Guest Blogger

DADT, isolation, and sadness

Filed By Guest Blogger | February 23, 2010 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics

Editors' note: Gina King comes from a family with a strong tradition of military service is a veteran of the US Navy. She identifies as intersexed and trans identified. Currently she works within the military industrial complex as a vital member of a strong, forward thinking company that has inclusive employment practices and is a global leader in its field.

I'm sure you remember when you were a young adult or knew of a young adult who had to ask themselves "Am I gay/lesbian/bi/trans?" Remember that? For some, it comes naturally and for some they have to ask or talk to someone to figure it out. It's part of everyone's life to ask and be asked "Do you like him/her?" and to talk about what is love, how do you say it, how? Unless, you're in the military and have to deal with DADT. Because if you're there, anyone you talk to may be your undoing. You are an inmate in an armed prison. You are Neo in the Matrix. You are utterly alone. You have no one to talk to about any of it.

To my knowledge, the first victim of DADT in 2009 was Aon. This is an approximation of our last chatroom conversation.

    Aon: I don't know what to do

    Gina: Did you make an appointment with medical to see a therapist? Honey, you need to talk to someone

    Aon: I haven't been to work this week

    Gina: ?,Why not? Are you on leave? Are you having serious issues? You need to talk to someone. Do you have someone to talk to? Would you like me to call you?

    Aon: NO, NO! I want it to end

    Gina: Wait, we can help.

    Aon: I don't know what to do, I can't go on.

    Gina: We're trying to help you.

    Aon: I want it to end, I want it to end now.......I'm done.

    Gina: Hello?...Hello? anyone there?....


And Aon's name floated in the chatroom window.

Those of us in the chatroom pooled our information. We tried to figure out where Aon was really located, their real name, their real military command. Every scrap we pooled led us to nothing.

Aon's ghost haunted us for hours until a service interruption erased that last vestige of Aon forever.

Often the need is immediate, but because of DADT they simply cannot bring themselves to tell us anything. We rarely know a real name or location. It's just a voice from the dark asking for help. 2009 started off early. Within the first week of the new year Aon showed up in a chatroom asking the usual questions on being transgender. How do you know? What's it like to live as a member of the opposite sex? Does surgery hurt? What do hormones do? Who can I talk to safely? Can I talk to someone outside the military system? They voiced all the fears of someone who's gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered in the military.

Why do I help? Because I'm intersexed, I was born IS and my entire life I've been confronted with gender issues and confusion. I had to deal with those issues and knew something was wrong the entire time I was growing up. I didn't stop being IS when I joined the military. In fact I didn't even know what "IS" meant when I joined but that's where I discovered I was IS.

The issues I dealt with ranged from minor to major. I always had to deal with harassment. I grew up dealing with it and delivered good sarcastic comebacks. But the major issues I dealt with were things like being discovered. Our doctor was knowledgeable enough about Intersex conditions in general but not specifics. At first he thought I had actually could have gotten myself pregnant. When you're a "guy" and a doctor puts you on prenatal vitamins because he seriously thinks you may have gotten yourself pregnant... well. You really need to talk to someone (especially when you've known your entire life that your in the wrong gender).

Unless your in the military. In that case... talking to anyone is grounds for immediate actions. This was the norm pre-DADT when everything was just policy. Gay, lesbian, and transgender citizens serving our nation were all thought to have had serious mental issues and were typically removed and sent to a special restriction facility to await discharge as unfit for service, always with a less than honorable discharge.

That was the official reaction. The unofficial stance reaction was assault. By that time, I already knew of a lot of people who had gone through that hell. I also knew of an intersexed person who had to deal with finding out about themselves with no one to talk to at the same time as the military's actions against them.

I was extremely lucky when it came to the when, where, and who when the doctor discovered my condition. The doctor was somewhat knowlegeable about intersexed issues and looked out for me. He let me decide whether or not to continue my service. He was also a gay man in a happy relationship with a fellow officer.

But all of that was before DADT.

