On Marines, equality, and my date to the Marine Corps Birthday Ball (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1

There is an enormous pressure–perhaps self-induced, I admit–to prove that I can do my job as well as (if not better than) anyone else. I had always placed this pressure on myself, as all of my gay military friends had, because I felt I had something to prove, even if no one else knew I was doing it. For my entire career I lived with the idea that people–from conservative civilian lobbyists to my fellow Marines to my Commander in Chief–believed I was incapable of succeeding as a Marine because I was gay. They thought we had no place in the military, and therefore it was up to us to be beyond reproach and the very best in our fields. In many ways that pressure has since been compounded, because it’s no longer a secret struggle.

The world is watching as we expose our true selves. Those who opposed repeal are scrutinizing every one of us, waiting for the opportunity to say that repeal was a mistake. As an officer and a leader of Marines, I lead from the front, setting the example for junior Marines and officers and to prove that there is no need to describe my service as that of a gay Marine, but just a Marine. Because of this, every word I say, every order I issue, every email I write, and every look I give is a conscious effort, as carefully thought out and worded as the letters, essays, and interviews I gave prior to repeal. Each and every moment of my life holds in it the possibility of discredit and disservice to my Corps. I cannot fail the Marines who are counting on me to pave the way forward as a Marine in a post-DADT military.

This year’s Marine Corps Birthday Ball was perhaps the most obvious example of this new pressure. Every year on November 10, the Marine Corps celebrates its birthday (November 10, 1775) with each unit–no matter how large or small–commemorating the occasion with a formal event called the Birthday Ball. Marines dress in their most formal uniforms and bring their guests, dates, and spouses to celebrate the birthday of our beloved Corps. This year, the 236th birthday, was my first opportunity to take another man as my date. I had always wanted to take a date, but DADT had prevented me from doing so. Certainly I would have been allowed to take a woman as my date, and no one would have thought anything of it, but it would have felt like a lie. For some of those years the person I would have liked to take was waiting for me at home, not allowed to go with me.

Since my Marines and my command already knew I was gay, I assumed they were already working up to the idea that I might take a man as my date. The Commandant had even been quoted as being “fine with it.” I wanted to take a date obviously for my own enjoyment–it would be my first time being there with someone, but also as an opportunity to show people that there are in fact Marines at MCRD who are gay and that we are every bit as entitled to celebrate one of the most cherished traditions of the Marine Corps with someone we care about.

I met Brandon several years ago via MySpace (that should tell you how long ago it was–does anyone even use MySpace anymore?). We had the opportunity to spend an amazing weekend together before my deployment to Iraq in 2007 and stayed in touch ever since. He has been a wonderful friend through everything over the past several years, and I deeply appreciated his continued friendship despite personal hardship and thousands of miles. I asked him to go with me because of how much he means to me and his friendship through some of the most challenging times of my military career, but also because I knew that the experience would require the character and strength of a very special person.

I knew that we would be the only male/male couple at the ball (I knew a good friend of mine would be half of the only female/female couple there). I knew that people would be staring at us, talking about us, and probably avoiding us. I knew that as a civilian, Brandon had no idea about our customs and courtesies, but I knew he wanted to understand them and would be respectful of them. I knew that there would be some people who were supportive of us, but I also knew that most people would just be professionally accepting of the fact that we were there together. I knew that there were some people who would not at all approve of the fact that we were there, but could only hope they would be professional enough to keep those opinions to themselves.

Continued in Part 3

Author: Matthew

U.S. Marine Corps officer living in North Carolina. The views expressed here are my own, and are in no way intended to represent the United States Marine Corps, Department of Defense or any of its components.

47 thoughts on “On Marines, equality, and my date to the Marine Corps Birthday Ball (Part 2)”

  1. And of course part 2 is even better than part 1!!! Matthew, we’re so proud of you and Brandon. Those of us who couldn’t take dates (for one reason or another) this year are so thankful that you could, and we’re so excited about how well you were received. I don’t think any of us are surprised that the Marine Corps is taking this in stride, but we’re relieved nonetheless.

    Thanks for being an inspiration, brother.

  2. Matthew: Thank you for sharing your story. I’ve never been in the military, but as a double-preacher’s kid (father AND mother both), I REALLY understand the “I can’t believe this is happening!” aspect of the evening. There was one comical angle that I couldn’t help considering, regarding myself. As a 23 year recovering alcoholic, I wouldn’t have had the advantage of that reinforcement. (and believe me, you were SMART to use it) So I imagined myself standing in the middle of a ballroom, soaked and standing in a puddle of sweat!

