Oh yeah, I almost forgot…

The 15th of October (the day my husband came out to his unit) is a day that I will never forget, but there are a few humorous things that happened that didn’t make it into my initial report

Clay met with his guys before the promotion ceremony to give them a heads up before he dropped the gay bomb. After Clay came out, one of the guys said – completely seriously – “Does that mean you don’t have a wife?” And Clay says, “Sorry dude, I’m not that freaky.”

Then, after the ceremony, he met again with his guys to discuss ‘repercussions’. All said there weren’t any problems and that all would be ok. Clay noticed one guy hanging his head and asked him what was up. “I’m just upset that after these years you never ONCE tried to hit on me. Come on, aren’t I at least a 7 out of 10?!”

Clay gave me a tour of his shop, but I was uncomfortable inserting myself so suddenly amongst all his buddies in his work environment. I stayed off to the side as long as possible, but when it was finally time for me to join the group, I joined the gaggle shooting the shit outside his building. I was looking down a lot, and noticed that Clay was wearing different boots than his guys. After I asked why, Clay explained that his were the new required boots and that his guys would have to get off their lazy asses and order theirs before they were required.

“And besides” Clay said, “They have this olive patch on them that matches the rest of the uniform.”

I wrinkled up my nose, looked at all his guys in turn, and announced, “THAT is so gay.” They looked at me wide-eyed for a moment, and then broke up laughing…

We were all sitting around in Clay’s office, and I stated that Clay deserved a special merit badge on his uniform for all the nasty strip bars his boys forced him to go to over the years. In retribution I demanded that all of them would have to go with me to a drag bar. They laughed in unison, rolled their eyes and then let me know that each and every one of them had done that “years ago”…

While we were all having pizza and beer later that night, I realized why one of his guys looked so familiar… He admitted to being the longtime bartender (years ago) at one of the local gay bars. He’s a straight father of two, and admitted that his signature bartender costume (leather chaps) made him a tip magnet…

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L.I.A.R.

OK, I have to come clean… Clay’s promotion ceremony was NOT the first time I have been to one of his official military functions – but let me explain:

In 1993, our very first date was a full eight months before Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell became the law of the land, and we both attended a sponsored keg party at his National Guard Armory.  He brought along a female friend to deflect suspicion.  (I’m not sure how much good this did, however, as  she always wore a t-shirt that read “I am not a boy” to the local gay bar – otherwise she got hit on pretty heavily by a plethora of young gay men…)

I was more than dubious about our choice of venue, but we were young and broke – and the beer was free.  There was a lot of hard staring when we all walked through the door together.  I looked around to orient myself and noticed they had gone all out with the camouflage netting and strobe lighting for party decor.  I thought, “What the hell have I gotten myself into?” and seriously considered heading home alone.  But then I saw the keg and dove in.

A few months after that, Clay brought just me to his unit’s ‘Family Picnic’.  I was introduced as his ‘friend’.  I mostly sat off by myself (and got stared at quite a bit again), but nothing major became of it.  Not too long after that Clay realized he couldn’t handle life in the military closet, and he got out for good… Or so we thought…

I’ve talked before about his reasons for leaving the military, and also his reasons for going back in ten years later.  Just a few days ago, I found one of the photocopied gay-bashing pamphlets that was passed around in Clay’s unit at the height of the DADT policy debate in 1993.  The other photo is of the flags that decorated his encampment on his last two-week exercise in July of 93. (Note my sophisticated pixelation technique to hide the identity of the offending soldier…)

Queen Berets

Pink Flag

All I have to say is, “We’ve come a long way, Baby!”

 

 

Blown Away

This is the first time I’ve ever been afraid to write because I am convinced that no words could ever capture how I feel right now.  How can your life change so drastically in 24 hours?  I can’t help but feel like a profoundly different person today – that how I define myself and how I fit into this world has been radically altered.  Last night  I partied with Clay’s military buddies.  I’ve never laughed so hard.  I’ve never felt so safe.  My preconceptions about what was going to happen yesterday have never been so wrong.