President Clinton made a promise that every gay, lesbian and bisexual person I knew believed. He said that he would remove those discriminatory policies that barred service in the military to them. He was true to his word; those policies were removed from the hands of the military by Congress. Gay, lesbian and bisexual servicemembers could now serve, but DADT was the new law of silence. You could serve but only in absolute silence.

After DADT the conditions did improve slightly. President Clinton said that DADT was a comproimise but he would keep on trying. But neither promising or trying ended the witch hunts.

After DADT was passed, I was on watch at the quarter deck. I knew something big was going on upstairs. The shear number of people being called up to one captain's mast was enough to tip me off. That wasn't really unusual. My division officer grabbed my supervisor to go upstairs as a witness. When my supervisor ran out and then a few minutes later my division officer ran out... actually, not that unusual. No, none of what happened was really that unusual. It wasn't a weekly thing, more like once or twice a year we had drama, real drama.

Shortly after that, the commanding officer came down to the quarter deck and sat down next to me in the duty office and started asking me questions.

I'm not proud of everything I've done in this life. Because one of the things I've had to deal with my entire life is people who will look at me and think gay or trans or freak and will treat me like that no matter what I do or say.

Before DADT my life was difficult, afterwards it didn't really change that much. I think everyone at that command saw me as only gay. As a person with a job that requires serious clearances I was subject to polygraphs as routine. I only got two, both in that command. Both times I was asked pointed personal questions on my sexuality. I managed to pass those somehow (mea culpa: I'm asexual). After that I was approached by my chain of command to be a stalking horse, a judas goat.

No, I'm not proud of that at all or the fact that I accepted it.

The few friends that I had there were special to me. I didn't have any growing up, but I couldn't tell them why because of DADT. When they started talking to me about their issues and what did this or that mean, I couldn't because of DADT. We couldn't ask or tell, which meant we couldn't talk about it.

Then the day came and the Commanding Officer sat down to ask me questions. "Do you know..." "Did you discuss..." "Gay..." "Transgendered...." The conversation barely lasted a quarter hour. DADT is a law to be followed, at the time Commanding Officers were often thought of as above the law and next to God, if not above God. He asked a lot of questions, but it soon became apparent to him that my answers were "I don't know" to all of them. I didn't know because I didn't listen. I didn't listen because if I did, it was part of my job to report anyone. If I didn't report what was disclosed to me, I was subject to the UCMJ.

The CO didn't tell me that at the time that my division officer was at the hospital with my supervisor. He didn't tell me that my supervisor had attempted suicide or that the reason was during a mast against a gay and MTF Transgender couple he... she bolted thinking the mast was for herself. The CO didn't tell me that the total number of people who had been at mast and were discharged was around 30 service members who all self-identified as GLBT. (By the way, about a dozen of them pulled a Spartacus. You know, "I AM SPARTACUS!" They were not bisexual or lesbians, they were just tired of the bullshit way the GLBT's were being treated.)

When I got off watch my day had only just begun. There is only one way to describe the remainder of the day that followed. Shitty. I worked from 7am until 3 or 4am. I did the work of six all by myself. The next day, the entire squadron had to realign itself to barely function. It took months to recover.

A few weeks later, a young woman who had come to our command after the witch hunt went down. While we were holding on to her, trying to stop the bleeding, her roomate told us some of her story. Her girlfriend had broken her heart and the young lady we were holding on to was a cutter. This time, she had cut too deep, too long, and too often. Earlier she asked to talk to her roomate, just to talk to someone.

Do you see how much this goes on? I've described just a few incidents, a few. Almost every time there was an incident I heard the words "I need to talk to someone" and either because of DADT or the policy that came before I had to turn them away.

Turning them away has led to so much blood... on my hands. I am as gulty as anyone else that ever uttered the words "I was only following orders." I wasn't raised to mindlessly, blindly follow orders. But I did.

I'm not proud of it.

After that, I realized that DADT could never be a lawful order. It's not even a civil law. It's a concentration camp of silence. It directly contradict against the freedom of speech that every American has as a right to.

