September 20, 2011

Repeal, The Question, and JFK


[Editor's Note: Today marks the first day that LGBQ service-members can serve openly. Here at the BDU Blog we could not be more excited to celebrate the occasion by featuring a post by one of Duke's own LGBQ ROTC members. We've been waiting for this moment since your first year, Pruitt!]

Sometimes, I like to consider the legacy of President Kennedy to be one of my personal enemies. Folks who know me well might be able to tell you how quickly I can turn a topical discussion of current politics into an only-somewhat-related angry tirade against the former Commander in Chief. Now, there are all too many gripes I have with Kennedy that I won't bother writing here. Instead, I'm only going to address my biggest issue with the man: his most famous statement has ruined how we, as a people, think about ourselves and the nation. Every time I hear "ask not what your country can do for you…," a part of me cringes.

Now, I know, that's a fairly edgy set of political/philosophical/governmental statements for our less-than-edgy support/celebration/ community blog here, so allow me to clear up the association with an example. Anytime you get interviewed within the military, or have a friend learn you're in the military, or walk on a bus in uniform, there is a pretty solid chance that you'll get the Question. "So, [awkwardly leans over and reads nameplate], what made you want to join the Navy?" There's only a few different answers generally given in polite company, and it only takes a bit of time around military personnel and prospective to have heard them all. "I wanted to serve my country," or "To do my part," or "To help defend democracy," all get played out fairly quickly. I should think even just saying "Freedom," with enough oo-rah in your voice should get a fairly warm reception. The answers we give—the answers we're comfortable giving—are always about what we can do for our country. I like to think that people who have heard all the normal answers but still keep asking the Question (I'm looking at you, interview board for Congressional nominations to the Naval Academy) want a bit more of an honest, gritty answer so they can really see the muck and guts that form sailor's loyalties. After forty years on the job, they want to hear Real Talk about the money, the women, and the resumes.

The first time I remember getting the Question was from an interviewing Navy Lieutenant when I applied for an NROTC scholarship. I was at a residential arts school at the time and, since we couldn't have personal vehicles on campus, she had to come to the school to meet with me. I met her at the front admissions desk, her in prim, official Khaki and myself in some dressy get-up that screamed Art School Kid. I led her by practice rooms where a strand of Rachmaninoff was played and replayed every five seconds, a courtyard where a giggly gaggle of dancers arabesqued between us, and finally through a small library with more than half its shelves full of art history into a quiet meeting room. After sitting down, filling in the beginning of some Very Official Paperwork and opening a thermos of coffee, she laid it on me—Why? Even though she hasn't so much as glanced at my application yet or read a single entry under "activities," our Lieutenant knows I'm a far shot from the traditional officer candidate or enlistee. Even if she was paying attention on her way inside, LT probably wouldn't have been able to find our one American flag on campus—finding any Eagle Scouts, Varsity football stars, or JROTC Student Commanders would be even harder. I clearly belonged in a coffee house or an obscure (still hip) local art gallery, not on a drill field. So, she asked, why?

For her watching, it probably looked like I blanked and had not yet thought of a reason behind my newly decided career path. The truth is, I had the answer on the tip of my tongue, the slightly-selfish answer that could knock the dust right off of Congressman Barrett's interviewing board, the completely-left-field answer to startle the curious stranger on the bus, and the sufficiently-unique answer to get all manner of asterisks on my FITREPs. I wanted to toss the meeting room door back open and gesture at my absurd campus, saying, "I want to be more than this. I shape my own identity, and I refuse to be locked up in the Art Haus closets of so many from the LGBT community. I am so sick of all the spangles and glitter that blots out my sight whenever I see queer men in media, and I'm sick of the fact that's all the rest of America can see too. In five years, I want people to go to my commissioning and say 'That's what a queer American male looks like, and damn does it look fine.' I want to be one of the first openly bisexual men to be made an officer in the United States Navy."

