When I think back to my childhood, I cannot remember a lot and the only feelings that stuck with me were anxiety and shame. I always felt different and less than. I was a nervous kid. Junior and Senior High School was a treacherous minefield. I was a little late on the development scale and I did not know what the hell was going on. I yearned to be popular, but it just was not happening. I did not date or go to prom, but I was involved in many extracurricular activities. I just knew I wanted to get out of my little, population 2,000, Upstate New York town.
Fast forward to college, I am 19 years old and working at a chain restaurant part time. I have also discovered the wonders of alcohol. My manager takes me to a lesbian bar after work one evening and I am overwhelmed with feelings. I sat out front for a good thirty minutes. After I went inside, I had some beers and had a great time and of course, I was madly in love after that and a couple weeks later had my heart broken. That was it, I was done with women!
The next year, I left college and enlisted in the US Army. I was going to fit in and be part of a team and by god, I was going to be straight! So I spent the next few years attempting that, even going so far as to get married (to a man, this was the dark ages of the early nineties)! Of course, that did not last and I accepted my fate. Of course, this was when I met the love of my life and had my first real relationship. Overseas, at that time, before DADT, it was actually a little less stressful to be in a LGBTQ relationship because no one was paying attention.
In 1993, I was back in the US, DADT was the law of the land and many of my friends and I felt “watched”. I remained in a long distance relationship, but I still felt shame, guilt and insecurity. Therefore, I stuffed it down and was a good soldier. Moreover, I remained that way until I retired in 2006, stuffing it down or drinking it away.
My last duty station before I retired was overseas and I came to Colorado Springs to live. I had visited a couple times previously, but now I was here, on my own, ready to be a civilian. I had no car, no job, barely a relationship and no friends. Of course, transition is hard for us all; I think I am still working on it. However, that is another story for another day. Almost 5 years into my retirement, DADT was repealed. I was very excited, but also somewhat sad. I did not get to experience that feeling of relief when I was in. Nevertheless, I felt very proud when I saw a uniformed color guard in the Colorado Springs Pride Parade. I have attended every Pride in Colorado Springs since 2007 and in Denver every other year. It is always the greatest feeling, especially when I march by those homophobic tools with their stupid signs and I am mentally flipping them off.
In 2010, once I had been seeing a counselor and began studies at an institute of higher learning, I really started feeling my pride and autonomy. I got involved with the PRIDE committee on campus, I joined the local chapter of American Veterans for Equal Rights (AVER) and I lived my truth. Little by little, I am feeling like and becoming my authentic self. This year, I have really thought about why I was in the military and the damage of war and occupation. I am proud of my service, but I do not necessarily agree with all the ways service members have been used. Fighting for equality, rights and humanity, I am all for. Using armed forces to exert power and gain resources, I am not.
So, I still fight to this day, although I do not use a firearm. I fight for what is right and to help make this a better world. I fight against corruption, greed, misogyny, racism, homophobia, hatred in all forms, lying, stupidity, selfishness, ignorance and more on a daily basis. This year I will be attending Pride events in Denver and Colorado Spring and will be telling people about the Minority Veterans of America (MVA). I will also be proud to attend, to be counted. Proud to be a part of the LGBT community and its history. Proud to be a veteran and a part of making this country a better, more empathic and understanding place to live.