Naoi came in like most of them. Asking questions, seeking answers. We gave answers, advice. We stayed up with Naoi until the wee hours of the morning helping them as best we could. We did it for weeks on end, through Thanksgiving, through Christmas. Naoi and I share common themes in our childhood and adolescence. We have almost identical stories. I listened to them knowing how it would affect me. But you have to understand... we're military, we're trans, we're famly. I know I'm a survivor and so is Naoi.

Until the other day...

Naoi has cleaned their home, their vehicle, either given away or thrown away cared for items, the presence they left on the web that can be found has been erased as best they can. Go talk to anyone that has ever served in the military, ask them what that means.

For some trans people, they go through something called purging. I hope that it's just Naoi purging.

    Gina: We're trying to help you. We've been trying everything. Is there anything we can do?

    Naoi: No, I'm done

    Gina: Hello?...Hello? anyone there?

DADT leads to tears. I'd know. I just can't seem to stop crying about it. I don't think I ever will.

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Gina, once again, thank you for all you try to do to help others. And I urge you to be more gentle with yourself about what you have sometimes been unable to do.

But, also once again, with respect, I must point out that honorable discharges did not begin with DADT but 13 years before in the last year of the Carter Administration by order of Deputy Secty of Defense W. Graham Claytor, Jr. Also, being sent to "a special restriction facility to await discharge" solely for "being gay" stopped being the norm long before that.

For anyone interested in the evolution of the way the ban has been applied, from WWII forward, I suggest:

"Coming Out Under Fire" by Allan Berube, and

"Conduct Unbecoming" by Randy Shilts.

Thank you.

Wow! Deep stuff and so similar to my own story, though I was out out before DADT. My room mate of three years was my downfall. We had shared a room at the BEQ and eventually we moved into an apartment together. About a year later, he got married and we moved into a house. He was set to transfer almost exactly a year before I was so his wife moved back home for a few months, he moved back to the Q and I moved into a smaller apartment, this time by myself.
I was assigned to ASDO, (The only TAD I had in my whole career), and one night I got a call from security that my ex room mate had been picked up for DUI. It was his second DUI so things weren't looking very good for him. There was nothing I could do as ASDO except to make a log entry and send the duty driver to pick him up.
A few weeks later, my TAD ended and I went back to work on airplanes. We were about to deploy and as my shoes were worn, I ran a request chit for new flight deck boots. The MMCO kind of looked at me weird but signed the request. The very next day, I was called up to the C.O. and was asked about my trans status. Knowing myself to be busted, I admitted to it. This was May of 1990.
My Skipper really didn't know what to do about it so he dumped it on the Master Chief. After some research, a couple of more interviews and some waiting, I was told that nothing was going to happen. My squadron and my CO knew who I was and what I was capable of and so the matter went away. Or so I thought. I actually entertained thoughts of offering to sign up for a career if I could do it as a female and my unit, knowing my value, probably would have recommended it.
In June, we had a change of command and upon looking over some recent logs, the new CO found out that I had been accused and admitted to being trans. Well, he couldn't have that apparently because I was called in off an airplane and told that I was going to mast in one hour and to get my dress whites on. I had to dash home and get my uniform which wasn't cleaned from the last time I wore it and come back to stand mast. I requested two witnesses, both Senior Chiefs. Neither were available because they were both attending a school in Norfolk, VA. I was defended by a chief who had taken over the 100 division less than two months prior and who really didn't know me. I didn't stand a chance.
I was convicted, though of what I still don't know because I know damned well that being trans isn't mentioned in the UCMJ. I was to lose a pay grade, half a month's pay for three months and receive an OTH discharge. This was the end of July. I asked the Yeoman who was there in his official capacity and a friend of mine to go slow with the docking of pay.
August came and I was on the Independence doing workups. I had to train my replacement as I was the only airframe tech fully qualified to final check on the flight deck in my unit. Well, Hussein invaded Kuwait and suddenly I was indispensable to the Navy and I got my discharge orders rescinded. Get that? I was not of the proper moral fiber to serve in the United States Navy yet I was necessary to the war effort.
Well, the short war came and went and I got airlifted off and sent back home, where I began to recover and repair our birds returning from duty in the Persian Gulf. After we got them all back, I came back into the hanger one day and Senior Chief told me that I was going to be put on hanger clean up duty while awaiting discharge. I flatly refused, though he threatened to write me up but at that point they had already negotiated away all of their power over me. I was already being given a bad discharge. After some negotiating with the Master Chief, I went to barracks' support for the reserve BEQ doing quarterdeck watch from midnight to eight. About a month later, I was told that I needed to go for a separation physical the next day and when I checked out later in the week, I was told at PSD that they were taking ANOTHER pay grade, (down to E-3 this time). The guy at PSD wouldn't sign my paperwork until I got a haircut but again I refused and told them that they could call me at home when they decided that I didn't need a haircut to be discharged. It took them two full days before they relented on that.
After five years and three months, I left the Navy as an E-3 and with an OTH discharge. I found out that the new CO came to regret discharging me as a week after I went to barracks' support, the airframe shop went on a 24 hour schedule, 12 on and 12 off.
Why did I mention my ex roomie? because it turns out that in order to save his own drunken ass, he ratted me off, even though he had never had any kind of problem with my being trans. It must have worked too because the next time I saw him, (by coincidence actually while visiting a mutual friend), he was a first class and still in the Navy. The final chapter was about six months later when I received a letter from the Navy demanding I surrender that half month of pay for three months. Needless to say I didn't.
DADT is abominable. It's only a "compromise" in that Republicans got their way and Democrats got to declare victory. Still, I was thrown out prior and I have none of the rank or benefits that I earned, which I would have kept under DADT. Don't Ask, Don't Tell sucks and needs changed but it is much superior to the old policy, at least to it's victims.