Instead, though, I was stunned into silence. "Want to see the world, maybe? Call of the sea?" she prompted." I looked at her confused for a moment before stumbling over my words, that, yeah, call of the sea, love traveling, right. I wasn't even in the Navy yet, and they already had my first lie. On that day, just like every time turned aside and smiled at an off-handed gay joke, and every time I mentioned Sharon to my ROTC peers, and every time I dropped my last boyfriend's hand as we exited our dorm together, DADT had me lying and lying and lying. I tried to stay sane through other outlets: I gave a few anonymous interviews, I had a photo (courtesy Jeff Sheng) run everywhere from Newsweek to NPR along with their coverage of repeal, and I sank to dangerously dependent levels in an increasingly painful relationship that could have never have a public face. As of today, though, I don't need special outlets or mediums to be myself and stay afloat. So, while I can't officially give opinions on any military policy, I can say that today's repeal means I can finally stop lying and start giving real answers to the Question. More importantly, though, LGB servicemen currently on active duty can finally have some reprieve from Kennedy's cruel burden of national duty: for the first time in a very, very long time, they aren't being asked what more they can give to their country before it finally does something for them.

24 comments:

  1. This was amazing. Thank you so much for having the courage to post this.

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  2. Michael! This is awesome to see you write this on the day DADT is repealed. Thank you so much! It's great!
    -Megan

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  3. That's a very strong, remarkably specific statement that holds a lot of promise for us, I think. Now that the day has come, I'm personally a bit terrified, having more or less gone back in the closet for the last 21 weeks while I processed into and began language training for the Army.

    Who knows if I'll be ballsy enough even to put it back up on facebook, even if that's classless or shows a lack of courage. Perhaps I'll keep a private "asks" and "tells" register on which I mark the numbers. I hate that I think about it in numbers again as I did two years ago.

    But there is meaning in your reason, (for now) unlike mine, and I wish you the best in sticking to it (, Sir). Hopefully the years will see me again grow in courage and character.

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  4. I would like to second the statement "We've been waiting for this moment since your first year, Pruitt!" Because, like, yeah. I have.

    The event Vivi talked about here continues to be pretty salient for me. DADT was the first form of de jure discrimination that directly affected someone (you) that I knew. DOMA won't reach a personal level until I'm ready for that sort of thing and employment discrimination isn't really on my radar. But this (your story) definitely played a role in my development as an advocate.

    Anyhow. Great work. Hope you get to snog in front of the Chapel tonight like you wanted to :)

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  5. This was incredibly well written. Thanks for sharing.

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  6. beautifully written. and thank you to you and all the other members of our armed forces; whether they be of the LGBT community or straight. this is a good day.

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  7. This country was founded on the idea that each person has a right to freedom. I'm glad that on this day, discriminatory legislation has been rectified so that more of our Americans can actively exercise their inherent rights.

    Massive respect to you Pruitt - sorry I never got to meet you!

    Love, Rainbows, and many Jacked Muscles

    Devotia

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  8. What a beautiful reason to join the military. I'm so glad you can finally share it. I know you'll do us all proud :)

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  9. Love this. Thank you so much for sharing. I don't know you too well, but I am glad that you are finally free to express yourself anyway you choose. Thanks again for sharing your story.

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  10. Great story! I'm happy that I don't have to tell people at work that my "boyfriend's" name is "Alex" instead of Alexis.

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  11. Your reason for joining the military is selfish. From your post and your article it appears that you are in the military merely to be one of the first openly bisexual men in the military. One of the biggest gripes people have with the LGBT community is their flamboyancy and need to garner attention. Your story is just an extension of this mantra. Even in the posts I'm reading above I see sign-off's like "love, rainbows, and jacked muscles." As a heterosexual female, I never make comments such as these. I refrain from making sexual comments like that, which is something I have felt the LGBT community does not do. I would like to coexist with the LGBT community without having demonstrations go on in the streets with naked men and trans-sexuals running around in high heels. Its inappropriate! But Michael, congratulations on joining the Navy. I have always had respect for the men and women in uniform because it is something I can't physically do. But I'm afraid I have lost a decent amount of respect for your mission and motives. Maybe if I met you, I would get a different vibe. But as of now it appears you are starved of attention. I really wish you had made a better effort to deflect attention from yourself. But no, it even looks like you felt the need to villainize the military for your 2 oppressed years of being in ROTC. I will hold the LGBT men and women in the military who are still going about their day to day business without an announcement to the world in a higher regard than you.

