’ve heard about how men who serve together get to be like a family, well, it’s more true than you know, and in a lot of ways you might not have anticipated.
We slept in the same barracks, woke up and worked out together, then we had breakfast and went to work together. Every day. When we weren’t working we were hanging out together, drinking in the same bars and eating in the same restaurants and fucking the same girls. Or guys. Whatever. Hell, on cold nights we even spooned to keep warm. The point being, soldiers get to be about as close as close gets.
It’s a family in every way, the good and the bad. You’ve got the same intense loyalty, and the same petty rivalries. But what’s funny is how you’ve got a more incredibly diverse group of people than you’d find anywhere else. That patch the 82nd Airborne wears, with “AA” stitched on it? We liked to joke that it stood for Alcoholics Anonymous, but it really stands for All-American, because there were people from every state of the union in that division. And we’re a family.
I went to college before I joined the Army (which is not as uncommon as you probably think), and I remember how the students segregated themselves. You’d go to the cafeteria and all the black kids would be sitting at this table, all the upper-class white kids at that table, all the Asian kids over in this corner, all the poor “townies” over there… But when you walk into a military dining facility, you don’t see that. Soldiers choose to spend time with the same soldiers they work with, and who they are assigned to work with has nothing to do with race, color, or creed.
I’m not trying to claim that the military is a haven of acceptance and tolerance, but remember what I said, how soldiers get to be like a family? It’s like that old Chris Rock joke, how everyone’s got a gay uncle, and you love your gay uncle. There are racists and homophobes in the military, too, but even the worst of them learn to make an exception for the soldiers they work with. We learn to get along. Partly because we have no choice, and partly because most people who are prejudiced are like that only because they don’t know any better. It’s like that Henry Rollins joke, how he doesn’t worry about skinheads and Klansmen because “those guys are only a couple Al Green records away from partying with the rest of us.”
Which is why it pisses me off when some politician or some right-wing pundit says that allowing gays in the military will ruin the esprit de corps. It’s simply not true, and they’re using that particular lump of bullshit to further their own ideological agenda.
The Department Of Defense actually took a poll to find out how soldiers felt about this issue, and the overwhelming majority answered that they supported allowing gays in the military. Pundits like Ann Coulter answered that this doesn’t reflect the feelings of “our men on the front lines.” (BTW, could somebody please tell her that there are no “front lines” in a counterinsurgency?) Ann Coulter doesn’t know what she’s talking about, but I do. As I said, I was in an infantry unit that spent more time overseas than back home, and I’m shocked that so many civilians honestly believe that soldiers have such delicate sensibilities.
Which brings me to some depressing news. A lot of folks have been patting each other on the backs, congratulating themselves on the new legislation that allows homosexuals to serve openly. And what you should know is that we didn’t accomplish jack shit.
It’s all because of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the UCMJ, which most civilians don’t know a lot about. The joke we told in the Army is, “We defend democracy, we don’t practice it.” Because the UCMJ is the most draconian, labyrinthine, un-American set of laws you could possibly imagine. I used to joke that the Army had so many laws, you couldn’t help breaking at least three of them at any given time. And the military uses those laws like any third-world police state: To lock up “undesirables.”
Let me give you an example. Do you remember that music video some soldiers in Afghanistan made for the Lady Gaga song “Telephone”? I can’t imagine you haven’t—the damn thing went viral—but if not, here it is.
Just a bunch of young guys goofing off and having fun, right? They’re not hurting anyone, they’re not doing anything wrong. But what a lot of people don’t know is that the soldiers who made that video were swiftly brought up on charges. That’s the UCMJ at work.
It’s worth noting that, once a soldier is facing charges, he doesn’t enjoy the same constitutional rights that civilians take for granted. And a military prison is a far uglier place than any civilian prison. Just ask anyone who’s spent time in Fort Leavenworth, allowed only what personal affects they could fit into a box barely large enough to hold a Bible and a pair of shower sandals, and spending all day breaking big rocks into little rocks.
Ever wonder why you don’t hear more soldiers speaking out against our botched War On Terror? (Aside from the fact that Bill O’Reilly won’t answer my calls, I mean.) It’s because the laws that regulate how soldiers are allowed to speak to the media and what they’re allowed to say are so strict and so deliberately confusing that even soldiers who strongly feel that the war is a corrupt mess—and believe me, I was one of them—most of us kept our mouths shut because we knew we’d probably be sent to prison.
Even if you don’t go to prison, you can be given a Dishonorable Discharge, and then you’re fucked for life. Not even goddamn McDonalds will hire you if you were Dishonorably Discharged.
I left active duty last year, but I’m in the Army Reserves now, which means those UCMJ laws still apply to me. I’m probably breaking a couple laws right now by writing this. Fortunately, I suffer from a chronic case of Don’t Give A Fuck.
Anyhow, I was talking about Gays In The Military. Here’s something Obama never told you: The UCMJ strictly forbids any act of sodomy, which it defines as any sexual act other than heterosexual missionary-position sex with the man on top. Anything else is illegal.
