Gay Marines, Then and Now

Gay Marines, Then and Now

Being gay in the Corps used to be unthinkable. Today?

Image for postMarine recruits of Company A, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, CA, Wikimedia Commons

My friend is a hard-charging Marine.

I met him online, and I work with him on HIV education and outreach projects. He?s a gung ho, professional staff sergeant, and if I were forced to admit it to anyone, he?s pretty damn hot.

He?s openly gay. He?s also HIV positive, and the Corps is fine with both of those things.

Say what?

Did you know that lots of members of the military are HIV positive? Some people are confused about that because they don?t understand the reality of U=U.

Undetectable = Untransmittable ?

The U=U message was introduced in 2016 by the Prevention Access Campaign to communicate new medical reality. Essentially, it means that people who are HIV positive and in treatment, with undetectable levels of virus in their blood, can?t infect others.

Image for postCheck out Prevention Access Campaign

People like my Marine buddy don?t have to worry about passing the virus on, about suffering HIV-related illnesses, or about having a reduced lifespan. Some researchers even suggest that HIV-positive people in treatment enjoy slightly longer lifespans than the general public because of more frequent medical testing and contact with medical professionals.

My Marine friend is working hard to decrease HIV stigma ?

Ending the HIV epidemic, strangling the circulation of the virus, means that at-risk populations must be frequently tested and immediately treated. That can?t work while people are afraid of being tested because they?re afraid of the consequences.

Image for postLearn about PrEP at POZ

So my friend does his thing. He works hard to educate people, to get them tested if they need to be tested, and to get them information about safer sex and PrEP, a daily pill you can take to stay HIV negative if you doubt your ability to be 100% about safer sex.

My friend goes to work every day. He goes out on weekends. He dates. He lives his life. Most of his fellow Marines know he dates guys. What a difference a generation makes!

I was a gay Marine a generation ago ?

Before Don?t Ask Don?t Tell, but not before HIV. It?s funny, gay Marines are porn tropes. Boot Camp seems to be every other gay man?s ideal of erotic paradise. The truth is that in my day being even a little bit ?out? would have meant instant discharge if not extreme physical danger.

People ask me about it, though. Didn?t I enjoy being surrounded by all those virile young men? Wasn?t it hot as hell?

My gay Marine friend and I agree that people who ask questions like that don?t understand military life very well.

I certainly didn?t find myself living in any kind of erotic paradise. I had work to do. In Basic Training, I had to struggle to make it, like everybody did. Boot camp was shockingly harder than anything I?d ever done in my life. I didn?t have either the time or the energy for anything but that.

However ?

Isn?t there always a however? There?s one guy I?ll never forget. His name was Boyd. We were both small and scared; everyone else we were training with seemed older, taller, stronger, tougher.

Straighter.

Boyd had a cute little nose, ice-blue eyes, and a Mona Lisa smile. His blond head-stubble was almost see-through.

Have you been to boot camp? Seen the movies? It?s supposed to be stressful. It?s supposed to push you to your limits. It does. It?s supposed to make you bond with your buddies and lean on them for support. It did that with Boyd and me.

We were there for each other. We sat at the front of the squad bay at night, polishing leather and brass, writing letters home, talking quietly. We shared our fears and hopes. We both did well, surprising ourselves with how much better we could be than we thought.

I don?t know for sure if Boyd was gay. I had a crush on him, though, and sometimes I caught those blue eyes of his dart in my direction and then jerk away if he saw me notice. It didn?t really matter because he was important to me just the way he was.

Then boot camp was over. We went our separate ways. Me to school, Boyd to active duty in the Fleet. We kept in touch, but just a bit. I never saw him again.

He went to Beirut soon after, and he died in the infamous explosion at the Marine barracks. That was my first personal experience with death; it shook me. I had dreams about his mangled body for a long time.

I don?t have any memories of my service in the Marines that involve anything more explicit than my unrequited, unacknowledged crush on a fellow recruit. I know plenty of people who would find that boring.

I don?t, though. If I close my eyes, I can see Boyd smiling at me. And that?s a pretty nice thing to see.

My gay Staff Sergeant friend has it easier than Boyd and I did. He can be open. He can be ?out.? He can even be, to a certain extent, an activist. He can fight against HIV stigma and work to create positive change.

Why do I say ?to an extent??

Hmmmm??

Think about it. I haven?t linked to any of my friend?s HIV education and advocacy, and I haven?t told you his name. I haven?t linked to his Twitter or Facebook profiles.

Why? Despite all the progress we?ve made, he knows he has to keep his head down. He publicizes his HIV education foundation, but he doesn?t trumpet his own name, and he?s careful to keep a low profile at work.

We?ve come a long, long way, but we have miles to go before we sleep.

What will things be like in another generation? Will they keep getting better or will the resurgence in violence and anti-LGBTQ sentiment associated with the ?Trump Years? mark an inflection point in tolerance?

I wish I knew.

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