Being ‘Out’ in the Marine Corps

Ball (edited)Anyone who knows me also knows that I’m self-confident. I’m intelligent, I’m honest (sometimes brutally), and I will sacrifice anything–short of my integrity–for people and causes who need my help. I am willing to learn, I challenge people, and I expect people to challenge me in return, because I know the result will be better and clearer understanding. These things make me who I am, and they make me a good Marine. In fact, they make me good at just about everything I do, and they are the same things that drive me to work harder, do more, and push those around me to do the same. Even equipped with this knowledge of myself, I struggle to maintain the level of strength it takes to meet the challenges I face on a daily basis as an openly gay Marine.

I have impossibly high expectations for myself, and I have a tendency to place those expectations on others as well. This tendency means that I am often disappointed in myself, I am sometimes ashamed by my own shortcomings, and I am occasionally frustrated by those around me. I try hard to remember that this frustration stems from people’s failure to meet expectations that were placed on them by me, and therefore it is misplaced and unfounded.

I believe that good people don’t set out to make difficult the lives of others. I believe that although everyone has the capacity to do good, their own beliefs can lead them to do bad. When it’s inadvertent, it’s excusable, because I believe that the motivation is sometimes as important as the action. For example, if someone is hurting me and they don’t realize it, or if they knew they were hurting me they would stop, then I can excuse that. On the other hand, if someone is hurting me and they know they are hurting me, yet they continue to hurt me, I can’t excuse it. When it is others being hurt, I will do my best to shield them from the blows. I will try to absorb the blows and fight back as I am able.

It should come as no surprise that, despite the repeal of DADT over 18 months ago, there are people who don’t want gays serving openly in the military (and by using the term “gays”, I don’t mean to exclude the rest of the LGBT community, but rather as an easier to employ collective term). In fact, there are a great many of them. Some of them are religious leaders or followers who oppose open service solely from religious perspectives. Some are high-ranking officials who cite military readiness or unit cohesiveness. Some are Marines who think that gay Marines who do the same job are an affront to their manhood. Trust me, there are still a lot of people with a lot of reasons to oppose open service and equality for military gays and their families.

I know because I hear them every day. Sometimes at work, in passing, perhaps in a conversation I wasn’t meant to hear. Sometimes when I read news of a preacher who likens us to murderers or pedophiles. Sometimes when I listen to politicians trying to appease their conservative base.

But beyond the specific reasons, the explicit hatred, and the blatant homophobia, there’s a much more subtle component. This part comes from feeling excluded from–or even not expressly included in–the communities we live and work in. For example, in the fall of 2010 before DADT repeal had been signed into law, Commandant of the Marine Corps General James F. Amos introduced his wife Bonnie at a town hall meeting aboard MCRD San Diego as a key element of his success in the Marine Corps, just days after testifying to Congress that repealing DADT could be harmful to the military. To the audience that day he said Marines’ families strengthened the Marine Corps, while to the world he had said that openly gay Marines would weaken it. The message to me was clear: my service was worth less than that of a straight Marine. Without explicitly saying it, and perhaps even unintentionally, he had excluded me from being a full member of the organization I have dedicated my life to serving.

To his credit, General Amos has since held true to the commitment he made to “step out smartly to faithfully implement this new law“. Just last week, in response to the exclusion of a same-sex spouse from an on-base spouses club at Ft. Bragg, he issued guidance that same-sex spouses were to be allowed membership in spouses’ clubs if they wished to operate on base.

Despite these efforts, though, the feeling I have on a daily basis in the Marine Corps, and from conversations I have with fellow Marines, is one of accommodation or tolerance rather than acceptance and value. When DADT comes up at work, it is still in the form of, “what do we do with them” or “how do we handle them“. Although I don’t know what it’s like to be an ethnic, racial, or gender minority in the Marine Corps, I imagine the feelings are similar. One difference, though, is that gay people don’t look outwardly different from straight people. Whereas most people would have the sense not to make racial jokes in a room where they see a person of color, my presence in a room doesn’t give the same warning, and unless I say something, I think it’s more likely that I’ll hear offensive jokes and language. Couple this with the greater social acceptability of homophobia as compared to racism or gender discrimination, and even daily life becomes a persistent effort that can be emotionally and mentally draining.

