I had been living in Canada for almost 18 years when I decided it was time to move back to the States. Several months later I enlisted in the Navy. I wasn’t out at the time. I was still trying to deny my sexual orientation to myself. Despite my denial, I knew deep down that I was gay, and as such, I was worried about the wisdom of my decision to enlist in the military.
Boot camp started out okay. I did what I was told, kept my head down and stayed out of trouble. I did not even think about my sexuality. When you are operating on only five hours of sleep a night after a full day of drills, physical training and classes, you do not have the time or energy to worry about anything other than sleep and making it to the end of boot camp.
We were about three quarters of the way through when the guy who slept in the rack below me came to the realization I was gay. To this day I don’t know how, but he did. And he began telling everyone else in my division. I heard rumors. One of my friends came up to me and told me what was being said. I decided to not confront the rumors. Instead, I would let them die out on their own. My friends felt that the guy who was spreading the accusations was being a gossip, and they dismissed his claims. Soon thereafter the spotlight was taken off of me when the gossip shifted to some new rumor. Other bits of gossip came and went, and nothing more was said about my sexuality.
Boot camp ended about three weeks later and I was sent to the barracks on a different part of the base to begin some of my Navy schooling. I was in a barracks room with three other guys. The second day there one of my roommates showed me his collection of rainbow bracelets and tells me that he’s performed oral on guys. The next day he tells me that I should make sure I don’t go to sleep naked, or he would not be able to control himself. I had done nothing at all to encourage him, and after only a couple of days there I knew that he did not know me well enough to have figured me out. I learned later on from my other two roommates that this guy had been invited to parties, etc., when he first arrived, but then he was caught caressing the chests of a couple of guys who had passed out drunk. This guy was a time bomb, waiting to get caught, discharged, etc. I was scared. I was not at all ready to deal with my own sexuality at the time, and I think I somehow felt that being around this guy would push me to deal with it before I was ready. Add to that the fact that I had just finished boot camp and still had almost 6 years to go in the military. At that time, I didn’t think that being gay was an option of any sort. I used some of my boot camp training and told him that his actions were “red light” behavior. The Navy used a traffic light as an analogy for sexual harassment: green is good, yellow is cautious, and red means stop. His innuendos and advances did stop, and we left it at that. A few months later, after the Navy had transferred us to different rooms, I saw him again. He was engaged to a girl. I never knew what happened to him after that.
The remainder of my enlistment was less eventful, but still enlightening. I finished my schools and checked onto my submarine. It was a good group of guys. When you’re on a submarine, in close quarters day in and day out, you get to know the people pretty well. I did my job, got advanced, etc. I don’t know if anyone ever realized I was gay or not. If they did, no one said anything. And no one would have, either. We had several guys on board who were gay. We all knew it. They never outed themselves, and no one asked. It may not be ideal, but it worked. Every once in a while, there were some homophobic remarks made behind their backs, but it wasn’t often. As long as none of the gay guys did anything “gay” towards anyone else, then there was no problem. The straight guys, however, would often participate in homoerotic displays. Big, burly guys going around kissing other guys for the shock value, flashing other guys. Things like that. It may sound hypocritical in a way, but submariners are a “unique” group. You have to be if you are going to be stuck together underwater in a tin can for three months at a time.
A year after leaving the Navy I came out. I’m glad I served in the Navy. I made some good friends, learned skills that got me into a good job and I’m proud to say that I was able to serve my country.
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I wrote this months ago, but was never satisfied with the ending and held off submitting it. Last week the President signed the repeal for Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It doesn’t change the ending of this story, but it does put it in a new perspective for me. What would my time in the service had been like if gays and lesbians were allowed to serve openly back then? Truthfully, I don’t think it matters to me; it’s in the past. I am, however, very happy that members of the gay community can now serve in the military without having to hide or feel like second class citizens. It makes swearing that oath to protect my country all the more worthwhile.