Thanks for everything you're doing - and have done, Gina.

i am having a hard time separating out the emotional reactions to discrimination versus demands for a more inclusive imperialist war machine.

Thank you, Gina for sharing and all that you do. I am also a Navy veteran and served long before DADT was a glimmer in Clinton's eye. I submitted an article here on DADT, but it was rejected. Yours is very good.

Quote Michael: “I must point out that honorable discharges did not begin with DADT but 13 years before in the last year of the Carter Administration by order of Deputy Secty of Defense W. Graham Claytor, Jr.(1) Also, being sent to "a special restriction facility to await discharge" solely for "being gay" stopped being the norm long before that.”

Quote Margaretopoa: “After five years and three months, I left the Navy as an E-3 and with an OTH discharge.”

Michael, it sounds like you’ve been reading history books.

(1)OTHD and BCD’s were the norm for anyone GLBT and Admin Separation for the I’s up until 1994. Margaretopoa fell victim of a very common occurrence within the Navy when I was in. Prior to 1994 a Commanding Officer had authority to discharge and assign discharge type with little to no over sight. After 1994 all charges, NJP, punishment, discharges and discharge type was taken away from all Commanding Officers due to the rampant abuse of power. It had nothing to do with DADT, nothing at all. The last big witch hunt I was in, the CO was rushing to kick the people out because of that significant change in the regulations. Did the discharges say “GAY”? No, like Margaretopoa the charges used were everything/anything they could use. Article 92 ‘Failure to obey order or regulation’ and Article 134 ‘General Article’. Often the CO’s would hold serial Captains Masts to bust a person down to E-1 or stack the charges (now illegal) putting a dozen charges on a single charge there by guaranteeing a person to be busted to E-1 and discharged with an OTH or BCD.
As of 2005, at my last command, one of the last Masts that involved a GLBT service members that I was aware of wasn’t a ‘DADT’ Mast. It was a regular Mast against a young woman’s accusers who had demanded sexual favors of her. They told her that if she didn’t submit to their sexual demands they would force her out under DADT as a Lesbian. She was well aware of what is possible even with DADT in place. The Commanding Officer at that command was very supportive and protective of his GLBTI troops. He served as Commanding Officer in 3 of my commands. He bent over backwards to allow this young woman to stay in the Navy. He had the two men by the balls… She asked for an Admin Separation. He gave her what she wanted and then insured that she did get an Honorable Discharge and full benefits as well. Because she quit, those two stayed in. The CO had them rotated to the next ship departing and a page 13 entry in their service jackets. (not a good thing, but those pages can fall out all on their own)