As promised, Clay met with his Commander, Superintendent and First Sergeant on Friday:

Commander:  Just the man we want to see.  We were just discussing you.

Clay: (Oh shit – they already know).

Commander:  We’ve decided to change things up at your promotion ceremony by bringing ‘tradition’ back into it.  It will be more formal.  You will introduce your friends and family members, say a few words… At the end we’ll lead you and your family out of the room while everyone stands at attention.  You and your family will then be in a receiving line to greet everyone as they exit the room.

Clay: (oh shit)  I need to talk to you about something first…

Commander:  Yes, what is it you wanted to tell us?  Have a seat…

Clay: (oh shit)  I think I’ll stand.

(Clay backs up against the wall now, and the three come up and stand real close – not in a threatening manner, but truly curious as to what he has to say.  We find out later they fear he called this meeting to tell them he’s leaving the unit).

Clay:  My mother and my husband will be attending the ceremony.

(Silence and blank stares for about a minute)

First Sergeant:  Well, that doesn’t change anything.  Let’s move on to something important…  So, we’ll be asking you to introduce your family…

Clay:  How do you want me to do this?

First Sergeant:  Just the way we discussed…

(The Commander remained thoughtful and silent for the rest of the meeting.  Clay’s boss reiterated that it wasn’t an issue.  The First Sergeant thanked Clay for trusting him enough to come out to him, and talked of the intense discussions he had witnessed at his DADT repeal training.  He told how it seemed there was a 50/50 split between those who said it was going to be a huge problem, and those who argued that life would just go on the same as it always had.)

The morning of his promotion, Clay left the hotel early to meet with the guys he works with.  As he’s waiting for them to file into the room, one jokes with his buddy, “Aw – it’s ok to be gay now!  You can come out!”

(Clay always says that the military can be the gayest place on earth.  There’s this aspect of camaraderie between straight men where they feel free to engage in this crazy horseplay that often includes pretending to be gay for a laugh.  They’ll hug each other, grab each other’s butts, joke about just about EVERYTHING that is completely taboo in the military culture…  Oh the irony – that it’s acceptable to engage in the very behavior that would get a queer man kicked out, but it doesn’t count if you don’t really ‘mean it’.)

Clay: On that note, I’ve got something important to tell you…

After another bit of silence, each guy in turn told Clay that it wasn’t an issue.  As with each time he came out, there was a palpable tension as his friends and mentors did their best to process the information that Clay had just fed them.  They were all pretty quick to come back with a supportive statement right away, but you could see the gears turning:  “How did we miss this?  What does this mean?  How will things change?”…

To say that I cry easily would be an understatement .  I’m a big, fat blubbering baby.  And once I get started, the snot comes out and everything – not pretty.  But I told myself that, no matter what, I would not make a spectacle at the promotion.  Now, I must be very clear that I do not think that crying is shameful; I just felt the overwhelming need to show this group of people that I could handle it.

I did not get any sleep the night before – for a few days before, actually.  It did not help when Clay told me how I would be publicly introduced and then on display in the receiving line.  That little bullied boy that I used to be suddenly returned again.  This time, however, he just stood next me.  I could see every single one of his fears, but I just took his hand and promised that we’d get through this together.

The ceremony itself is a bit of a blur.  I smiled but tried to concentrate and not make eye contact with anyone.  Friends and family were called to sit in the front row, then everyone else filed in and took their seat.  There were about 70 people in attendance; 10 of which now knew Clay was gay.

The base leadership got up and said the most amazing things about Clay.  About how dedicated he was – about how respected he was.  They were warm, relaxed and sincere… (I thought they would be tense and rush through it as though they were fearful of what craziness they were about to unleash.)

And then Clay was up there pointing to me and introducing me as his husband.  I turned around and waved – smiling, but still made no eye contact.  One person in the back of the room started clapping slowly, but the rest of the room was silent.  That lone clapper stopped.

