Brett Jones is a former Navy SEAL, and — full disclosure — a former SEAL teammate and friend of this author. He is also gay, and has been his whole life. In a perfect world, this second point would not need emphasis, nor even mention, given Brett’s service and his accomplished life to date. However, such is the way of the world. Being a gay Navy SEAL, in modern society, is still a novel concept, despite the recent instances of others coming out in a highly public way. Brett embraces this novelty, and uses it as the foil with which to present the reader the story of his journey to becoming a Navy SEAL.
In our Team days, Brett was a great SEAL, and was a great dude. He was a dude in the same way that the rest of us were. We were Team Guys. We cussed. We chewed tobacco. We drank a lot. We occasionally fought at bars. We trained hard. We slept on the sides of mountains in the snow during winter warfare training. We scaled caving ladders up the sides of ships in the Mediterranean Sea. We bullshitted at the end of the day. We complained about the chain of command. We were teammates and we were brothers. We were friends. Brett was one of us.
Not only did Brett make it through SEAL training, which was enough for us to make him worthy to be a teammate, but he was a solid dude. Brett was not any different from the rest of us in the platoon, with the exception that he was forced by law to deny his sexuality. He denied it to the Navy and he denied it to us. Pride: The Story of the First Openly Gay Navy SEAL (Dog Ear Publishing, 160 p., 2014) is Brett’s story of arriving at that place. It is the story of his life leading up to successfully becoming a United States Navy SEAL. Pride is a moving and engrossing story.
Brett writes in spare, clear, and at times, brutally honest terms. His prose is clean and freshly free of gilding. He presents his life with a self-realization rarely seen in men of his breed. It is not a book of braggadocio or look-at-me heroics. It is an engaging examination of what it is like to grow up knowing you are different. Brett details his struggles as a kid — a hyper, and often trouble-prone youth — and the emotional thunderstorms he weathered as a child with a distant father, in often difficult circumstances.
Brett describes a childhood in Texas that seemed to constantly teeter on the verge of instability. He was carted off to Egypt through his father’s job, and while there, given his often difficult behavior, was forced to attend a separate school from his siblings. His behavior eventually landed Brett a stint at a boys’ ranch, where he made escape attempts and lived like a convict in a minimal security prison. Brett does not make excuses for his childhood, nor does he blame any of his problems on his repressed sexuality or his seemingly remote parents. He simply brings us into his world and shows us what it was like growing up there. He brings the reader in, and makes the reader care about his journey.
Being gay, and coming to that realization over time, is only a part of Brett’s story in Pride. Granted, it is an important part, and the focus of the book’s title, but Brett’s story is more than that. It is the story of a man who encountered challenges in life, like so many of us, and who overcame those challenges to make it as a Navy SEAL. Brett hid his homosexuality because he had to, and so perhaps carried more baggage with him into his life as a SEAL. Like so many other challenges in his life, however, he overcame that baggage and accomplished his ultimate goal.
A well-known saying in the SEAL community is, “the only easy day was yesterday.” For Brett Jones, who overcame a lot on his way to becoming a SEAL, life is probably better today, given that he can now live in the open, free of artifice. In that sense, for Brett, it might just be that easier and better days lie ahead.