Following Family Tradition
When I was young, I remember seeing a picture of my father standing underneath a palm tree wearing his white sailor uniform. When I asked where the photo had been taken, he replied, “The South Pacific, during the Korean War”. My father had served, just like his father before him. My grandfather was the captain of a naval ship during WWII. However, my grandfather never came home. His ship was hit and he went down with his ship with the rest of his crew, like all good captains were trained to do. And my older brother served in the USCG (United States Coast Guard). The military was a family tradition, but I never thought about joining. The reason I never thought about joining was because I was gay. But, after several failed attempts at making it own my own, I opted to join the service and follow in my grandfather and father’s footsteps. I joined, then went home that very same day and told my father what I had done.
I was excited to tell my father the good news. But, there was a kind of sadness in his voice as well. Happy I had joined, yet very concerned for my well being. He knew I was gay from the time I graduated high school. When asked why I joined. I simply told him that I needed some kind of direction in my life and felt the Navy might just be the way to go. So I joined. Then after three weeks of preparing to leave, I was on my way to Orlando for bootcamp. I made it through bootcamp with flying colors. My father came to my graduation and was very, very proud, that his gay son was now a sailor.
I was then given my orders to report to Norfolk, Virgina to begin my next phase of training. It was there I met a fellow sailor who befriended me. He was straight and married with kids. We became inseparable. As our friendship moved forward, I decided I no longer wanted to keep silent about my being gay. So one afternoon he asked if I wanted to take a ride on his cycle to Virginia Beach. I told him that would be great and off we went. So, as we were making our way towards the beach at 65 miles an hour with the wind blowing in our face, he turned his head to the left and said, I want you to know that I know you’re funny. I told him, “thank you, I think I’m funny as well”. He replied, ” No, I know that you’re different. I know you’re gay.”
That shocked the hell out of me. I said, “and it doean’t bother you?” “Not in the least. I have several gay friends back home.” At that moment, I had never felt more accepted by anyone in my life and what made it even more wonderful was the fact that it was a straight man who accepted me as I am and with no conditions. I knew then and there I was on my way to becoming one hell of a salior. After my training in Virgina, I was then given orders to report in three weeks to Bathe, Maine where they built ships. My ship was about to be finsihed being built and awaiting to be commissioned by the Vice-President of the United States, G.W.H Bush.
After months and months of getting the vessel ready for it’s maiden voyage, and finally recieving it’s commission, we were ready to take to the seas. But through out the many months of preperations, we would be given weekend leave if we didn’t have duties. I decided one weekend to take leave and head to Portland. I had never been and I wanted to see the city and something other than a ship and it’s mates. I found a small bed and breakfast that was affordable and rather pleasant. So that’s where I would stay every time I got leave.
It seemed as if I was getting leave every weekend and I was not complaining. One night I decided to walk around downtown Portland and see if I could find anything exciting going on? I came across a place called “The Underground”. I had no idea what kind of place it was. It wasn’t until I heard overture music and saw a drag queen hit the stage that I realized I was in a gay bar. A little nervous I got up to leave. Then quickly realized. I am gay, these are people like me and here I’ll stay. Besides, no one from the ship would be here. I had a wonderful and freeing time. However, as I was leaving, I got outside and within about three seconds, from around the corner, came some shipmates of mine. They saw me standing in front of this gay bar, talking to a guy I had just met. I was terrified. They said “Hi” as they passed and went on their mary-way. I never thought another thing about it. I should have.
I continued to go back to the club and hang out on my weekend leaves. Plus I had a reason to return. I was dating that very guy I met my first night in Portland. I was enjoying every bit of being in the Navy, being a sailor and falling in love. I never ever took my weekends back to the ship with me. I always remained buiness like and a good sailor. Little by little I would see and hear snide remarks from several of the shipmates calling me “Faggot” and “Queer.” I would just ignore it until finally one night, I recieved a note on my bunk that read, “You are a Dead Man!” That really freaked me out. And then the verbal abuse started. And then the physical abuse started. I began getting into shouting matches and fights. The final straw came when I recieved a note saying that when I am asleep, I was going to be tied up and then carried to the edge of the ship and be hung over the side. It was then the captian of the ship was made aware of what was going on.
My name was then called over the speaker of the ship and asked to report to the Captian’s Quarters. The Captian and I then sat and I started talking. It was then I told him I was in fact gay and that yes, I had been recieving death threats on the ship. He informed me that he did not care one bit about my sexuality and that he thought I was an amazing sailor and that he would leave it up too me what I wanted to do. I told him my life had been threatened many times and that I feared for my life and felt I could no longer serve my country with the utmost respect and integrity if my mind was worried about whether or not I would be killed. He accepted my choice, but then informed me that I would have to go to Portland and see a military appointed therapist in order for them to truly determine whether or not I was really gay or just using that as an excuse to get out of the military. I said, ” You’re Serious?” to which the Captian replied with a laugh and said, “Sorry, but there have been men who have tried to use the gay excuse to be dischanged from the Navy.” I was floored.
I did meet all the requirements needed to be discharged from further serving my country. My Captian had once again informed me how disappointed he was to see me go, but that I truly and completely understood why. The job I had come to love and ackowledge as a possible career choice for my life, had now become a hell hole for me. I recieved a dishonorable discharge from The United States Navy and was dismissed. I was dishonorable because I did not tell them I was gay when I enterted the Navy in the first place. I was shattered, broken, hurt and confused. I went back home with a feeling of shame, because of who and what I was.
Today, I am a PROUD and OUT Gay Man who has served the gay community for over 30 years. And I will continue to serve my country, but in a more personal manner rather than in a manner that discriminates, silences and harms those who have earned the right to be free.
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