Veteran’s Day

In honor of Veterans Day I hung the Coast Guard flag from my last ship out the window of my apartment. Many others truly sacrificed or were sacrificed during their time in the service. My greatest sacrifice was serving in silence under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue. That last part seems to be forgotten most of the time, but it impacted my perception of a great many things including camaraderie and authority.

I wasn’t out in any sense when I signed up. I joined the Coast Guard because it is the only branch of the military that has a peace time mission. We would fight and give support in time of war, but spent peacetime performing a variety of missions like search and rescue, environmental protection, law enforcement, and aids to navigation. I was a Quartermaster and proudly navigated ships across the Atlantic and the Pacific. I am still extremely proud to have been part of a branch that not only serves the American people but has also had remarkable people serve in it. From Alex Haley, the author of Roots, to Douglas Munro, Medal of Honor Recipient who died at Guadalcanal, to the many people I served under and with. But not all of them.

In boot camp, one of the cadences we marched to was ‘got your back shipmate’ and I thought we all meant it. It didn’t matter if you got along on ship, you stick up for your shipmates and you don’t throw them under the bus. How wrong I was. This is not my coming out story. That wouldn’t happen for a few months after the lesbian purge on my first ship. A purge that taught me to play my newfound acceptance as close to the vest as possible.

I believed in the Coast Guard. I believed in shipmates. Most painfully, I believed in authority. That even if I didn’t agree with those that had it, their intentions were sincere and honorable. In 1996, I was jarringly divested of two out of three of those beliefs.

It happened so quickly. We had been down in San Diego for a few days. The last night in port, I had duty and stayed on ship. Several shipmates had gone to Tijuana and drank. A lot. One of them was my friend. They all got back drunk but unharmed and we pulled out for Alaska in the morning. Within the next few days, people were being pulled in before the captain. Apparently two of the women were seen kissing on the train back up to SD by a “shipmate” who was himself very drunk but also apparently disgusted and reported them. It went very quickly from there. By the time we reached Alaska, three women were being put on a plane back to CA to begin discharge proceedings. I was one of the people interviewed but was dating a male Coastie on another ship. The questions asked were extremely personal and direct. Yes, I was asked if I was gay. The woman who was my friend was not only asked but told if she lied, she would be in violation of the UCMJ (military code of laws). So she told the truth.

The thing that most affected me, after the loss of my friend, was that the captain broke the rules. The beauty of the military was the structure and the rules. The same rules applied whether you were a boot (fresh out of training) or an Admiral. This wasn’t the civilian world of money and influence. I admit this may sound naive, it was. But it was also something I accepted as truth. I did what I was told without question because that’s how the structure works. I didn’t have the option of not following the rules but that was ok because no one did. It assaulted my idea of fairness. Not just the ban, but the behavior of the command. The captain not only “asked” but he “pursued” fervently. Last I heard they were given Dishonorable Discharges. Which means, among many other things, they cannot enjoy the veteran’s benifits that I, and that “shipmate” and captain do.

How I viewed the world and my place in it changed the day they were put off the ship as much as it did when I came out myself shortly after. The latter broke something free, the former just broke something.

I am happy DADT and the ban have been lifted. But that battle had it’s casualties and they deserve to be remembered too.

Why These Stories

The idea for many of these musings came from watching Skins, Buffy, The L Word and a whole host of newer programs. Coincidentally, this new world of lesbian visibility is tracked by AfterEllen.com. It’s a coincidence for me because I came out to myself and those closest to me a few months before Ellen came out publicly. My public declarations would have to wait though until I was allowed ‘to tell’, but my private ones were a collection of awkward, funny, terrifying, and completely anticlimactic. I had an odd sort of support system of friends and crushes and had no real struggle once I just said it out loud. I was 20. Part of me has to wonder if I had been physically born in 1996 instead of just mentally and emotionally reborn, if I would have come out sooner. What would it have been like to read Fingersmith at 15 instead of 30? Or have had access to the many wonderful coming out stories that are now available?

Over the years, I have flipped through my memories, always hoping that I will one day understand the significance of some of the odder pieces in my collection. Those snapshots of the past that are brief yet vivid; that still make my stomach or my chest clench. These moments, in spite of their visceral effect, are not forthcoming in their significance. They seem almost mundane and self-indulgent on their faces, never the less, I always knew they held cryptic truths. It turns out that the truth, even when desired through a safe distance, shifts as the lens does. Fortunately, I have no need of objective truth when it comes to understanding my own mind. To see the significance of a lost event, means that there must still be a connection to my present self.

These brief musings I am postings are the result of mental time travel, of going back to those moments repeatedly as both an observer and as the emotional child that I was. What I found has been as emotionally rewarding as the search was taxing. What I found, and what I remember are as true to me as the keys beneath my fingers as I type this. I very well be misreading or misinterpreting the actions or feelings of those around me, and if I am then I hope I am still fair. But to be honest, I don’t care if I get everyone else wrong. The significance of these moments were never spoken aloud, nor even dealt with properly in my head. Rather, they were tucked away because I couldn’t deal with their significance. These people from my past, whom most were wonderful girls and women, helped make me who I am. It is that small piece of them that lingers over twenty years later.

Anger and Skepticism

I don’t know how to be angry.  That seems such a ridiculous thing to say out loud and even more absurd to see typed because I feel angry a good deal of the time.  As anyone other than my mom or my partner will attest, I am nice Nic.  I have always been nice, polite, and non-violent: outwardly.  I learned when I was 12 that anger was unacceptable  so I turned all my rage inwards.  I wasn’t aiming for myself originally, just tucking it away from prying eyes.  But somewhere I lost track of it all and found comfort in self-destruction.    Soon, I tucked all my own emotions away relying on my reason and intelligence to steer me through.  But I am an emotional animal as much as I am a rational being and had to find an outlet besides self-loathing  for the abundance of emotions I was experiencing.  So I developed the one quality the church and my parents would approve of, empathy.  So much so that there were times in my life where I could clearly understand and commiserate with the pain of others, even those that hurt me, while not even being able to name what I was feeling myself.  Frustration.  It was the only thing other than happiness I was able to clearly register.  To this day I’m not sure that it is even an emotion or a state of being.  Impotence would probably be a better word.

I constructed myself out of religious dogma and codes of conduct but was villainized for paying too close attention.  Mixed signals, earnest and innocent questions into my faith were met with anger and recriminations.  I had accepted young that I would never have the approval of my peers, sans my all too brief times at camp, but this was meant to be offset by the approval of adults.  When that was denied I felt like I was drifting.  In many ways I twisted myself into knots for if not approval but the acceptance of those in authority.   Yet, their word was never enough to quench my skepticism, only my behavior.  For all my insecurities and need for acceptance, I somehow had confidence in my own understandings and in my own differences as valid.

I went to St. Anselm grade school.  The irony and prophetic nature of this would be lost on me for decades.  The irony being that for a school whose namesake was a well known philosopher and theologian bristled at the idea that a student could question what they were meant to simply digest and regurgitate.  This, more than anything led to the dismantling of the church in my mind and began a journey of philosophical skepticism that has both threatened to tear me apart at times and yet as allowed to see clearly enough to keep me sane.