    In the many years of Marine history to come, gay Marines will be at the annual event without even thinking about it, or who was the first, and that is, after all, what the two of you were striving for that night. It was not just for you, but for the countless gay Marines to follow. I salute you both, sir!

  3. Your story gave me chills. Thank you for your bravery to take the steps you have. You have made a difference inmany lives. Including those heterosexuals who are learning to become comfortable with our new world.

  4. I was discharged (from the Marine Corps) under DADT. This brought back feelings/emotions and memories that I thought were long gone. I go back and forth on re-enlisting every single day.. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Congratulations Matthew. I am incredibly happy and honored to read your story. Thank you and thanks for your service to our great country.

  6. Thank you very much for telling your story. I can’t say that I am much surprised by what you revealed, your inner turmoil was much as I had imagined it might be. Obviously I can’t know you personally, but in your writing you come across as a man of character and substance, and I take great personal pleasure in having something good happen to someone worthy of it. On a more superficial note, may I say that you and your date made a very handsome couple. He must have been very proud to be with you the night of the Ball. Congratulations and best wishes.

  7. I’m just in awe of you. Thank you so much for sharing this story. Part of me is heartbroken that it took this long for you to be able to do something as simple as taking the date you want to the Ball, and the other part is so thankful that you are able to. We are lucky as a country to have you serving us.

  8. I’m in AWE. I’m a former Marine, ’86-’89 – i remember the witch hunts. This is incredible. Your story is beautifully written. Thanks so much, for your service, and for sharing this incredible experience with everyone. SEMPER FI!

  9. Arrived here by way of Towleroad because of my interest in the Corps, of which my brother and nephew are members, was working through this event. Thanks for documenting what I felt would be the case because of my relationship with those family members who are Marines.

    I was also interested in the feelings you expressed about being placed under even greater scrutiny. I can identify with that due to my having served as an associate pastor of a small country church in Oklahoma.

    I had hoped and prayed that this day would come and I want you to know that your being the first to go to the Birthday Ball with your male date will inspire others to truly understand integrity. I wish you the best on your new life we set sail through uncharted waters.

    Semper Fi, my friend.

  10. I’m in tears, reading about you and Brandon and an evening that could be regarded as a milestone. May your life, and Brandon’s, be filled with endless comfort and joy.

  11. Kudos for your persistence , courage and humility not to want publicity but to fight the system direclty.

    I can imagine the Marine Ball “coming out” was radical enough.

  12. Matthew, think of yourself as a pioneer in the fight for equal rights. Someone always has to be first. Quit thinking of yourself as a gay anything. You are a marine, a very special man. Social change is coming. It has always been so slow. African-Americans waited 200 years.

    You and your date looked so handsome. You are someone to be admired. Try to remember that as you go through your daily life. There are thousands depending on you, both gay and straight. You have many straight friends out here fighting the fight too. You will win. It is just unfortunate you have to fight for your rights. Keep on keeping on. You are a hero to many.

  13. Thanks for sharing your on-going story of life in the marines as a gay man, you are creating change in the world that will make a better place for those yet to come. Can’t wait to hear more of your story as you post it.

  14. I am so proud of you and the service you provide not only to the nation through the military, but to the nation by understanding fighting for human dignity and civil rights is an ongoing job. A job you are doing with honor. My deepest thanks.

  15. This is a great piece of writing Matthew, congratulations on producing such a telling personal tale. I posted a link of your story on my blog I hope my readers enjoy it just as much as I did.

    All the best,

    C.A. LeBron

  16. I want to thank you for being stronger and braver than I think I could ever be. Not just because of your service in the military, but because of your service while in hiding. This is an amazing pair of posts, and I would like to thank you for writing them. From a gay civilian to a Marine who happens to be gay, thank you.

  17. Hi, enjoyed your post. It was meaningful to me what you said about staying in touch with your partner despite thousands of miles.

    I belong to the Christian right (what you would describe as your opponents in this struggle), and I disagreed with you that people at your ball (presumably your opponents) would stare at you or avoid you. I certainly wouldn’t. I might agree with many of the aspects of DADT, but I wouldn’t want you to lose your career over who you are attracted to (a good point from your post).

