Today Obama repealed the historic “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy of the Clinton administration, which required all homosexuals serving in the Army to conceal their preferred sex organ from their peers. We talked to our buddy Steve, a semi-openly gay infantryman in the officer corps of the Canadian Forces with multiple tours in Afghanistan under his belt. We asked him what it’s like being a gay in the armed forces and if he thought the new face of military homosexuality would be all flamboyant like Klinger in M*A*S*H or more subtle, like the volleyball scene in Top Gun.
I believe back in the 80s it was still considered a “security risk” to be gay in the CF (Canadian Forces), but parliament abandoned that thinking in the 90s. I pretty sure some Air Force guy got married not long after that in Gagetown, one of the main bases for the military. I can’t really say what it would be like in the US Army, as I’ve never been legally forced to conceal anything. I can say, though, that at least 75 percent of the CF uses “gay” as a negation of everything, which doesn’t really bother me because it’s not like they’re thinking about it. It’s really just like a ditzy blonde who says “like” too fucking much.
Nobody comes out in basic, though. I definitely didn’t—that would’ve been suicide. You’re in close quarters with people and things could get awkward for some guys. And if I had, my superior officers would’ve found a reason to fail me, or they would’ve definitely gone after me for something stupid. My strategy was to hide it at the beginning, earn people’s respect, and then, once you’re in, you tell certain people. Even then people will get mad that you didn’t say something sooner, so most of my colleagues still don’t know, or at least I haven’t explicitly said anything. Only my friends and close circle in the Army know. But I don’t take painstaking measures to hide it. I’ve brought my partner to official galas as my date before, so that sort of gave it away.
Hiding it from other dudes is pretty easy. It’s something I think about but it’s not something I worry about. Everyday it might cross my mind, but even if it did get out to certain people it wouldn’t really matter too much. It’s females you have to worry about. Female combat officers get treated badly by other people. It’s the whole “they’re weaker” thing, and not to mention the Army is a bit of a boys’ club. So when they find another group (gay guys in the army) who are treated worse than they are, they always want to help you out as if you needed it. They’ll defend you in front of people who may have said something mildly homophobic, which I don’t give a shit about anyway, but they make it an even bigger deal than it should be. Then they’ll tell you to be a “role model” for other gay soldiers, which kind of bothers me, because I don’t really care—it shouldn’t matter what I am. It should be the same as if I were a Catholic or a Muslim. Army guys have really bad gaydar. It’s really only the wives or girlfriends of other guys who figure out I’m gay (because I don’t ruthlessly check them out) and they get more awkward than me.
The other thing is that the opening of legitimate theaters of war, like Afghanistan, where soldiers are seeing serious combat and contact with the enemy, makes the idea of “the best man for the job” a whole lot more important. In the 80s, sitting around doing nothing and waiting for the Russians to fire a missile meant guys had more time to give a shit about whether or not their buddy was gay. Now people just want the most competent man for the job so that they’re in good hands and will come back alive. It’s like, “Take the gay efficient guy, or the strait idiot?” There’s no question there.
I know some of my colleagues I’ve talked about this with might disagree with me, but I would say there’s a big difference between how the Officer Corps treats homosexuality and how the enlisted men do, which is to say sometimes they’re not coming from as cosmopolitan a place as some of the university-educated officers. Even so, those enlisted men are starting to go home on leave and back to their wives and girlfriends who force them to watch Glee. So yeah, they start to be more sensitive to the gays. And that’s another thing—props to Ellen, because since she came out on her show the overall tolerance for everything gay has gotten better.
Either way, it’s tough to find a gay guy in the Army. We don’t even know who each other are. I’ve heard stories of guys serving together for 30 years and then finding out the other was gay after they are retired. Because it’s not the obvious effeminate gay guy in the army—that’s just not how it is. They probably wouldn’t last, because getting the respect of other guys is paramount and you need to be a little bit scary. Girly girls don’t last either, for the exact same reason. The way I see it, as long as my partner and I get the same benefits as a strait couple or spouse would, like my death insurance if things didn’t go so well in Afghanistan, then I’m happy.