Since I came out publicly on September 20, 2011, my life has become both more honest and more challenging. Where previously I had spent every day swallowing challenges to homophobic remarks that were rampant around me, I now can speak my mind. I no longer sacrifice my integrity to get through a day trying to misdirect my fellow Marines from discovering the truth of my life. But that challenge has been replaced by the daily requirement to inform those around me, to correct misperceptions, and to set an example. I know I am the first gay Marine that many of my colleagues have worked with, and that Ben is the first same-sex partner most of them have met. With that comes a responsibility to make the right impression and set the right example.

As the Marine Corps works to integrate openly gay Marines into its ranks, those few of us who serve openly have an obligation to those who will come after us. In tactical terms, it is up to us to shape the battlespace in order to create a permissive environment in which they can operate. We must be the role models for both gay and straight Marines, for allies and opponents, for civilians and service members. The pressure to succeed in this task is immense, but it is essential that we do. We are changing minds, perceptions, and history.

The struggle for equality happens daily within ourselves when we make the decision to challenge the ignorance, homophobia, and discrimination around us. The strength this takes is often underestimated, and the efforts of those who undertake it unheralded. Let there be no mistake, though, that this is the real battle, and those who fight it are the unsung heroes to whom the rest of us owe a great deal.

The wounds suffered in this fight will heal in time, and the fight will become easier as we empower those around us to fight, or to carry on the fight when we are too weak to continue. We will never know the names of all those who fight for equality, but we must value them the same. As they challenge the oppressive history of our past, they shape our future with their courage.

Author: Matthew

I'm a Marine officer studying Material Logistics Support Management at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA. I like to talk and write about all kinds of things: politics, religion, atheism, cars, motorcycles, sailing, books, movies, and anything else that strikes my fancy. 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.

13 thoughts on “Being ‘Out’ in the Marine Corps”

  1. You continue to amaze and inspire me, Matthew. From the bottom of my heart, I honor you and salute you. Success to all your ventures, always. — Jess

  2. There’s an old saying: “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make ’em drink”. Such is the case with the repeal of DADT. It’s another “baby step” in the myriad of baby steps taken for true equality, since President Clinton opened up military service for LGBT persons back in 1993,

    DADT was the compromise drawn up to negate a possible legislative move by Congress to legalize discrimination of certain people that were in, or desiring to participate in, the military. It was the dumbest policy I have ever seen the military try to implement. People who “told” were immediately discharged, while those who “asked” were given a “free pass”.

    Now that DADT is “dead”, LGBT personnel can now serve openly, which was President Clinton’s original goal “back in the day”. And things are progressing quite rapidly form where I sit. Just watched a You Tube clip of uniformed service members marching in the San Diego Pride parade, and I believe one of the sailors said he was straight. Even though it was “OK” to do this, it still takes a lot of courage to actually do these things to repel the lingering hatred that remains. We can never totally eliminate it, but we can beat it down to a “pulp”, to a point where hate will eventually become “closeted”

    Things are “looking up”……….. Semper Fi

  3. Everyone should be proud of who they are. They should act in ways to be proud of what they do.

    You are proud without being boastful, candid without being obnoxious, and zealous without being zany.

    The ads proclaim “The Few. The Proud. The Marines.” And indeed, that’s true. You epitomize that mantra. But, being gay, you are among the few. And while Marines may march in parades, Gay Marines march in Pride parades.

    So, if you are the Fewest of the Few and the Proudest of the Proud, then the inescapable conclusion is that you are the “Marinest of the Marines!”

    Semper Fi and Essayons!

  4. Hi Matthew I have been following your blog for several months and admire your courage and commitment to helping the military be more accepting of diversity. I have no doubt that eventually they will get there as will the rest of our society.

