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"It gets better"

YOU Can Make
It Get Better

by Denny Meyer

Gay youth are committing suicide.  Teenage savages are brutally attacking gay people.  Fifty years ago, when I was a child, you didn't see such headlines.  That was because the media kept silent about such things.  It was forbidden to mention "forbidden love," back then.  It's different today.  Today it's perfectly ok for adults to stand up in public, on TV, and in church pulpits and preach hate against homosexuals.  The same fine folks like to walk around in public with loaded guns and sneak around in the woods killing Bambi with assault rifles.  Many of these folks would not qualify for military service, even if they dared to put themselves in harm's way where someone might actually shoot back at them.  Being a sociopath is a disqualifier.  To serve in our American armed forces, you have to actually be willing to serve alongside patriotic volunteers of differing races and religions, be able to respect women as fellow service members, and be ready at any time to run through a hail of bullets, explosions, and flames, to pull a fellow service member to safety without pausing to consider his skin color or sexual orientation.  Courage requires sanity.

Today, young people, who are just discovering that they are gay, are faced with the satanic piety of those bigots who seem to be so inadequate, or feel so self righteous, that they have to be obsessed with what others do to pump themselves up.  And so, some young people despair, taking the hate to heart, and cannot imagine living in such a hostile world.  In response, Dan Savage and others have launched the "It Gets Better Project" to tell their stories of overcoming and success.  In that spirit, this is my story, for young people to read, of making my own world to live in.

When I was very young I signed up to join the military and my friends told me, "YOU CAN'T DO THAT; YOU'RE A LITTLE FAGGOT!"  I told them, "Watch me!"  I served for ten years in two services and left honorably as a Sergeant First Class.  That's the short version; it wasn't all that simple, to be honest.

I'm a gay sixty four year old multiply disabled veteran.  I don't sit around staring out the window.  I've been an activist for fifty years and still am.  I was supposed to die of cancer six years ago.  I'm still alive and making as much trouble as possible.  My problem is that I just don't know how to quit.  I give speeches on gay rights, write cranky web rants like this one; and I represent two national queer veterans groups to the media, giving news interviews on-line, TV, radio, and to newspapers.  I just did a TV news show that was watched by 5 million people throughout South America.  I've been all over the world, sailed the seas, and most importantly I loved and lived with the same man for nearly twenty years.  Its not all that unusual; there are lots of gay folk who have led great lives full of adventure, love, and self fulfillment.

I was a very lonely, socially inept, goofy, nerdy kid born in the dark mid 1940s just after World War II ended.  My parents were refugees to America.  After escaping machine gun death several times, my mother arrived as an illegal immigrant and first cleaned toilets to earn a living here.  I didn't even learn English until I was seven years old.  In junior high school, I became famous for making the morning announcements over the PA system in a funny foreign accent; all I did was go back to the way I spoke when I first learned English.  I didn't get invited to parties; I was too weird or foreign.   The "hoods" always tried to beat me up; but I could run really fast, and if they caught me I'd start talking really fast asking them to think about what they were doing and they'd get a headache and just walk away.  Later in life, I became an inter-agency liaison, a negotiator; hmm, I wonder where I learned to do that.

When I was twelve, my mother did this really horrible thing and made me go to summer school to attend a typing class.  Later in life, I had a ten year career in military administration.  (Actually, I always hated typing).  When I was thirteen, I rode my bike to the next town to join a Civil Rights march.  Angry bigots were outraged to see a four foot tall white kid marching with blacks; they threw rocks at me and hit me in the head; I came home covered in blood.  It really pissed me off, and I've been an activist ever since.

When I was fifteen, I finally figured out why I was always looking at boys instead of girls.  I told my best friend.  He got really deeply disgusted, rejected me, and told everyone in our high school that I was a fag.  Well, I was in the Drama Club (of course) and the most beautiful girl in the school, who was in the club, became my new best friend; and she went to the Senior Prom with me, the weird foreign nerd, and that blew everyone's mind.  I really wanted to go to the prom with her brother, but she was a wonderful friend that I've never forgotten.  I was able to tell her everything; without her I probably wouldn't have had the courage to go on in those days.

A few years later, the friend who rejected me, because I was queer, ran away to Canada to avoid being drafted into the Army and being sent to Vietnam.  I volunteered to serve my country.  I don't know, you tell me who has balls.

Navy boot camp was brutal.  They cut off all your hair and shout at you and call everyone a fag.  Well, I figured that if all the straight boys could take that, so could I.  From there, I was assigned to an aircraft carrier, a grey steel warship, loaded with bombs and missiles, with 5000 men and jet fighters taking off and landing day and night.  Serving on a warship is the real thing!  You know you are doing something important for your country.

The best adventure I ever had in my life (other than falling in love with my man) was serving in a Navy helicopter squadron headquarters; I got to fly around in huge Hueys (the Vietnam era Bell UH-1) wearing my own greasy flight suit!  The pilot officers I worked for were helicopter cowboys who lived to fly; all I had to do was spare them the paperwork by doing my job.  On weekends, I flew up to New York from Norfolk, VA to meet my boyfriends.  The officers didn't ask what I was doing, and I didn't tell.  It was a shame, because we were like a family.  I wish I could have just told them about my latest boyfriend.

Then, after four years, I left the Navy to live freely and openly.  I got a job with the Army reserve. So, then I was in an Army uniform. (That doesn't make any sense to me either, when I think back on it). The Army just wasn't any fun at all the way the Navy had been, and it was full of bigots with foul mouths.  The most exciting thing I did in the Army was to learn how to drive a truck.  Well, really, I was just told to drive a trailer truck to deliver it down the coast to a base about 180 miles to the south.  "I don't know how to drive a trailer truck," I told the sergeant.  "The trailer will follow you, don't worry; just don't try to back up," he said.  Don't even ask me about shifting all the gears; my feet could hardly reach the clutch pedal.  Well, I got the truck there; don't even ask what it was carrying.

Then, I fell in love; actually we fell in love with each other.  He smelled good, he tasted good, once we were wrapped around each other at night we felt safe; we wanted to be with each other and share life; we did for nearly twenty years.  He died a long time ago.  I still miss him.  But, I would not give up those twenty years for anything.  I did a lot of things, had a lot of adventures, but being in love is the best part of life.

I could go on with more of the rest of my life, but you get the idea.  The point is, you can be whatever you want to be.  I didn't let anyone tell me that I couldn't do something because I'm queer.  I just went ahead and did whatever I wanted to do.  Sometimes I made mistakes, but even those were adventures to remember (for example, don't jump out of hovering military helicopters; its great fun, but it's really bad on your back later in life).  Don't let some bigot asshole stop you with his hate.  A bigot has nothing but his hate.  Years after you have had a wonderful life, he'll still just be an asshole.  Remember that. 

Remember my former friend who ran off to Canada?  Nearly fifty years after I last spoke with him, I googled and found him and telephoned him.  We had a nice chat; but believe it or not, he's still in Canada and he's still an asshole.

So, what can you do right now?  If you are old enough to vote, then vote.  Don't be discouraged by disappointment with our elected officials; you have to vote for those who will support our rights.  If you are not yet old enough to vote, talk to people and tell them to vote for your future.  Not voting only helps the bigots get elected.  How can you tell who to vote for?  The bigots are the ones who say we shouldn't have rights.  Remember, they are the assholes.  Vote for the other ones.  You can make it happen.  Just don't quit, or you'll miss all the adventure.

  2010 Gay Military Signal