“I Don’t Want You To Go.” Gay Soldier Dares to Love Amidst a Backdrop of War & Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

by João Kiser

I came out when I was 16 and then I joined the military at 21, which was something I did not want to do because of the kind of macho culture that I grew up seeing. And I didn’t want to put myself back in the closet because I knew that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was a thing then. I ended up joining because I briefly went to college, it got too expensive and I moved back home. And it was like life with my father… or find some way to get out. And the military was the best option.

I ended up joining as a linguist. So being intel was a little bit different. The most difficult part was when I got my permit duty station, which was Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas. From there, I deployed to Iraq and Kuwait. I didn’t let people get close to me because, you know, I didn’t want them to know I was gay. I didn’t want to lose my job because if I lose that, if you get kicked out for being gay under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, you essentially lose everything. 

And then at the midpoint, I think, of my deployment, it was about six months in or so, because… out of a year, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed. So at this point, you know, you could be openly gay in the military and no one could do anything about it. So I joined OutServe and then – that was a group that helped get Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repealed… it was a Facebook group. But after it was repealed, everyone was kind of like, “Oh”, in the chat like, “Where are you?”

So I saw a few people were in … I was in Kuwait at this time, so people were in Kuwait. So we were like, “Why don’t we just meet?” So we went to the MWR, which is the rec center essentially. There was, I think, five of us at a time, and Jeff was like the main person who, like,  kind of coordinated this meetup. So I remember going in and sitting next to him and we were just chatting. He was from Minnesota, his family was from Norway, and he spoke Norwegian and Swedish.

So we started hanging out outside of the group because he was teaching me Swedish, and we just got closer. And I don’t remember exactly when hanging out turned into dating, but he was an officer and – an officer in the National Guard, so it was different. I was active duty, so we could get away with having that sort of relationship. And people didn’t ask him any questions. But he had his own … they call it CHUs, like a little trailer. I lived in the big tent with 50 people. So I’d sneak off and hang out in his CHU, and then we just kinda of got closer, and one time I actually spent the night.

So we were just deployment dating. We’re just like, “Oh…” And we saw movies and things like that, whatever. Sometimes shows would come, we would go watch them together. He met some of my friends from the unit, I met some of his. So we dated for about six months. 

I remember one night in particular, I’d just gotten off work. We met up right outside the DFAC like we always did. And I remember sitting down and having what felt to me a normal dinner, just chatting and stuff. But then he got quiet towards the end of the dinner. He put our trays in the trash and then he looks over and takes my hand and pulls me to the side of the DFAC. And was like, “So I have something to tell you. I am going home soon.” 

And I was like… I was like,, “Well, when? Do you know?” 

He’s like, “You know… in, about two and a half weeks or so.”

We had this long silent walk back to his CHU. And then I remember going inside and hugging him and just being like, “I don’t want you to go.” I remember just staying there all night and I didn’t care that I had to go back, didn’t care if anyone knew where I was or not. I just stayed with him all night.


And then I remember going inside and hugging him and just being like, "I don't want you to go."

I remember the last day, the day before he left because they deployed – you go back really early in the morning. The hardest thing was getting up to go to work and he was like … all his stuff was packed and we had to say goodbye. 

Two months later, I finally got orders to go home. When you get home, there’s this whole ceremony on the field of your base where everyone gets information and then all your loved ones run out to you. So I was super excited at the thought of Jeff being there. But he wasn’t able to be there. He was National Guard, so when he got back, he started his job again. And he just couldn’t get the time off, which sucked.

But Jeff and I got into little arguments about, like, you know … I was a little upset that he didn’t come. So when I got home to Georgia, I was like, I don’t know if I’m going to go to Minnesota, because I was talking myself out of my feelings for him.

We kept having these conflicts about when are we going to see each other? And we kept fighting about it and we ended up having this big blowout and then we just stopped talking to each other. And I didn’t hear from him for a while. 

And I was like, “Well, maybe I should reach out just to see.” I remember scrolling on his Facebook page. I see all these messages like, “I miss you.” And then I saw this “rest in peace” one. I was like … So I ended up clicking on that profile and messaging them. Like, what happened?  And they ended up telling me Jeff passed away. And I was like, Well, how? 

But then I found Jeff’s sister and she’s like, “Oh, you’re João!” Because he had told his family about me, so that’s why he wanted me to come so bad, because they were all anticipating meeting this person that he fell in love with while he was deployed. And she told me one night he had a really bad headache and went to sleep and he didn’t wake up.

That was about a week or so after our big fight. I hated the fact that he died angry. And I told her this and she was like, “Well, Jeff was the type of person that I guarantee you whatever he was upset about, he just let it go.” 

Then I was like, “I held onto it for too long and I wish I hadn’t.” 

And I still wish I could’ve… I wish I chose to see him. But if I could do it all over again, even knowing the outcome, I would because it was worth it. I met someone that made a really difficult period in my life fun. You never know how much time you may have with someone. So just enjoy people. Whether it’s friends, family, or significant others, just remember time is precious and you never know when it’s going to be gone.

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