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.