20 September 2004

Good Soldier Outlier: Gays in the Draft-era Military

The only long-term friend I made during my Army days was gay. And he wasn't even in the Army; he was a sailor, one of my roommates at the Defense Language Institute. It didn't strike me until many years later that a fair number of my fellow students at DLI must have been gay. What a shame it would have been if all their language skills had been rejected.

Gary was an ardent film buff from Tulsa, OK. He and I went to many movies in Monterey, Carmel, and elsewhere on the Peninsula, from Sergei Bondarchuk's epic "War and Peace" to Russ Meyer's graphic "Vixen." We also spent a lot of time exploring local history, from Steinbeck to Robert Louis Stevenson.

One weekend when we had planned to hike over the top of the Presidio along a section of 17-mile Drive and down toward Carmel, he failed to return to our room on Friday night. When he finally got back Saturday, he gingerly confessed to me that he had spent the night with a gay acquaintance in town. I was the first straight person he had revealed himself to, and he seemed to think it would be the end of our friendship. But it wasn't. The next day we took a long hike together, either all the way to Carmel or to a Carmel Valley movie theatre. I can't really remember.

After he finished his Spanish course at DLI, he was assigned to Puerto Rico, with some time in Guantanamo. He would write long letters about the local scene there, but nothing quite so explicit as what he later wrote once he got out of the Navy and settled in Westwood Village, Los Angeles, where he found work in a factory that employed a lot of Spanish-speaking employees. Once there, his letters began to reveal much more about his active sexlife, including his bathhouse adventures.

By then, I was in graduate school in Hawai‘i, and my life seemed hopelessly boring by comparison, except when I did a spell of fieldwork. However, it was during graduate school that a lesbian friend recruited me to participate in a new gay rights parade right down the length of Waikiki. I only did it for Gary's sake. There were hardly more than a dozen of us, and I got filmed passing right in front of a TV camera on the local news. When we got to the end, near the Honolulu Zoo, I spent a long time looking at the monkeys--with considerable empathy.

Later in the 1970s, I visited Gary in LA and we made a nostalgic trip back to the Monterey Peninsula, stopping at Hearst Castle en route. When we stopped at a public rest room after a hike around Point Lobos, Gary confessed he was pee-shy. He couldn't use a public urinal if other men were around. I don't know how the hell he survived 4 years in the Navy.

I finally lost touch with him in the late 1970s, after I began writing my dissertation and he began writing about his prior incarnations as Amenhotep. La-La-Land must have begun to take a toll on his sensitive mind. I hope his dangerously promiscuous lifestyle didn't make him a victim of the early stages of the AIDS pandemic.

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