    So I don’t think it’s black-and-white issue or a “you’re either with me or against me” issue.

    Best wishes for your career and life.

  18. Wonderfully powerful and inspiring! Cheers to you! I’m a proud sister of a Marine, and I know all the honor and pride you carry. I love how you state you just want to be a Marine….simple yet profound words that really resonated with me. I’ll remember these writings and keep you and your fellow comrades in my thoughts and prayers. Thanks for sharing!

  19. in all situation such as the ball or office get togethers, I think you are absolutely correct in stating, hopes ” … that most people would just be professionally accepting of the fact that we were there together.” For myself, I pray the same and believe that they do.

    PS: well written!

  20. A friend in my AF unit posted this on her FB page last week and I read it. It was beautiful, and I am so happy for the experience you and Brandon had at the Marine Corp ball.
    I am commenting tonight, because I wanted to share something with you that I found on single dad laughing, a blog I follow. His blog tonight is a video of a young boy named Jonah, and it broke my heart. I immediately wanted to reach out to him and felt he needed as much support as possible, and I recalled your blog. This boy is so courageous and brave. As a mom, former school teacher, and currently a school counselor in training, I have empathy for him and certainly want to do or say anything I can to help him, but I have never been in his shoes or experienced what he is going through. I thought, maybe, if you could send him a message or say something to him… it might help. Thank you for your service, your writing, and the courage you demonstrate both personally and on behalf of our country on a daily basis.
    The blog link is: http://www.danoah.com/2011/12/jonah.html

    1. I actually saw this video. He is apparently doing much better and posted a video response. It’s because there are kids out there like him that I am really trying to spread word about how we are progressing. If it’s good enough for Marines, what’s everyone else’s excuse?

  21. Great story and we are so proud of all of you, risking your lives – doing your jobs for all of us and for America’s beliefs & policies. Some may not agree with why we are over there but as an ex – United States Army Specialist 4, 91-Bravo Medical & EOD Specialist (I heard they changed the MOS these my days), I served and did as ordered – sometimes going against my beliefs but followed my orders as sworn to uphold. I have a web page opening entitled, “An Act of Compassion,” and I’d be honored if you would tell your cadre about it. The site is for persons that wish to find more information about and to do more for people who suffered in silence – that kept their horrific secret for so long, 33 years for me until telling my wife in May 2002, at the height of the Roman Catholic Church scandal. Just four years later we went public in February 2006, I like so many hundreds of thousands worldwide, were able to say that I too was brutally strangled & raped by our parish priest in 1969 , at 13 years old. My book should be coming out in spring of 2012 and is the same name as above. Sexual abuse is back in the news again of course with Penn State and the evil monster in denial, Jerry Sandusky who victimized & hurt so many children, children that were already hurting when they entered, “The Second Mile.” Silence of the truth in any form is not healthy – especially when talking about it helps that person and so many others -while helping to heal their inner child. I will keep all of you in my daily thoughts & meditations, that you’ll get home safely to reunite with loved ones and continue to hold your head high, be proud of the accomplishments in your life and live a long peaceful life together – one that is always true to the spirit of your hearts & souls – for both of you. Until next time my Brothers & Sisters,

    Peace In Your Heart, Mind & Spirit – Always,

    DT Bondick
    Rockford, IL

  22. What a beautiful, inspiring story. I was horribly relieved when DADT was repealed. However, as a civilian, I didn’t truly understand how horrific the policy was. I mean, I was aware that it was discriminative, to say the least. But, not having lived it, I did not understand the strain it put on, not only the people living their lives in secret, but family/friends/signifcant others. Now I do (to an extent), and I am even more thankful for people like you. Even though you couldn’t do it openly, you still stood up and said ‘This isn’t right.’

    I respect people like you more than you can imagine. Pardon the expression, but it takes balls to stand up and be counted, especially in this situation.

    You are a hero twice over. I applaud your strength, your character, and your determination. You (and others who have lived and served under DADT) have given more to this country than any one person should have to give.

    Thank you, for your service to our country. But, even more, thank you for serving, in spite of being required to deny who you are.

  23. Me and my wife were at the ball and were guilty of staring at you not out of shame but because of the courage it took to do what you did especially infront of that crowd of Marines. I worked with you during my first cycle and I am very proud to say that..( remain Insane )

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