Tell me me about your experience of being gay in the military
November 16, 2004 9:20 AM   Subscribe

Are there any queer mefites with military experience?

I'm thinking of enlisting in the U.S. army after I graduate from university this spring. As in, I really want to do this, depending on MOS restrictions my red/green colorblindness impose on me. One of the things I have to consider, though, is my penchant for sleeping with members of my own gender. I think I "pass" pretty well, but I'm curious if there's anyone out there with experience spending time in the military closet, or alternatively, you have associated with a soldier whom you knew was in the closet. If you have general military advice, feel free to lay it on me, but I have probably seen most of it one place or another. As in, some might be tempted to tell me to get a commission if I've got a bachelor's, something that doesn't interest me.

Thanks for your help!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
As for the colorblindness, you can still get in the army, just don't expect to be able to fly anything. I don't know what any other restrictions are as to colorblindness, but if it makes you feel any better, my SO is an army officer with that same diagnosis and it hasn't prevented him from going to airbourne school and possibly ranger school in the future.
As for the "big" issue, its my understanding that you have to keep yourself 100% closeted. I'm not sure on the exact regulations or procedures, but if someone above you finds out, I believe you could be up for a quick discharge.
If you want shoot me an email and I can give you some more info.
posted by dicaxpuella at 9:34 AM on November 16, 2004

I was in the military pre-Don't Ask Don't Tell, so my experience was probably vastly different from yours (since they won't repeatedly ask you about it and all.) However, even then, as long as you didn't boink somebody in the barracks, and didn't talk about being queer, you were fine. You have to be a pretty quick thinker and good about your pronouns though- in basic and AIT, you don't have a lot to do in your limited down-time except talk, and naturally, people like to talk about their spouses/SOs, etc..

Now that they have co-ed platoons, I don't know if they'll do this anymore, but when I was in, at least twice during basic, we had mixers- kool-aid punch, bad music, bad snacks, and an opportunity to get to mingle with the opposite sex after being "deprived" for so long. They're optional, but unless somebody had a religious reason to avoid them, the platoon thought you were kind of... weird if you didn't jump at the chance to go.

Since "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," as long as you don't screw anybody on base and don't say anything that might be the slightest bit suspicious, you could probably go anywhere. Colorblindness is not the only thing that's going to limit your MOS, though. Keep in mind that the higher up the security clearance you go, the more likely you are to be outed. They can't ask about it, but if someone volunteers the information on your behalf, you could be - no pun intended - screwed.

MP, Intelligence, Linguistics, Special Forces, some field operations, Cartography, among many others., these are all MOSes which would require security clearances. To be absolutely safe with the background check, you're probably going to want to stay non-com and either go basic combat operations or basic administrative operations. Cooks, field supply, and grunts don't tend to need a security clearance.

It's probably *slightly* easier if you're a male and continue to be a military bachelor as long as you talk a good game; if you're female, you're going to eventually attract attention for failing to get married, or at least to date.

In spite of all of this, I really enjoyed my time in the military. Good luck!
posted by headspace at 9:39 AM on November 16, 2004

Good for you! Unfortunately, our nation has decided to make it very difficult for you to serve your country. Download and read Servicemember Legal Defense Network's survival guide. These people know Don't Ask Don't Tell better than anyone else. (Also, if you join and get into trouble, keep your mouth shut and call these people for help).

Some choice quotes:

"As a practical matter, it is not safe to keep gay magazines and literature in barracks rooms, wall lockers or service members’ cars."

"Co-workers and commanders are likely to become suspicious if they know service members have gay friends, read gay literature or belong to gay organizations."

"Service members may be charged with violating Article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) for sodomy (oral or anal sex, whether heterosexual or homosexual) or the 'general articles,' Article 133 (officers) or Article 134 (enlisted or officers), for kissing, hand-holding or other forms of touching. Convictions under Article 125, 133 or 134 can, in some cases, result in up to five years of imprisonment for each act"
posted by profwhat at 10:09 AM on November 16, 2004

Keep in mind that if you join the USMC, you will also be subjected to anti-homosexual messages on a daily basis. The turning point for me (I'm a hetero Christian family type, too) was when the major playing keyboard at field services one Sunday started going off on "crotch-rocking faggots" and my battallion erupted into cheers.
posted by taumeson at 11:02 AM on November 16, 2004

I am also pre- don't ask/don't tell. I was in the USAF for seven years. I was a cop, weather observer, and awards monitor at different times during my time. I knew several gay men and women in the Air Force.

