June 29, 2019: Tomorrow
I'm going to ride in the world's largest gay
pride parade, leading a contingent of proud
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender
veterans who served our country in Korea,
Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan; and lived through
our history of oppression, AIDS, activism, and
freedom to serve as who we are; Some of us, at
least. I'm riding in a car because I'm too
old to stand shirtless and shouting in the
streets with my fist in the air, anymore.
I did that, long ago, demanding rights.
After that, I injured my back jumping out of
helicopter gun-ships. There were those who
didn't approve of either this or that. I'm
proud of both.
Imagine being an ordinary American born citizen, who grew up in an ordinary American home, who received an ordinary American suburban education, graduated high school, and then stood on a hill breathing in the fresh scent of new moan hay and decided to serve your country. Sure, by the time you were 17 or 18, you always knew that was what you wanted to do. But, by that time, you also always knew you were gay. And you thought, "why the hell would I want to jump head first into the hell of hatred where everyone from the president on down wants me to eat shit and die?" You hesitated. But then, your fellow students, who took their freedom for granted, burned the American flag in protest against the Vietnam War, or later terrorists blew up the Pentagon and Twin Towers, or maybe much earlier the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Suddenly, you knew what you were going to do! Like everyone else who wasn't a coward, you went downtown and proudly volunteered to serve your country.
Throughout history, young people have proudly stepped forward to serve without having a clue what the hell they were getting into. They imagine crisp cool uniforms, marching in parades with martial music and huge crowds of citizens cheering them on. They never imagine the brutality of boot camp, nor the smell of cordite, blood and feces as they lay dying in filthy mud on a battlefield far from home. All that truth comes later when its too late. The rationalization, if you're gay, is that you think it doesn't matter who or what you are so long as you want to be a part of something bigger and more important. Its a good motivation with the best of patriotic intentions. The reality comes later, in boot camp, when the asshole standing next to you crudely jokes around about exactly how he would kill a queer if he ever found one, without his knowing that the guy he's talking about is standing right next to him. That is when your mouth goes dry in terror and you try to somehow keep from sweating and turning red, while you pretend to laugh crudely along with everyone else. And you think, "Maybe I should have joined the Peace Corps so I could be teaching poor primitive people how to build solar ovens somewhere." Too late.
The Pride comes much later, after you managed to survive, learned how to do something esoteric, got promoted, and come home on leave, puff chested and square jawed, stuffed into a crisp snappy uniform to the amazement of people you went to school with who always thought you were a sissy. HA! Now look! NO; actually the pride comes years later, after you served, with double pride, i.e. proud of having served, and proud of having done so because of who you are. Most people who never served don't get that, they can't, they've always been too comfortable to be able to imagine doing something greater than themselves.
For those who served during Vietnam, you learned to not mention that you're a veteran who served, because people would think you were a crazed killer. Nowadays people who never served have learned to respectfully say, "Thank you for serving!" If you served during Vietnam and hear that, you try to keep from pursing your lips in contempt of the complement that came 50 years too late, and just nod and quietly mutter, "Um, yeah sure, thank you."
So, Gay Pride is one thing. Being a proud gay veteran is something else completely. If you're an old gay person who has lived through the loneliness and hate, the death of everyone you knew from AIDS, the battle for civil rights, the grudging granting of rights, and the hatemongering of the current president, you have to wonder if the young people proudly marching in pride in parades even have a clue how their freedom was gained. If you're an old gay veteran, you know that you served so everyone could be free, and you lived through everything else so that something called Gay Pride could come to exist. You served so that in the future, now, others could serve openly in pride. You know you did something greater than yourself, for humanity perhaps. As for the thanks coming 50 years too late; 'um, yeah sure, thanks.'