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  12. @5:48: Do you think that straight servicemembers never "come out" as straight in conversation [all the time]?

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  13. Also: How does it make you feel when you see people you've identified as men in high heels? Do you want to cry? Or do you just want to scream out to the heavens "THAT IS NOT SOCIALLY ACCEPTABLE FOOTWEAR! THEY'RE WEARING THE WRONG SHOESSSS. THINK OF THE CHILDREN, LORD!"

    If so, why aren't you thinking "running in high heels is kind of difficult! I am impressed! How do you identify? I don't want to use offensive or presumptuous labels. Jacob is a wonderful name."

    Or maybe, "haha, I mean, touche. I showed up at the site of Pride on the one day that this happens. It doesn't look like anyone's getting hurt here, and really in 2011 when the humans are literally destroying their own planet without second thought and killing each other and starving and dying of cancer and other incurable, devastating diseases and even on the more moral scale that I'm operating on in judging the appropriateness of this pride parade, oppressing entire genders and races and religions, I'm going to give this 'demonstration in the streets' the OKAY. Perhaps I will understand that the world does not revolve around me, and I will simply take a different route today. Agree to disagree, 'this demonstration in the streets!' I am, after all, a heterosexual person, so I have no idea where you're coming from and who am I to judge. Stay safe!"

    Also also: Probably even less patriotic of you to selectively respect servicemembers than Pruitt's reasons for joining, right? (I am right.) Because they are all fighting for you while you're at your computer?

    Also also also, you need to take a couple classes at Sexual Comment School and learn what a sexual comment is. Then take care of your team first with those before you come to Us.

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  14. you have graduated from duke. #moveon

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  15. To anonymous 5:48: If you object to the way these people in this community present, identify, make choices, or tell their stories, may I respectfully suggest that you refrain from reading our blog?

    To anonymous 2:21: Chris's status as an alumnus of Duke has no bearing on the legitimacy of his opinions. It is Homecoming Weekend - alumni are welcome to come back and reconnect with Duke.

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  16. @chirs: i dont think you should be referring to straight people as a "team". it further distances queer-identified (or non-identified) persons from straight persons. this kind of language is exactly what "we" dont need right now

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  17. @12:38: Sure. Obviously I know we are all in this together and where would we be without allies - you are correct! Also 5:38 is not representative of straight people, because duh. I was just sort of using the sentiment of her "straight people don't do this" argument. Formatting-wise it looks like I purposely made it yellow so it was like "HATERS TO THE LEFT." But it's just a different color because each word is a link :)

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  18. @chris: it wasn't necessarily an issue because of the color of the font, but more so because of your explicit, dividing words.

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  19. This is getting out of control. #censorshipplease

    -Denver

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  20. it's like hrc has performed a frontal lobotomy which prevents you guys from thinking critically. common ground probably performs you as well.

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  21. it's like hrc has performed a frontal lobotomy which prevents you guys from thinking critically. common ground probably performs you as well.

    please do not censor this. it is not personally attacking anyone.

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  22. Hi all, Risa here.

    I want to let everyone know that while none of the above comments explicitly violate the blog's terms and conditions, I don't feel as though they are all super productive. Comments should be directed to the original post, as much as possible. With this in mind, I am closing the comment section on this post. Only comments directly related to Pruitt's post will be published from here on out.

    Thanks for understanding and keeping our blog a place for support, celebration and community.

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