He talked about how a new day has dawned for the US Military and how he can finally be himself.  He told everyone that we’ve been together 18 years, and a little of what it was like for me as a silent partner.  (The tears  started to come, I quickly wiped them away and forced composure).  Clay’s voice started to waiver, but he pushed on.  He ended by inviting everyone along on this new journey with him.  The room erupted in thunderous applause.

We were led out through the crowd while everyone is stood at attention, and soon people were shaking my hand, one by one.  Some didn’t make eye contact and a few people skipped the line all together; but the majority welcomed me warmly.  Several lingered a minute or two, pumping my hand and thanking me over and over – saying such words I never thought I would hear…

So much more happened that day – but there is one scene that will stick in my mind until the day I die:  We all went back to the shop after the promotion.  It was a bit awkward because I was suddenly there and already knew intimate details about each and every one of his men, but none of them knew the first thing about me.  I stood off to the side and tried not to get in the way.  Everyone still seemed to be processing, and I worried that things would never be the same for Clay.  I worried that the camaraderie would suffer, and that somehow adding me to the mix would upset a delicate balance.  But soon they were called off to get ready for an awards ceremony.  Clay said goodbye and started walking across the base.  His guys caught up and they walked away together – two on each side with Clay in the middle; a solid line with shoulders almost touching.  I watched their heads swivel in animated conversation and listened to their easy laughter as I let the tears come.

NOTE: To Mom, Blair, Arnie, Emily and Bill – I never would have gotten through the day if you hadn’t been there with me.  Oh, how you made me laugh…

Hang on, we’re going in…

Clay has told his best-friend-on-base that he is gay.  It went something like this:

MSgt Todd: OK, so your mother will be there.  We’ll reserve her a seat up front.

Clay: Uh, there’s someone else that will be coming – someone who has stood by my side throughout everything.  Someone you haven’t met…

MSgt Todd: Oh great!  We finally get to met your wife!?

(So much for our suspicion that MSgt Todd had ‘figured it out’ and was just playing along… Oh the stories Clay has told over the years to explain why his wife was never at any of his functions…)

Clay: Not my wife, my husband.

MSgt Todd: Your what? (Pause, pause, pause.)

After an uncomfortable silence that lasted an eternity for Clay, but was most likely only a few seconds, Todd remarked, “Wow – that sucks that he doesn’t get any benefits.”

Todd hung his head when Clay explained how much he needed someone to confide in – especially when they were both in Iraq and the burden of hiding our relationship was hardest.  Much more was discussed, but in the end Todd offered to sit next to me at the promotion ceremony – for “protection”.  (Now, no one in their right mind thinks that physical harm will come to me for being there.  This is just soldier-buddy speak for “I’ve got Clay’s back on this one, so don’t f*** with him unless you wanna deal with me.”)  This is what buddies do for each other, and I’d be lying if I said that this doesn’t choke me up… a lot…

It was mutually decided that a promotion ceremony is not the appropriate venue to ‘drop the bomb’, so Clay will be meeting with his commander, direct supervisor, and all the troops under him prior to the actual event.

So, as far as I know, Clay will be the first homo on base to openly recognize his partner at an official function.  I will stand tall.   I will be exquisitely – yet tastefully – dressed.  I will look calm, cool and collected; but inside I will feel like a tiny little bug under a giant microscope.  In that instant I am afraid of feeling like that vulnerable little boy who got tripped in the school hallway and called ‘faggot’ – a person I thought I left behind a long time ago.  (And don’t think I haven’t considered asking my friend Dan Choi to come and chain himself to something to distract everyone…)

I will slowly force the air in and out of my lungs so that I won’t turn blue and pass out.  Because no matter how scared or freaked out I am, I will outwardly conduct myself with dignity and respect.

Think of me on Saturday, would you?  And I promise I’ll tell you how it went as soon as I can.