In the locker room at my office the other day, an unused locker’s doors were open, and I saw a bumper sticker that was affixed to one of the doors. It said, “Keep the Queens Out of the Marines.” I’ve never referred to myself as a queen. It’s not that I don’t like it, I just don’t relate to the term. I understand that some gays do, but not all of us. Nevertheless, in that moment, I was a queen, and I was unwelcome.
Bumper stickers are the Twitter posts of the offline world. They represent our thoughts, statements, jokes, political views, etc. without ever having to consider or care who is following us to see them. We don’t care if they offend some people, because the likelihood of ever having to explain the ideas to the offended is, at best, remote.
Who knows how long it had been hanging there anyway? It’s unlikely that it was stuck there since I took command of my company last summer, or since repeal last September and I “came out” professionally. It certainly wasn’t the first time I’d been faced with the notion that not everybody supports gays serving openly in the Marines. I wasn’t even that bothered by the fact that the statement ignored the service of gays in the Marine Corps since before there were cars with bumpers to which stickers like this could be stuck. Rather, what upset me was that the doors were open that day, when they hadn’t been before. That meant that someone, perhaps several people–all of them coworkers–had seen it. They saw something that would clearly be offensive to me or any gay Marine (not to mention allies), and left it without accepting any real responsibility for its presence. (“Well I didn’t put it there, don’t get mad at me.”)
This bumper sticker hit close to home, but it wasn’t a solitary event. A recent post by a friend on Facebook called New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady gay because of a magazine photo shoot he did, and that Patriots fans should be embarrassed by this revelation. When I sent him a private message saying that I found such comments homophobic and offensive, his response was that of course he was joking and meant no offense to me personally, and that I was being overly sensitive and that political correctness had gone too far.
I think when people complain about political correctness going too far, what they are really saying is that they don’t want to be criticized for being assholes. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for people to consider their audiences when they are speaking. The problem, of course, is that with the automatic wall-posting of social media and the public stage on which all of our lives play out, our audience now includes people we never thought would be listening.
I was taught from a very young age to be accountable for all that I say and do, and to take responsibility for my words and ideas. I was also taught to hold others accountable for their words and actions. This has only been reinforced by my training and decade of experience as a Marine. Our core values of honor, courage, and commitment guide everything I do in my life. I have always strived to conduct myself online as I do offline, with the understanding that I may one day be called upon to explain myself and justify my actions.
I have two rules when it comes to social media and presenting a public image:
- Anything I say in public or online will persist at least long enough for everyone to see it.
- Say and do everything as though my mom is watching, because eventually she probably will be.
Social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter have encouraged disassociation from our words and actions. We “fire and forget”, sending out words and thoughts to the world without even thinking about how those messages will be received. People say things they would never have the courage to say in person, and hateful, careless comments are cast about without any regard to their potential impact.
Over the years, I have developed a thick skin, as have all of us who served under DADT. The bigotry expressed by a few was reinforced through complicity to the point that it became synonymous with (and in some ways overtook) military values like honor, dignity, and respect. Gays went along with it out of necessity, playing the role we were forced to play out of fear for ourselves or our careers.
Perhaps the person who posted that bumper sticker merely thought it was clever because it rhymed and was timely. Maybe he was just a homophobe. Maybe it was directed towards one Marine. Maybe he didn’t realize gays have been in the Marines from the beginning. Maybe he is a gay man who is offended by the stereotype that all gay men consider themselves to be royalty. It is impossible to know what his motivation was. The point is that whatever was going on privately in his mind became public when he plastered his thoughts to the door of a locker, thoughts that were validated by everyone who left them there, and which eventually made their way to me: a fellow Marine who, at least in that moment, felt devalued, demeaned, and degraded. I don’t think he meant to offend me personally. In fact, if he is anything like 99.9% of all the Marines I’ve ever known and had been speaking directly to a fellow Marine who he knew would be offended by the sentiment, he would have at least chosen different words to express his thoughts.
DADT wasn’t unfair and unjust only because it forced gays to stay closeted, it discouraged (and in many ways disallowed) those offended and impacted by it from even saying anything against the discrimination it espoused.
The repeal of DADT will strengthen us as a military because it has created a solid foundation from which we can hold people accountable for their misinformed ideas about sexuality and sexual orientation, ultimately enabling and encouraging us to value the contributions of all of our service members on their professional merit instead of their personal lives. With DADT behind us, gays in the military are finally able to be the leaders we were trained to be, speaking out against injustice, correcting deficiencies in ourselves and our Marines, and no longer passively accepting the disrespect or irresponsibility encouraged by discriminatory policy.
I don’t think valuing and respecting each other is political correctness gone too far, and I don’t think ignorance or accusing people of being overly sensitive can excuse or justify disrespecting them. In the end, we are responsible for our words and actions, whenever and wherever we make them, especially when our lives are playing out for all the world to see.