SOFREP readers, here is a guest post from a Marine veteran. In the wake of the Orlando shooting, a lot has been made about coming together as a country to denounce the attack and support the community it victimized. With a mix of conservative and liberal friends, I have personally expected the worst in statements from both sides blaming the other. In that, I have been pleasantly surprised to find some of my redneck friends from the Midwest supporting the gay community in their way. “Yes they’re gay. THEY’RE GAY AMERICANS DAMMIT!” In turn, I haven’t seen or heard anything from my friends on the other side of the aisle blaming conservatives. It reminds me of college when I got a fair amount of people assuming that I had a problem with gay people because I was affiliated with the military. It’s understandable. The Marines are often seen as being made up of predominately staunch conservatives who by and large don’t get along with the gay community. In that light, here’s my experience with both.
For those who aren’t affiliated with an armed service, some things are worth noting. In military life, especially in the combat arms, you will have no choice but to be extremely close to your coworkers. Porn is traded, blankets and body heat are shared, gear is borrowed, and romantic partners are…often traded.
My unit was no different, and as infantry grunts, we were some of the gayest straight men serving on active duty. I watched the slow-motion train wrecks as my friends attempted to outdo each other in the bored pastime of ‘gay chicken.’ Granted, this was before DADT (Don’t ask, don’t tell) was repealed, so there was some risk to jumping into your buddy’s rack wearing nothing but a pair of the shortest shorts you own. At least one corpsman was reassigned after a lieutenant walked in on a game and got the wrong idea.
Whenever the topic of actual gay people came up, Prop 8 comes to mind. I generally thought of myself as ‘in the know.’ I went to a high school where all the gay guys came out around graduation. I was in musical theater. I knew things—or so I thought. So when these things came up in a group setting, I generally sat back and waited. One of the true assets of the military is the shocking diversity; we had every perspective chiming in. Only there could you hear the perspectives of a Mormon, a Mexican raised in a strict Catholic house, an Asian gamer, and everyone’s favorite redneck. I witnessed at least one “The More You Know” moment when a young Marine heard another say “That’s just wrong” in regard to gay couples.
“OK, you think it’s wrong. And because you think it’s wrong, does that mean that two people who love each other can’t share the same insurance?”
Richie’s response, I kid you not, was, “I never really thought about it that way.”
As someone who enlisted at 22, a little older than most of my generation of Marines, with my worldly experiences, you’d think that I’d be sensitive enough to see these things coming in my life. If so, you’d be as wrong as I was. Through the rare and mysterious ways of the Marine Corps, I was temporarily assigned to a working party with non-infantry types. It was a hook-up. We were there as an on-call working party for several weeks, and that mostly meant to keep your phone on you and report in four times a day for formation. The fact that formation was held a half-mile from the Pacific Ocean didn’t hurt anything.
So my friends and I ended up working out and going swimming most days. Assigned to the working party and also finding the beach an adequate distraction was Jen. She was an armorer and a sergeant with a taste for Pacifico, fast cars, and a four-year-old son whom she raised with the help of her sister. She disdained female Marines who were ineffective at their jobs or preferred to be social instead of productive. Jen volunteered for the Lioness Program and deployed to Iraq to handle detainees. I found out that she frequented the same San Clemente dive bar as me, and we became fast friends.
Together, we closed down the bar several times. I’d pass out on her couch and wake up to the ninja-creep of her son sneaking up on me to attack. This was followed by a game of ‘boy watches cartoons while hung-over Marine pretends he isn’t asleep.’
For the better part of a year, at least once per weekend, my ignorant ass would shout “JENNNN!” when she arrived at the bar. And then, all of a sudden, she stopped returning calls. I hung out on the beach near her place, so I’d let her know a day ahead that I’d be around, but still, nothing. Being the grunt that takes responsibility, I assumed that I had done something to cause great offense, and moved on. It felt odd, but I had stopped frequenting the bar, and so it went.
About 18 months later, I got a call from Jen. She was going to the bar, she had just left active duty, and she wanted to hang out. I cleared my schedule and brought my now-long-term girlfriend. Jen and I parked in our old unofficial parking spots within a minute of each other. I introduced my girlfriend. She introduced hers.
“Yeah, I kinda couldn’t risk telling any Marines that I’m gay.” It clicked into place in a hard way. I found out that shortly after starting dating, she and her girlfriend had hung Christmas stockings next to each other at the same dive bar, and a male Marine had confronted her, saying, “What unit are you with? What’s your rank? I know you’re a Marine.” At this time, DADT was still in effect, and though often not enforced, in theory this could have been trouble. Jen just said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” and left. I would have done the same thing in her shoes, including cutting me off.
We pushed on, hanging out whenever possible. She came to my wedding when that girlfriend became my wife. She moved away a while back, but I still send her care packages from California, and she’s still a great friend to this day.