When I got out of the Army, I had the choice of moving back to Massachusetts or anywhere closer to my last duty station. Since I was in Hawaii at the time, I could choose from a huge swatch of the country. I went on several job interviews, and had a few places I could have moved. I picked for location as much as for the job: I moved to San Francisco.
During my transition time from Cadet to Officer, the question of Gays serving in the military was a hot topic with other people my age. My opinion was usually voiced as “I think everyone should have the right to give their life for their country.” But really, for me the question was academic. I never knew any one that was openly gay. I say openly, because many of the gay friends I have from high school and college didn’t come out until well into the 1990s (Gay Nineties, heh). I’d met a handful of gay men, mostly in the course of activities that got me away from my Rock Bound Highland Home. It was a part of life I thought I was comfortable with, that fell well with in my philosophy of “live and let live.”
My comfort with the concept of homosexuality was questioned and tested soon after my arrival in San Francisco. My truck was still in transit from Hawaii to Oakland, so I had rented a car. I was staying in the Globe Youth Hostel on Folsom Street between 7th and 8th. I found a parking space right outside the front of the Hostel. I had made plans to get together with my friend Margaret in the morning. This last fact is important, as the history my failed attempts to meet between me and Margaret could fill a post of its own.
The following morning I awoke to discover that the Folsom Street fair was in progress. Instead of the sight of my car on the curb, I was greeted by the sight that was far more truly San Francisco: Men walking around wearing chaps…and nothing else. As I walked from the Hostel to the Police Station to the impound yard, crossing and recrossing the street, I experienced a far more negative reaction than I ever had before, and this surprised me.
West Point in 1989-1993 was an intensely homophobic environment, and yet a strange current of homo erotic behavior runs through it as well. Jokes about romance and male/male sex run rampant, even as such signs of impropriety lead to investigations and expulsions…or at least numerous hours spent walking the area. Such behavior carried over into the Army. I remember embarrassing an officer at JRTC by announcing that my roommate was his homosexual lover… a long time running joke. I guess I had never realized how ingrained that particular prejudiced had been.
Of course, anger over the towed car and frustration at having my plans ruined probably had something to do with my negative attitude at the time.
My company had many openly gay men, and at least one openly gay woman. The men were all older, well into their thirties, and, well, somewhat stereo typical. At least one would fall into the pattern known as “The Castro Clone.” The woman, Laura, was on my team, and was burnt out of the nonsense from Walker: something I couldn’t appreciate at the time, but well understand now a decade later. She challenged my assumptions, my attitudes, and my stupid statements that were sometimes less enlightened than I would have liked. We only overlapped for about half a year before she moved on to another company, leaving me to inherit maintenance of the code she supported. She also left me with the reality of a really strong, smart woman, who happened to be gay.
Laura wasn’t the only one to leave our team. But we were able to hire, and one of the people hired was Eric. Eric was about 5 years my elder, was a very experienced but humble programmer, and quickly became my friend. We went for lunch and coffee each day. It wasn’t until we had been friends for a couple of months that he told me he was gay. He was such a contrast to the other gay men in the office. Basically, he was someone not all that different from me. He was just a normal person (well, more normal than I am) that happened to be gay. I asked him about the fact that so many of the gay men in the office had affected such personas. He explained how hard it had been, especially for people older than we were, that it was a way of fitting in, a way of being accepted in a group. It wasn’t something he had needed, and was less common amongst younger gay men.
At most of the places I’ve worked since Walker, I have had a good co-worker friend that is gay. This is the reality of my life and my workplace. Life in San Francisco was so much more interesting due to the influence of gay culture. The Castor Halloween, (which has, sadly, been shut down) was one of the most amazing carnivals I’ve ever seen. My social life revolved around the climbing gym Mission Cliffs. Some of the women I climbed with fairly regularly are lesbians, so I can honestly claim that I have entrusted my life to gay women. Two of my Wife’s closest friends are lesbians, two of the most wonderful capable, and brilliant women I have met. My office mate is the first man I heard refer to his partner as his husband, something he can do because we live in Massachusetts.
I keep hammering home the fact that these people are gay, but I have to say that I don’t think about that most of the time. They are my friends, my co-workers, and the people that help me function in this world. That is how I think of them, how I deal with them. Their sexuality is part of their personality, but only one facet of the complex people that they all are.
They deserve no less of a protection by the law than I do. They deserve the same opportunities that I have had. They deserve the same possibility of catching that happiness that we all are pursuing as every other person I know and care about.
My attitude has shifted. I am neutral on this topic no more. Equal Protection under the Law for everyone. That includes Marriage, Civil Rights, and the right to do as I have done, as Senator John McCain has done, as Ensign Harvey Milk did, as Second Lieutenant Bradley Sherril did, as Second Lieutenant Henry O Flipper did, and swear to support and defend the constitution against all enemies, to serve their country proudly.