I have spent most of my career being single. Anyone who has been in a relationship with a Marine knows it’s difficult. Long hours, short-notice trips, weeks in the field, months on deployment, weekends/holidays/birthdays missed–these affect all of us. DADT just added another complex layer to an already difficult endeavor. For someone to be in a relationship with me, he would be to required accept the fact that I was going to lie about who he was if I mentioned him at all. When asked by commanders and coworkers if I was married, I’d say no even if we lived together. It is the epitome of a double life: on the one hand there is a special person who makes the unique challenges of your life remotely bearable, while at the same time you’re denying to anyone interested that he even exists. If you do let down long enough to go out in public together, your head is on a swivel, always looking out for anyone who may see you doing something that could get you in trouble. Even going to the gym could be a challenge–you want to spend the time together as a couple, but if there are Marines at the same gym, you’re just “workout buddies” and it becomes even worse: he has to stand there while you deny your relationship in front of his face. How many times can you do that before you just give up trying? I have no idea what that must have felt like for the men I dated. I do know that it killed a piece of me every time I had to do it.
I never compromised my integrity–I did what I had to do to survive. When my recruiter asked me in 2002 if I was gay because it was easier than explaining the DADT policy to a straight person (which I must have been if I wanted to be a Marine), he wasn’t trying to violate the policy. I wasn’t about to let his careless question keep me from my dream of becoming a Marine, so I told him no. In recruit training, I had a drill instructor who regularly motivated the platoon by suggesting that “females and faggots” were the only ones who couldn’t do what he was telling us to do, and if we were men we would try harder and do better. Like any good recruit I bit my tongue, yelled louder, moved faster, and did my best to prove to everyone around me that I was good enough that they wouldn’t wonder if I was gay. When I was drugged and assaulted on a trip in 2004 that resulted in my unauthorized absence from work the next day, I declined to file a report at the hospital because doing so would have elicited questions from my command that would have likely ended up in a DADT investigation. When my name was mentioned in the investigation of another Marine in 2005 I contacted an attorney at SLDN and waited for a call from investigators that thankfully never came.
The Marines I worked with over the years who said and did these things never knew they were talking to or about a gay Marine–I’m confident if they did that they would have been professional enough to choose different words, or not let their suspicions turn into witch hunts. But I knew, and every time I swallowed an objection, ignored a comment, or kept my mouth shut in a discussion I thought of all the people in my life who made me the man I was, and silently apologized to them for not being able to show the Marine Corps just how proud I was to be me.
September 20, 2011 changed all that. For most Marines it was a non-issue. For some it was the day the homos infiltrated the Marine Corps. For me, it was the day I got my dignity back. I wouldn’t have to stand there and listen when confronted with ignorance, I didn’t have to endure another conversation in which I was told that gays didn’t belong in the Marine Corps, that they shouldn’t be allowed to share the same barracks or serve in combat, that they shouldn’t be allowed to marry, or that their parents had failed and that’s how they came to be gay in the first place. I didn’t have to pretend I was single if I wasn’t. But it was all easier said than done; I had spent nearly a decade avoiding personal relationships with fellow Marines and had learned that pursuing romantic relationships was futile. For years I’d had an excuse to be single (not to mention that I was legally required to be), and now that I didn’t have to be it was harder than I expected it would be. The idea of ever having a fairy tale wedding had been my impossible dream for so long that finding Prince Charming came to seem like the easy part.
I took Brandon to work with me on November 10 to show him where I work, and hopefully set him at ease with some of the customs, courtesies, and traditions of the Marine Corps. On that day, as every year, the Marine Corps Recruit Depot has a uniform pageant that showcases Marines and battles from throughout our long history and culminates with the cutting of the traditional birthday cake. Attending the ceremony allowed him to get a snapshot of our history and also gave me the opportunity to explain some things like when to stand, who the people were, what the different uniforms and rank insignia meant, etc. He was completely overwhelmed, but really tried and I appreciated it. I took him back to my office and showed him where I work. I showed him the sign in front of my building with my name on it under “Commanding Officer”. I pointed out and introduced him to a few of the people we would probably see later. I was trying to be cool about it, but the whole time I was constantly thinking to myself, “I can’t believe this is happening.”
It was unlike any time I had ever shown someone where I work before. Over the years I have brought my family to events and showed them my office. My mother giggles like a little girl when we drive on base and the guards call me “sir” and salute. She’s even asked if we can drive off-base just to come through the gate again. My parents came to my boot camp graduation in Parris Island, saw me play with the Marine Corps band in Twentynine Palms, saw my graduation from Officer Candidate School, and watched my grandfather pin on my second lieutenant bars when I was commissioned. They came to my change of command ceremony last year when I assumed command of a company for the first time, and my mother sobbed when one of my Marines delivered flowers to her. On a few rare occasions over the years I ventured to take a boyfriend on base, times that I couldn’t bear to not have the person I was seeing at the time there, if only to witness the big events–a promotion, a graduation, a deployment. Looking back, though, I wonder if it was even worth it; in the stress of those situations I barely even looked at him, afraid that someone might see the way I looked at him and know–as one always knows–when couples look at each other.
After the ceremony, we left and tried to have a normal day. I changed back into civilian attire and we went to have lunch. After lunch, we went home and watched a movie, trying to ignore the anxiety about the evening that was to come. It felt like I was getting ready for a first date, which I guess I was. Ironing his suit that had made the trip in a suitcase from his home in Indianapolis, getting dressed in my Blues and realizing the jacket was a little tighter than I remembered, sharing the bathroom while he trimmed his beard and we did our hair–things I’d done many times before, but never quite like this, and never for such a big event as the Marine Corps Birthday Ball. I realized that gays take forever to get ready, even when one of us is a Marine.