On bumper stickers

Keep the Queens Out of the MarinesIn 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:

  1. Anything I say in public or online will persist at least long enough for everyone to see it.
  2. 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.

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.

18 thoughts on “On bumper stickers”

  1. DADT was long over due to go away in the military. Those of us that serve could really care less about who you are into. Facts are facts, if you are in the military we all know any relationship is doomed unless there is real love and trust there. Our life style is to stressful and dangerous for a bad relationship to continue. The vast majority of the military long ago decided to ignore rather than search out same sex couples. Now that it is open it is no surprise that nothing really changed.

  2. “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.”

    True, that!

    The best we can do (and I count myself, as an ally, among the “we”) is to continue to call this shit out whenever we see it, to continue to embarrass the bigots and to hold them accountable for their words and actions. As a high school teacher, I do this CONSTANTLY, but I don’t begrudge a moment of it; I refuse to send bigots (or bystanders) out into the world, and if they learn from my example to stand up for themselves and others, then I’ll have done my job.

  3. While I can’t quite imagine how our paths might cross, Matthew, I’ll just blurt out that to me you seem to be a *really* together person, and I would just love to shake your hand, look you in the eye, and say “Thank you!” Not just for being you, although that’s plenty, but for your evident desire to help others, both Marines and followers of your blog, not only in the military but also in the larger world. Bravo, bravo! ::applause::

  4. Matthew, I couldn’t agree with him more. I know, that you, too as a US Marine would agree that insertions and extractions with Elizabeth or Beatrix or Sylvia would prove cumbersome, slow, loud, far to sparkly and exceedingly expensive!

  5. Your ‘friend”s comment really got to me. I don’t object to the statement that political correctness has gone too far – honestly, I think in some cases it really has. Now, I’m a straight, white, ‘average’ girl, so what would I know about discrimination? But it seems to me that just using the word ‘white’ to describe people with white skin and ‘black’ to describe people with black skin is a much better situation than watching ignorant douchebags trying to avoid using any sort of terms to describe race because they don’t want to put their foot in it. In doing so, all we do is further alienate ethnic minorities. Why make such a big deal out of skin colour? We should just be telling it like it is, without using offensive terms like the ‘n’ word of course.

    Anyway, that’s a justification I would accept for someone to say that political correctness has gone too far. But if you take a stupid photo-shoot and use it to ‘accuse’ someone of being gay and then say that he, his teammates every single fan of his team should be ashamed of themselves??!!! That has nothing to do with political correctness, that has to do with being a decent human being. I can’t believe he even had the nerve to respond to you the way he did! I think we all know who should be ashamed of themselves, and it’s certainly not Tom Brady.

    Your posts about DADT have really helped me to become informed on an issue that I hadn’t given much thought because it just wasn’t on my radar. Thank you so much for talking to the world about things that matter: maybe one day, if enough people do the same, we can finally conquer this intolerant attitude that so many seem to have.

  6. The rudeness and crudeness of total strangers can sometimes be surprising as well as baffling. A short time ago, someone commented that I was an “inbred idiot”. It had nothing to do with sexuality and everything to do with aviation. I love diversity πŸ™‚

  7. …sometimes I think it’s exactly what they want is to be criticized, though, Matthew! I suppose, sommentimes, “gay” for them is just waiting for someone with a “gay” carrot dangling in front of their foreheads; thinking that they are just chasing it around waiting to reach them them with the carrot. And so; maybe it is.

  8. I think you make great points about social responsibility. The first person to discover it should have removed the sticker, ideally. Its not enough to have an accepting mindset if you’re not proactive about it!

  9. Great post! I had a wonderful teacher who told me ‘never put anything on the internet that you would not be comfortable with on the front page of the newspaper’ – something I remind myself of often, it helps bring back that association between words and actions πŸ™‚

  10. I agree completely. Great post! I don’t do the whole Facebook/Twitter thing. It’s a scary place out there. I don’t think people realize that once you put something out there in cyberspace its there forever. Thank you for continuing to bring light to issues that need to be addressed and give people pause to think about their actions and words.

  11. you are a very brave man.i am in ave of your courage,i wouldn’t be able to do what you do.
    not to mention so handsome umpf…*drools*
    you’re gorgeous

  12. This is such a pertinent post. We act as though words are easily tossed about with no impact, instead of holding such power. Power to build or destroy. The true person of integrity uses words to confront our worst and call us to our best. You are certainly a man of integrity. Thank you for the courage to call us to be better. We need voices like yours if we have any hope of moving toward becoming community. Thank you!

  13. Matthew, dear – Mommie Dammit is very proud of you for your sense of responsibility. Of course you know that one such as myself – who is often firing off at the lip, like a U.S.S. Missouri broadside – are legion on the Intertubes. Unlike many of those, however, I agree with you completely that we are responsible for our words and actions. I’m well known for my blunt, some would say brutal, diatribes – but I can never be accused of “fire-and-forget.” At my age and mileage (careful, Matthew, Mommie Dammit heard that….) I’m likely to walk out the door and forget my pants, but my words are always honest and purposefully chosen. While I’m far more likely to sit on my throne and hold court, than I am to play nice and post a “politically correct” piece, I’m particularly proud of you for taking the high road in response to your friend’s Tom Brady comment… even if I do secretly wish it was true. Tom Brady gay?!? **drool** ahem! You just know that M.D. would be more likely to have replied with suggestions about his own lack of confidence in his sexuality, and possibly questioning the size of his testes… but that’s just me – the one Queen they definitely would NOT want in the Marines!
    Love & Light always,

  14. Very well said sir. Thank you for your words of clarity. And, as a civilian who is uninformed about military culture, your well-written words give me faith that there are truly honorable people in the military doing what I’m sure is often thankless work for their country. So, again, thank you.

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