You think I’m kidding, don’t you? I assure you, I’m not. In all the celebration over finally allowing gays to serve openly in the military, none of those lawmakers saw fit to mention that there’s a catch: Sure, you can be gay in the military—just as long as you never have sex.
So don’t quit fighting just because the media says you won. You didn’t win jack shit—they just want you to think you did, so you’ll stop being a nuisance. Write your congressmen. Pass around more petitions. Keep the pressure up. Above all, don’t give up.
And keep on rockin’ in the not-so-free world, folks.
Post-script: I try not to post long sermons like this too often, but sometimes I get pissed and shoot my mouth off. If you’d like to hear me shoot my mouth off about the real reasons behind our so-called War on Terror, I’ve dedicated a page on my blog to an essay I wrote, “Why We’re At War (Again and Again and Again).”
Post-post-script: I posted this video & the attached rant a couple months ago, but I figured I’d post it again now that Tea Party candidates like Rick Santorum are promising to bring back Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, while their reptilian supporters boo and hiss at a gay soldier who was ballsy enough to A) Serve his country, and B) Out himself in a room full of Republicans.
When Navy Lt. Gary Ross and his partner were searching for a place to get married, they settled on a site in Vermont, in part because the state is in the Eastern time zone.
That way, the two men were able to recite their vows before family and friends at the first possible moment after the formal repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Just after midnight Tuesday, the partners of 11 years were married.
“I think it was a beautiful ceremony. The emotions really hit me…but it’s finally official,” Ross said early Tuesday.
Hours before the change was to take effect early Tuesday, the American military was also making final preparations for the historic policy shift. The Pentagon announced that it was already accepting applications from openly gay candidates, although officials said they would wait a day before reviewing them.
Ross, 33, and Dan Swezy, a 49-year-old civilian, traveled from their home in Tucson, Ariz., so they could get married in Vermont, the first state to allow gays to enter into civil unions and one of six that have legalized same-sex marriage.
Ross wore his dress uniform for the ceremony beginning at 11:45 p.m. Monday at Duxbury’s Moose Meadow Lodge, a log cabin bed-and-breakfast perched on a hillside about 15 miles northwest of Montpelier.
The lodge says it hosted the state’s first gay wedding in 2009.
Justice of the Peace Greg Trulson proclaimed the marriage at exactly midnight.
With the formal end of DADT less than a month away, GQ’s Chris Heath spent six months assembling an oral-history-of-sorts about what it was like to be a gay man serving in the U.S. military. The resulting piece, which appears in our Sept 2011 issue and runs a bit longer at GQ.com, is funny, sad, horrifying and, above all, surprising. Life under DADT is both everything—and nothing—like one might expect. A brief sample below, from a heartbreaking section of the piece titled “Invisible Partners”:
Air Force #4(senior airman, four years): “Right now our relationships don’t exist.”
Air Force #3: “I’ve had three deployments [while] with the same person. Every time it’s been ‘All right, see you later.’ All the spouses get together, do stuff. He’s just there by himself, fending for himself.”
Marines #2: “The relationship lasted for about four years, but I always felt like I was disrespecting him, to have to pretend he didn’t exist when I went to work. When I got deployed, he was there with my family when I left. It kind of sucked—to shake his hand and a little pat on the back and ‘I’ll see you when I see you’ kind of thing. And when you’re getting ready to come back, the spouses were getting classes—here’s how you welcome your Marine back into the family—and my boyfriend didn’t get any of that. I had a really hard time adjusting to being home. We tried to make it work for a year but he was getting more and more paranoid about people finding out about us. It killed me that he felt that way because of me. I don’t think we ever really had a chance, ultimately.”
Air Force #3: “When I was deployed, every Sunday we would sit down on opposite sides of the world and we would each order a pizza and we would watch a movie together over Skype. We weren’t doing anything bad except trying to spend some time together. But there was no ‘I love you.’ Certainly nothing sexual, or anything like what some straight guys do over Skype.”
Navy #2(captain, twenty years): “Personally, I haven’t had a lot of struggles. The hardest thing that I faced was about eight years ago. I was dating somebody for about two years who had gotten out of the army. He was HIV positive, and I didn’t know that, and he ended up dying—it just happened very quickly. I am not positive, luckily. So I had a lot of difficulties grasping with that personally, dealing with his death, and I had to take time off work, but still not tell them. I couldn’t go to the doctor or the psychologist. There wasn’t really anybody to talk to.”
It’s a shame it took me so long to get involved, but in the end I am glad I did. The longer DADT exists, the longer atrocities like this will continue to occur. Sgt Cooper-Harris’ story trumps any possible argument in favor of keeping this policy on the books. Even if it’s logistically difficult to overcome, rape can not be allowed, and its victims should never be silenced. I am lucky to have escaped such a horrific cycle, but there are others who have not. The sooner repeal is certified, the sooner this behavior will be stopped.