Friday
February 2, 2007
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Volume 35
Issue 05
 
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Not Thinking Straight by Madelyn Arnold
Three-Five-Zero-Zero
Anybody notice we're at war again? Now we don't even need the Monroe doctrine to dive into some other country's business, and this time we invaded a country whose government we'd been propping up. Not that I'm an ideological purist. I can no more claim to be a pacifist than nonviolent, but at least I have the sense to be ashamed about it.

IN WHICH I INVADE THE MILITARY
Sleet was turning to rain on a cold November day in 1967, as FirstLove and I arrived at the door of a sort of bunker on the edge of the Ball State University campus - the Air Force recruiting office, or perhaps the campus office for all the Armed Forces, but Lover refused to consider any other branch because once, it had courted her. With high math SATs, she'd received its invitations, but when she showed up for ROTC it realized that it had slightly misspelled her name. Ah well. But now it was to the Air Force we [re]turned, because of my intransigence: I couldn't or wouldn't sell the only thing anybody wanted.... There was a sign on the door: the US Air Force was out to lunch.

WHAT HAD HAPPENED
At the end of fall term I had been thrown out of school as queer; the psychologist I had "confessed" to had turned me in. Now out on the street under age, when I applied for a job, I had to leave out any work I had done at school - and that was most of it. Every day for weeks I had walked around looking for work, and finally the place where I was crashing demanded to know just what the hell was wrong with me. But I couldn't comply. The thought of heterosex was so horrible that I made the rash decision of trying to get into the service. If I couldn't manage that, I'd cut my throat. Dying was an option I could live with....

Ironic that I wanted to join up - well, want is too strong a word - only recently I had been growing mistrustful about our involvement in Vietnam -- although like most, I had been raised to see "my country right or wrong" as "patriotic", and the few people I had heard really criticize our involvement had been Quakers - pacifists - and those people hadn't wanted us to fight the good fight against Hitler. Yet there I was up for recruitment, showing how expediency can kick the ass of ethics.

NOT THAT I'M LIKE OTHER SOLDIERS...
I've heard significantly older women such as served as WACs in WWII, twist themselves inside out when asked in a Gay bar about their service careers. Some actually choke. One woman I remember from the old Crescent would suddenly swear she wasn't gay - she had just been friends with this other WAC and They'd Misunderstood. She was queer as a three dollar bill unless asked about her distinguished service in Korea.

Contemporaries in the service often waffle in a similar manner, but usually stop short of apoplexy and/or total amnesia. But it lsn't just the old folks who have been scared silly.

AND OPPORTUNITY OPENS
Finally the door unlocked behind us and we squelched up to the desk to meet two guys in identical smirks and crewcuts. We didn't impress them, but they gave us forms to fill out; and being lucky, we'd arrived on the very day they gave some kind of qualifying test. It wasn't that hard. Then one of the men took me into a room for an interview, of which all I remember is the promotion posters. Dramatic, colorful, fulsomely patriotic and on every single surface. And suddenly he asked me the question Medical School would ask: had I ever been attracted to a member of my own sex?

I stammered. I waffled. If I said yes I wasn't just walling myself out of this dramatic career; I was taking Lover with me. Then too, I had learned that straight men are fascinated with queer young women, and I didn't want him near me. Finally he put me out of my misery, with a sneer only partly a leer: "well, that's all we needed to know. I'm afraid we can't help you."

But FirstLover was an inelegant mix of slut and innocent, one of those kids who had early learned to use other people's lust. Actually, she wasn't even Bi, but she wanted the Air Force. She wanted something honorable, something cerebral, something better than what we both were sinking into. For whatever reason, she was told to come back the next week.

Off and on for a few weeks she'd answer the phone, get mysterious, dress to the nines and take off as the sun went down. This officer was "working on this plan to get her in", so that she'd come back to me with her underwear inside-out. Finally she was informed that it was all over, she wouldn't be accepted, and that was doubtless my fault too. She couldn't see why he hadn't been able to swing it. "After all," she said. "This guy really had their ear!" Maybe so, but that wasn't the part I'd been worried about.

NEITHER TYPICAL
There are those who wish to serve their country in the military, and believe in a military life; still more are desperate for the alleged percs that go with, now that schooling is beyond the financial grasp of most. But the Service still sides with Hitler about queer soldiers. I hear "Don't ask - Don't tell" gets rid of dykes even faster than gay guys. God forbid there be soldiers bunking with people they actually want to be among. And It Still Works: you can still find a deep self-loathing among the soldiers who have been Found Out.

ABOUT OUR WAR
A few weeks ago our hamstrung news services announced that the current war dead have passed 3000, and the silence greeting this has been deafening. Funny, but I guess I'm caught up in flashbacks. I snapped back to a little war tune from the Vietnam era's HAIR -

Three Five Zero Zero: Prisoners in N-----town; It's a dirty little war; Three Five Zero Zero; Take weapons up and begin to kill; Watch the long long armies drifting home....

[Not that we've got to that number of dead. But we will.]

Years after my enlistment, the Vietnam war still on; I had a poster over my desk with the legend: Join the Army! Visit exotic foreign lands. Meet exotic and interesting people. And kill them.

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