N ot every gay man in the military is a moron, but this one was. We met at Neighbours. (Gay men in the military love Neighbours.) Ridiculously handsome. In the navy. Perfect. My oldest brother is in the navy. He's a born-again Christian and we rarely speak, but his existence allows me to say, "Oh yeah? My oldest brother's in the navy."
We traded numbers.
The desperation of military men, the arbitrary aim, the guilelessness about being gay, the lonely hours on the base—who knows what it is, but you can get a military guy to do anything. He made the long drive back to the city from Bremerton one fine evening. We went to Black Bottle. He liked that it wasn't a gay bar. He liked that I grew up in a military family. I liked watching his face move. We talked about weight lifting. I was bored out of my mind. I remember thinking there was no way he was going to go home with me. To alleviate the boredom and to flatter him by connecting his life's work to the moral direction of the free world, I asked him, "Okay, your choice for next commander in chief—Clinton or Obama?" The primary fight was in full swing. There wasn't a person currently living who didn't have an opinion. He furrowed his brow and thought for a second. Then he said, "Obama—is he Republican or Democrat?"
We went back to my place.
There are more than a few guys like this on my dance card—guys I like, guys I would never introduce to my friends, guys who remind me of where I'm from. I was raised on Taco Bell. My dad was in the air force, his dad was in the Marines, one of my brothers is in the navy, another is in the army, my great-aunt was an army nurse in Korea, and my uncle fought in Vietnam. The Frizzelles are not wealthy or very well-educated or particularly interesting. But we have this indomitable macho arrogant asshole thing—connected to military history, connected to suburban cluelessness—and when other people have it too, I'm helplessly drawn toward it.
There was the Mexican stud who insisted that lots of people in the navy knew he was gay and no one cared (they don't care if you're gay unless they don't like you for some other reason, in which case you get kicked out for being gay—politics within politics). There was the virgin in the navy who was a hell of a kisser and wanted to go home with me but was so shitfaced I couldn't justify doing it (we kept in touch for a couple months anyway, him sexting me cell-phone photos of his crooked dick from sea).
Most recently, there was a mechanical engineer for the navy temporarily stationed in Japan. We met online. He had light blue eyes and dark receding hair and Skype. Eventually he came back to town and we went to dinner. He was not a moron. He had an engineer's brain—the sort of brain that could take your question apart, show where it was defective, where you weren't asking what you truly wanted to know, where the premise of it contradicted your previous question's premise—and, unlike some engineers, a sense of humor. We somehow stumbled onto the topic of Ralph Nader.
He told me he voted for Nader in 2000. I asked if he'd thrown away his vote in subsequent elections, too. He laughed. "Did you vote for Obama?" I asked. He evaded. "Did you vote for Obama?" I asked again. And then he admitted that he'd voted for John McCain, and my brain exploded. He said that, if you thought about it, at the time of the election, Sarah Palin had as much relevant experience as Barack Obama.
I lost my cool, started lecturing, rattled off the facts. Palin bounced around between undistinguished colleges (Hawaii Pacific University, North Idaho College, University of Idaho, Matanuska-Susitna College, then back to University of Idaho) before completing a degree in communications (ha ha ha), whereas Obama went to Occidental College and then Columbia University, majoring in political science with a focus on international relations, and later to Harvard Law School, where he was president of the Harvard Law Review, and eventually he taught constitutional law at University of Chicago. Palin was the mayor of a town of 5,000 people for two terms; Obama was a state senator representing a district of 210,000 people for three terms. Palin had a few years as governor of a state of under 700,000 people; Obama had a few years as a United States senator representing more than 12 million.
The navy engineer said he didn't like arguing with newspaper editors. He pointed out that McCain had been in the navy.
I apologized, helplessly, for exploding.
We finished dinner, went back to my place, and fucked for two days.
Mike, the brother of mine who's a platoon leader in the army, got back from a year in Iraq recently and flew to Seattle to visit.
When Mike was in Basra, we would chat on Facebook in the middle of the night sometimes. One night in February, I asked him what he made of the headlines about DADT. Mike typed, "DADT?" It seemed insane that he didn't recognize the acronym for the military policy under which gay men and women in the service get fired, because Mike is the type of person who keeps up. He read both Obama's memoir and McCain's (ghostwritten) memoir before deciding who to vote for—and then, amazingly, considering he's a soft Republican and hard libertarian and in the military, voted for Obama.
I told him it stood for "don't ask, don't tell," and we had a halting, careful, brotherly conversation about something that, fittingly, we'd never discussed. He found himself having to break it to his gay brother that, in so many words, he was against repealing it. "Honestly, I think it would cause a lot of problems," was how he put it. "Just having girls in the military is tough enough," he said. "I'm trying not to sound like an asshole, but you know what I'm saying."
I didn't know what he was saying, but I also was trying not to sound like an asshole. He said his problems with it were practical. "On my patrol base, it's just my platoon, all guys, and they wanted to send out two female cooks," he wrote. "Basically, I sent them back. I'd rather eat MREs for a year"—Meal Ready to Eat—"than have a female live with us, just because of the problems it would cause." I didn't press him much harder and hoped that he was just against the idea out of a sense of obligation to his orders, although he also said that "soldiers are usually conservative" and that "the military in general is way more conservative than civilian life"—a dishearteningly beside-the-point point. After I published our conversation on Slog, The Stranger's blog, and he got eaten alive in the comments, he wrote me a letter saying that the comments really pissed him off because people who aren't in the military don't understand what it's like out in the field, and what he meant about sending away the women was that he would have had to build a new hygiene station for them separate from the men's, and he imagined if gays were allowed to be openly gay, he might have to build a third hygiene station for the gay men and a fourth for the gay women, and he already had enough headaches just making sure his men didn't accidentally kill themselves.
He couldn't drink in Iraq—it's against local laws—so we spent most of his Seattle visit making up for lost time. But on his last night here, I asked him again about DADT. Away from Iraq, away from the constant low-level panic, his point of view sounded different. "If they make a policy change, everyone will freak out for like a year"—high-ranking officials will quit, recruiting may suffer—"and then they'll get over it." He shrugged. He didn't really think it was a big deal. He knows it's not up to him, and he admitted that, unlike the rest of the family, he hates the military. We were talking about him getting out of the army next February and about what he was going to do after that, and he said, "I don't know what I want. I know what I don't want." What does he not want? "I don't want to be in the military."
Then I started telling him about my string of military guys. And my theory about military guys and me, which is that they remind me of my Republican family, and there's something perversely comforting in that, because politics is what drives me nuts about my family. Maybe my family has instilled a strange desire to be driven nuts by the one I love. These guys feel like home. Or maybe I'm just superficial. Maybe it really is just the fitness and the toughness and the uniforms.
Mike thought of a lot of nobler reasons to like military guys—their adventurousness, their discipline, their sense of sacrifice, their being connected to something bigger than themselves, the codes and traditions, their being part of history, their being employed.
Then I asked him what he made of the coincidence that all the military guys I've been with have been navy guys. "Everyone makes fun of the navy for being gay," he said, and then he grinned. "Maybe it's true."