As said, as long as they kept their business to themselves, they were left alone. And, even when a complaint was lodged (which is really what gets the ball rolling towards discharge), it oftentimes wasn't investigated. The OSI (Office of Special Investigations) didn't like doing that type of work as it usually required someone to go "undercover" to get the alleged gay service member to hit on them. Often, they had to move into the barracks and be roomies with the target. Not a fun job.

There was one woman that lived across the hall from me when I was stationed in New Jersey. Every time she got drunk, she'd get very aggresive with the other women. She'd knock on your door, invite herself into your room and the next thing you knew your breasts/crotch would somehow end up in her hands. After months and months of this crap someone finally lodged a complaint about her. Nothing happened to her. For a long time I thought that her skanky ass should have gotten the military boot, but then I realized that all the guys got away with that shit (sexual harassment) so why shouldn't she?
posted by Juicylicious at 11:20 AM on November 16, 2004

One of my students had his color/blindness tested by a third party and got a note to get into the service. Which is a pyrrhic victory, I suppose, if he gets shot or something.
posted by mecran01 at 12:11 PM on November 16, 2004

My experience is limited to a small part of the Navy, so keep that in mind.

Color Blindness - Can disqualify you from electrical/electronic rates. Something to do with knowing which wire is the red one...

Sexual Preference - Now, IANG, but I have worked with at least one servicemember who was. She was not open, but many of us had little doubt. However, none of us cared. We no longer work together, but it is my understanding that she has come out and is being discharged. She said she was tired of not being allowed to be herself. You spend a lot of time with your fellow sailors/soldiers/marines/airmen and I think it would be rough to always watch yourself. Another servicemember that I knew of, much more senior, was discharged after his preference became widely known. From the little I know, the actual discharge was for something else. They may not prosecute you aggressively for homosexuality, but they'll take a closer look at everything else you're doing.

Not an easy decision. Good Luck.
posted by jawbreaker at 2:31 PM on November 16, 2004

I was just discussing this with a classmate who was in the military. He confirmed that there are indeed plenty of gays in the military, and that no one particulary cared. However, I believe he went through ROTC and his observations were from the officer level. May be a different story if you plan to go enlisted.
posted by falconred at 3:54 PM on November 16, 2004

Is that an honorable or dishonorable discharge if they find out you are gay? IANG but if it's the latter I would be despressed.
posted by Keyser Soze at 11:09 PM on November 16, 2004

Active duty Navy enlisted here, NG.

First of all, if you're graduating from university, don't enlist, go officer. If you enlist and you're color-blind your options will be somewhat limited, in my own rate color-blindness is a disqualifier. As for your sexuality, I've known a few people who were somewhat obvious, but still didn't ever encounter any problems, probably because they did their jobs. The officer community can go either way, they can be educated enough to know the meaninglessness of the issue, or anal-retentive and arch-conservative enough to feel that its a violation of whatever rule they want to adapt to their purpose, and seek to have you dismissed. Most enlisted are young, right out of high school, from the south (or Texas), and in general, not great advocates of tolerance, draw your own conclusions.
USAF is generally the most tolerant service in most ways, and also, they know how to take care of their people, so I would recommend them first. Navy second, although you'll probably still hear plenty of derogatory comments, its not uncommon. Frankly I'd steer clear of the Army and Marines, it seems intrinsic to those services, as taumeson noted. Feel free to e-mail me if you want any more info.
posted by tetsuo at 5:16 AM on November 17, 2004

Ex-active Navy officer here, responding to what tetsuo said. In my limited experience (3 different ships, 1 shore command) the officer corps in the Navy is (outside of new Ensigns and Ltjg's) entirely "anal-retentive and arch-conservative". They can and will seek to have you dismissed. And, frequently with the worst possible characterization of your service they can manage under the regs [and, in many cases, they will seek to stick you with a characterization of service not allowed under the rules].

The Navy's officer corps, especially in the surface community, is an astoundingly unfriendly place to anyone who doesn't fit the mold, even if that difference has been hidden for years.
posted by Irontom at 6:27 AM on November 17, 2004

Keyser, it can be anything from Honorable through to Other than Honorable.

Irontom has it on the nose...most often discharges for Homosexuality are OTH because of shit your commander puts in your discharge papers.
posted by taumeson at 10:46 AM on November 17, 2004

Anonymous - if you can, it would be helpful if you posted why you've ruled out joining as an officer. Also, since you have a choice (Army; Air Force - yes, even colorblind; Navy; Marine Corps), why Army? [The Air Force is both safer and more technically oriented.]

Both decisions (officer/enlisted; branch of service) are critical. For example, the Navy isn't the best place to have a private sexual life (on a ship). Being an officer typically means that you have your own apartment or can live off-base, while being enlisted typically means life in a barracks.
posted by WestCoaster at 1:01 PM on November 19, 2004

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