Saturday, June 9, 2018

Memoirs of a Gay Leather Elder 08: Openly Gay in the 1970's Military, Part Two

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I can't lie - I had some challenges as an adamantly, openly gay man in the Navy.  I will now list each issue that arose, and then tell how I dealt with them.

How I Got Away With It

On the other hand, it was a magical time for my boldness.  As far as the folks in the military were concerned, this was the new Civil Rights era.  Gay rights were EVERYWHERE in the newspapers, radio and television. Nobody knew how to deal with an unapologetic, proud homo like me.  I was a hard, diligent worker, and I never caused any actual problems.

I am privileged.  I know that.  Back then, I was a tall, Caucasian, cisgender male, dominant and stepping fully into my charisma.  I got away with shit that most folks probably could NOT.  I was fully aware of that. I was counting on it.

None of my motivations had to do with my ego, or a desire for self-benefit.  I knew in every cell of my body that I wanted to help the younger generations who were on the way.  I didn't want them to grow up disadvantaged, shamed or exiled, as I had been.  I wanted to grab the entire world and YANK it farther along its rotation, so that we could all have equality, even if it harmed me personally.

It sounds like hyperbole, but I was perfectly willing to die for my beliefs.  I know that, because I still feel that way, decades later.

The Cigarette On My Ass

Our ship was out at sea, rocking with the waves as we headed for the next destination.  We were watching a movie down in the chow hall, sitting in chairs and on tables.  The movie was some silly fluff, and I wasn't much interested.

I was paying closer than usual attention to the screen, when I suddenly felt a painful burning on the side of my ass.  I reached down, and grabbed a freshly-lit cigarette that was my only companion on the table I was sitting upon.  I held it up, and looked around the room with one eyebrow raised.

Every face was focused entirely on the movie, so I stubbed it out and calmly continued watching.

That was that.

The Bad Annual Review

This was later in the four years that I was in the Navy.  I had always been scrupulous in my work, because I knew that people were waiting for me to screw up. I was representing a lot of queer folks as a class, so I wanted to make it easier for the other openly-queer military folks who were surely coming along soon.

The chief in charge of me handed me my annual review, and it had terrible, dismal marks.  Suddenly, for the first time, I was a bad sailor in every category.  I looked at it, and called the chief back.  

By this time, I was a fully-connected man in the gay community.  I was in full communication with the San Diego Gay Community Center, and the editors of the gay newspapers.  When the Chief came back and stood in front of me, I said (and I am quoting myself, word for word, even though it was so long ago):

"I see what is happening, and I understand it fully.  If you and the rest of the staff wish to continue down this path, then you can all expect to see your faces on the cover of every gay newspaper in Southern California.  Why don't you have a nice chat with everybody, and let me know what you decide?"

After about twenty minutes, he came back, and muttered "Never mind…"

My annual review was magically upgraded to its proper level, and we never spoke of it again.

That's All, Folks

The tales of my hassles with being openly-gay in the military are now concluded with those previous two stories.  There were no others.

Unfortunately, after I left the Navy in 1979, Ronald Reagan swept into the White House, and his Moral Majority creeps started an anti-gay witch-hunt season in the military that was toxic and hateful.  I had enjoyed a blessed, all-too-brief time in the gay community's military history.

Sex Between Sailors: Buggery on the High Seas

As the somewhat self-righteously upright representative of the entire queer community, I was quite reluctant to get too frisky onboard.  However, once the gang plank hit the pier, all bets were off. Ladies, lock up your husbands, because I was primed to remove whatever was left of their virginity!

It was easy as all hell to get away with sexual friskiness.  Everybody was doing it. My buddy John did not share my inhibitions about sex with co-workers.  Twenty years later, I asked him how many of the sixty men in our division had he had actual sex with.  He told me "Thirty Seven."

Aaaand… my standards were like anybody else's… subject to adaptation, once we had been at sea for a while. I discovered something wonderful:

After a ship has been out at sea for about a month, the number of "straight" men drops like a rock.  First, they start wrestling with each other.  It's a perfectly-safe expression of bodacious heterosity.  Boys will be boys!

Then, men get "handsy". They are horny, and lonely, and their sexual standards drop like a rock. Soap starts dropping in the showers, and mutual masturbation and cocksucking in the bathroom stalls becomes a thing. These "straight" men suddenly get very curly around the edges.

I'd get pulled aside and propositioned all of the time, usually with a variation on this phrase: "uh, I like women, but I'd be willing to go for some fun with you."  Easy enough.

The Anchor Chain Room

This is not an actual example, but it looks cool.

My ship was the USS Samuel Gompers.  It was 3/5ths of the size of an aircraft carrier, with 1,300 men onboard.  It was a Destroyer Tender, which is a fancy way of saying "Floating Naval Base."  It was designed so that it could drop up to 3,000 feet of big, heavy anchor-chain in the middle of the ocean, and hook up with six destroyers on both sides.  That way, those other ships could make use of the huge dental, medical, electrical, repair, chow hall and other facilities that we made available.  

During the time that I was onboard, this never happened.  We weren't at war.  So, the anchor-chain storage room, way up at the front of the ship, became the default Sexytime Play Room for Horny Sailors.

Imagine:  It's late at night, and the ship is dark, particularly up front near the bow, hundreds of yards away from the sleeping sailors.  Some kind soul (sometimes me) would stand guard at the entrance to the Anchor Room.  Inside, there were tall spools of chains, and lots of nooks and crannies for fun-fun-fun.  There were some close calls when the night watch would approach, but the entire perimeter of the ship inside was one long, wide corridor, so we always had plenty of visual warning.

The men who showed up were generally "MSM's" - Men who had Sex with Men, and only situationally.  Generally speaking, men who were married to women. The Gold Star Gay guys didn't mix with them very much, other than at crotch-level.  A piggy bottom could set up shop in one part of the Anchor Chain room, and he'd gladly take on one gentleman-caller after another.

The Gay Guys' Table and the Dental Chair

Out of those 1,300 men onboard, around forty of us were bold enough to claim our own special table at every meal.  The rest of the guys never bothered us, but they were fully aware of our presence. We were SASSY, and loud. There was some open flaming at times.

One day, as we were laughing and eating together, we were joined by a new guy, who sat near me. I was being friendly and welcoming to him, but his reactions were way off.  Every time that I'd say something, he'd shoot it down. He was being vigorously snide and dismissive, but only to ME, and I couldn't figure him out.

After a few hours, it all made sense.  I had a "Eureka!" moment.  I showed up at the dental spaces, where we had fifteen dental-chairs.  It was locked for the night, and I knew that he was inside, on watch.  I knocked, he let me in, and I did a full-on kinky domination scene with him, while he was happily bent over a dental chair.

After that, he was very deferential, and pleased me very much, and often. He had been flirting, but really clumsily, because he had no idea how to express his deepest desires.  We were both glad that I had figured it out.

Watch for Navy Stories Part Three, after a break.  I have much, much more, but I feel the need to shift things around a bit, narratively.

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