(2) -At the end of boot camp I was put on PT hold. I failed the run by 0:19 seconds and was put on hold for 2 weeks. Being on hold meant being put in the Special Training Division. There were 3 barracks at NRTC San Diego. Admin Hold, Medical Hold, Special Hold. Medical Hold was for those who were medically unfit to leave boot camp. Either they got well enough to move on or went home. Admin Hold was for those who failed some part of boot camp. Special Hold was for Gay, Bisexual and Trans types. It was kept under constant care by senior boot camp instructors. Those of us in Admin Hold were tasked with standing a watch that patrolled the perimeter. It was our job to report anyone escaping the Special Hold barracks.
-After I got to my first command I stood watch in the squadrons transient barracks. The restriction barracks was next door to it. The restricted people there were mustered every 15 minutes. Sometimes the restricted would come in to my barracks to muster. Typically it was that or use the phone to talk to their commands. (One horrific incident was a service member being called by medical to be informed that he had full blown AIDS. I wasn’t on watch then… my roommate was. I was his relief. As I walked up to the barracks yellow tape, NBC trucks and moon suits greeted me. My roommate was on the other side of the quarantine line covered in blood. He got back to the casa late the next day wearing navy issue shower shoes and some old scrubs. His uniform was incinerated. He was on Medical Hold and held in an observation status until he got out. The BEQ was treated as ground zero for a Biological Attack and shut down for two weeks as they sanitized it.)
-My second command we went every place. NAS Miramar, NAS North Island, NAS Alameda, NAS Norfolk were just a few of the places I went. I only note those because that’s where I encountered restricted barracks and people noted “look at the gays”. Sometimes they self identified as gay.

Reading the history books is ok so long as you’re the victor in the fight. Because only victors write the history books. Also, ‘history’ is only ‘his’ ’story’ and no one else’s.

I think you should listen to those of us who where there and dealt with the issues pre-DADT and during DADT.

To Margaretpoa; yeah, at some point in time we were in the same hanger. Along the way my ‘aircraft buzzed your ship on the way to the Gulf. Small world ain’t it?

To Monica; Hugs babe. Keep writing, keep trying, don’t give up.

With respect, unless you were working in the Defense Department in a department that dealt with official policy regarding discharge characterizations which you can quote me by DoD number you are making the classic logical fallacy of extrapolating your individual experience to that of the entire armed forces.

The DoD policy on discharge characterizations for gays that came with DADT was the same policy that Graham instituted in 1981: unless there are "extenuating circumstances" such as sex with a subordinate the discharge characterization is to be "honorable. That's not just from "history books" [which weren't written on a gay bar napkin, BTW, but based on RESEARCH], it's also from the "Survivor's Guides" published by Servicemembers Legal Defense Network [SLDN] that has legally advised thousands of gays caught in DADT's Web.

I have addressed in other threads that abuses like those Margaret experienced happened before and are still happening. If "The Man" wants to get rid of, lesbian, bi, trans, straight...he will find a way, facts and fairness be damned.

You "dealt with the issues pre-DADT and during DADT" where YOU were...which was not EVERYWHERE any more than it was EVERYONE's experience in a military made up of some 1.5 million active duty servicemembers and another 850,000 reservists any more than it was DoD POLICY.

Examples disproving your "rule":

Leonard Matlovich, Air Force, Honorable 1975 [because of his high public profile]
Copy Berg, Navy, Honorable 1975 [ditto]
Perry Watkins, Army, Honorable 1983
Joe Steffan, Navy, Honorable 1987
Tracy Thorne-Begland, Navy, Honorable 1992
Jose Zuniga, Army, Honorable 1993 [tho to punish him for publicly embarrassing him they also reprimanded him with a false charge of wearing an unawarded medal and demoted him]

Personal anecdotes can be informative but positing that they apply universally is both anti-intellectual and counterproductive.