Decorated and lonely

I'm gay, in the military and looking for love. What should I do?

By Cary Tennis

Published May 24, 2004 7:51PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I'm a well-liked, successful active-duty member of the military. I've garnered awards from highly ranked supervisors touting me as "Serviceman of the Year" and have the medals to show for it. I like to think that the accolades given to me have been the culmination of discipline wrought from a life under the tutelage of God-fearing Roman Catholic parents who've worked hard to give their son the best upbringing that immigrants can offer.

No doubt it was extremely difficult for me to tell them that I'm gay. And although they pretend that they're fully accepting of it, I know it's going to take them a few years for the notion to really sink in. I was just giddy over the fact that they took it rather well.

It's a relief because once I came out to myself I pursued my newfound identity with aplomb. I've dabbled in dating, exuberant parties, anonymous sexual encounters, erotic dancing, and even visited a few porn sets (though I wouldn't dare let myself perform in front of a camera). Then I relaxed a bit and joined a gay swim team for the camaraderie and not just for the sex. The team has been very supportive and accepting of my double life.

It's been wild acting out many gay stereotypes because I've had to watch in silence as my straight military buddies went out into the world finding sex, love and starting families. But now that I've lived the life of the prodigal son I'm ready to come back. Though I'm afraid I've ventured out too far.

Now I so badly want what my straight friends and family have. I want the trials and tribulations that come with long-term commitments, not one-night stands. I, however, do not want to get married as a gay man. That desire is nowhere in the near future. But being gay means the moral boundaries are blurry. How do I fill my need to be loved and emotionally satisfied when the extracurricular lifestyle that I'm leading is deemed by society as taboo and forbidden by my occupation? And when I do have the spare time off work to find a kind, loving man? All I see are other jaded men in their 20s slinking around in seedy bars. If I didn't take care of my body or my appearance I'm sure no one would give me the time of day.

Cary, I love my God, my family and my job. I never asked to be gay, but I do want to be happy and I think a committed relationship (sans marriage) can offer me that. But society still hasn't fully come around, and gay men my age are too sex-obsessed. Should I wait for my beloved America to allow me the freedom to search for my first soul mate or should I go back to the old way of unbuckling and dropping my trousers?

Belt in Hand

Dear Belt in Hand,

At a time when liberal society is making unprecedented progress in gay rights, it seems a shame that any gay man would have to live in the shadowy margins instead of participating freely and openly, with full rights and acceptance. I think you are more or less compelled to consider leaving the military and finding some kind of equivalent role in civil society. It won't be easy or quick, but I think that's the best direction to take.

I have read the rules that govern gay life in the military, and I must say that it seems to me a crushing burden to bear. I would not want to live and work in an institution that placed such restrictions on the expression of my true self, and I don't see why you should.

This need not be a sudden change. It may take you a couple of years to do the planning. It will be important to clarify your value system in order to come up with creative ways that you can put those same values to work outside the military. It may be that you can plan now to take certain military training that will give you valuable education to apply in civilian life. But at this time like no other, it would seem a shame for you to live under such a shadow, when just beyond the gates of the base lies a society that welcomes you with open arms.

I want to say just a little about the internal process you may need to go through to become willing to leave the military. Consider the deep, lifelong drives that being in the military satisfies. They probably fall into two general categories: those that are clear, conscious and publicly laudable, such as your desire to serve your country and live a disciplined life; and those that may be private or unconscious, such as the erotic lure of a hyper-masculine society in uniform, and the possibility of hiding your sexual preference from the public.

In the long term, you will probably find that it's healthy to explore both these areas, and see how they complement each other. In the short term, however, it will probably be best to focus on how you can express your values and use your skills in civilian society, and not concentrate too much on whatever hidden motives may be keeping you in the military. The main significance of these hidden motives is that if you do not at least account for them and acknowledge their presence, you may find yourself unaccountably rationalizing, or procrastinating. So you have to be clear: Today's U.S. military is no place for a gay man who wants to explore and express his sexuality. The dangers are too great, and the restrictions too severe. This is most pointedly clear when liberal civilian society is making such great and swift strides in gay rights.

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Cary Tennis

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