    It is interesting that your post about problems with coworkers seems to correspond with the stories in the press about the wives club in NC and the chaplains that excluded the women from a marriage counseling group make it sound like the honeymoon is over following the elimination of don’t as don’t tell.

    That is not really a big surprise to me. It was bound to happen that the closet bigots would try to test the limits sooner or later. In a lot of ways its like dealing with children

    The military of every industrialized country has dealt with the integration of gay people in their organizations and I’m sure the American military will also come around sooner or later but in the meantime don’t let them think that you are looking the other way or willing to tolerate abuse.

    My partner and I met a navy man in Australia who was openly gay and the captain of a survey vessel. Some of his crew kidded him occasionally but not in the way that was disrespectful of who he was. He felt perfectly comfortable serving as a gay officer in the Australian navy. They were ahead of the US by about 10 years in implementing the changes so that might give a time frame that could be indicative of what is ahead for you.

    I certainly hope that DOMA will be dealt a death blow by the Supreme Court in March and that will be a quantum leap for our cause.

    Just remember, it’s their problem, not yours.

    Thanks for having the courage to fight the good fight. Your are right when you say that those who follow you will benefit from what you are doing

    John

  5. Matthew
    I have followed your blog since the Marine Ball and you have my admiration.
    I am probably 20 years older than you and never served in the millitary so my perspective is different.I have seen gay rights as baby steps until the repeal of DADTwhich in my opinion was a giant leap much more than any of the progressive marrrrage equality votes to date.You are a leader, not just of Marines, please continue to lead.
    Respectfully,
    Miles

  6. Reblogged this on RoseReads and commented:
    The fight for equality is not over my friends. The following is from one of my favorite blogs, I hope it makes you think and reflect on your own life as it has for me.

  7. Matthew, My husband and I are very proud that you don’t have to “serve in silence” as both of us did “back in the day.” We understand your feelings that the discrimination is still rampant within the ranks. Keep in mind that a lot of homophobic remarks are the outward signs of someone’s fear. It will take time, and your continued efforts, to overcome their fears. Don’t forget, though, that one of your greatest efforts needs to become friends with the homophobes. Your friendship will break down more barriers than just about anything else. Just as friendships broke down the racial barriers in years past. Our combined 21 years of Navy and Marine Corps service gives us every confidence that you can shoulder this responsibility. Although you are exponentially more visible than we were, we sleep soundly at night knowing that you have taken up where we left off in the march for equality. Semper Fi, Captain. Semper Fi.

  8. José Soares, Brussels
    I have been following your blog with increasing admiration for months, and I wish you all possible happiness in your new phase in life, with your future husband.
    It touches me particularly, because I served in the Air Force of my country (Portugal) in times of war. I lived through all these difficulties of being in an organization where gays were “unthinkable”.
    Since then, I came out, I found happiness with my Dutch husband, and we have been able to marry. In the meantime, my country became one of the first ten countries in the world with same-gender marriage. So, things definitely turned better.
    Your example and your effort to lead a happy and exemplary life are a huge credit to you and your country, and are a beacon to me.
    Heartfelt thanks from “the other side of the pond”.

  9. Thank you for this passionate essay. I was enlisted during DADT, and was almost discharged (long story, which I ended up writing a book about). I’m no longer in the service, but I fought on the outside to get rid of DADT, and have since been fighting for marriage equality.

    All this to say, I know what it feels like to be all alone, and have to challenge the structure around oneself: it is terribly difficult, and can be terrifying as well. I find your story absolutely noble, heroic, and just want you to know how much I appreciate you and the life you live. Thank you for what you do, and thank you for making others feel less alone in this big old world.

  10. after many years, I am so amazed that gays can now serve openly, at least, without fear of discharge for those few words I AM GAY. An Honorable Discharge is something I treasure, but being scarred just for being gay really HURT. Even now, with the hope of changing the DD 214 and reentry code, I am way too old to get back in. I am very proud of having honorably served with the Marines, and no bigot or religiously misguided idiot can ever take that from me. This former Marine just needs to unburden his heartache of so many painful years kept mostly inside. God bless you.

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