The Voice

Saturday, January 31, 2009

I talked to Clay tonight for only the second time since he’s been in Iraq. I heard something in his voice that I’ve never heard before, but I’m not sure I can effectively describe it. His voice was soft and gentle, but there was this weight – this weariness – behind it that hung over everything he said. I asked him if he had been shot at again, and he said, “There’s a lot going on right now, but I can’t talk about it. I’ve got to go.”

In an earlier email he wrote, “…We heard what sounded like small rocks hitting our tower……it actually was someone shooting at us from far away…”

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A Gay Man in the Military: First Post**

**This was my first post as Brad, under the handle of gaysoldiershusband.  All blog entries prior to this date were taken from an older blog that was not devoted exclusively to blogging about my life as a military partner.  When Clay deployed to Iraq at the end of 2008, DADT repeal and partner issues became my primary focus.

It’s hard for people to understand why a gay man would join the military. In Clay’s case, he had been a civilian for many years and then rejoined in his thirties. We were out working in the yard one afternoon and he told me he wanted to enlist again. I thought he was crazy. We had been together for 10 years then.

When I first met Clay, he was in the National Guard. That first month we knew each other he surprised me by picking me up at the airport in uniform. My knees actually buckled when I saw him. We would drive two hours to the nearest gay bars with our friends – they would dance and we would just sit at the table and hold hands. We would get lost staring into each others’ eyes, while our friends would parade by and give us a load of shit about it.

Clay saved my life, actually. I was 25, still a student, and struggling to come to grips with my sexuality. I was depressed and suicidal. The moment he came into my life, I just somehow knew, deep down, that things were going to get better – that everything would be alright.

But man, were we ever broke back then. Often times we had to choose between eating or paying the bills. We got lots of collection notices and phone calls, but we were young and in love and just kept chugging along.

Clay got out of the Guard soon after we met. It had become too hard for him to live a double life. Clinton had just instituted the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and it actually made things worse for him. It brought the gay issue to the surface after it had festered for so many years, and no one was really ready to deal with it. Guys in his unit would hang banners on the tanks that read “Clinton’s Pink Army” and would pass around xeroxed sheets of paper with really offensive gay jokes. On the bus ride home from his last annual training, the guys around him were being particularly nasty. After listening to it for hours he finally stood up and yelled, “Can you just shut the fuck up?!” He got out right after that.

And so, there we were in the garden of our first home. We both had good jobs and had worked hard to carve out our little slice of the American Dream. And then he’s telling me about how he wants to go back in, and I’m just stunned. He’s got this intense look on his face and I know he means business. I tell him I don’t understand how an out gay man can even consider going back into the closet. He puts down the rake, or loppers, or whatever the hell he was working with, and he explains to me how growing up no one had ever said ‘good job’ or patted him on the back for anything. He was only called stupid, or bastard or idiot. But he was a good soldier, he was rewarded and promoted and patted on the back – people told him good job. He says he still has something to finish, something to prove to himself.

Clay comes from a cycle of poverty and abuse that many in his family have failed to escape – just him and his little sister, who both joined the military right out of high school. The things he suffered would make your hair curl, but that’s not my story to tell here.

And so, I gave him my support, and for years it went just fine. But now he’s in Iraq, going to war for the first time when he’s twice the age of some of his men. And I feel like I’m slowly falling apart.