Much to the surprise of his friends and peers, John Doe joined the Army National Guard in May 2009. For years, he had been involved in Boise's gay community, often strutting on stage performing as a drag queen. This month marks his first year in uniform, with seven years to go. In order to protect his military career under Don't Ask, Don't Tell, he requested to remain unidentified.
Back in Idaho awaiting possible deployment, he spoke to BW about life in the army as a gay man at a time when DADT policy is grabbing headlines. Last month was a potential turning point for the policy, which bans gays and lesbians from serving openly in the armed services. On May 27, the U.S. House of Representatives approved an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, producing a legislative repeal of the controversial DADT law.
You've always been a loud gay advocate. Were you concerned about that going into the military?
A little. They have a very strict policy that we can't be associated with extremist groups and stuff like that and so I worried about my activism in the community ... and so I have taken a step back. Like at basic [training], I was still me but a quiet, more modest version because I didn't want to make it blatantly obvious. When I was in Georgia, I started to come out a little bit more ... because it was more accepted there. When I went to basic training, there weren't any females and females tend to be more accepting of gays.
So they all know you're gay?
For the most part. When I was in Georgia a lot of people knew. Most of the people who slept in my bay knew and all my friends know.
And that wasn't an issue?
No, it wasn't an issue at all. It was quite exciting. I really enjoyed the experience. It was interesting because I never really got to hang out with heterosexual people.
Did people ask you or how did it come up?
No, no one asked. I would hang out with people and they would get the impression. I would have conversations with my female friends about boys and so they kind of just got that image. Soldiers who were in training just like I was would ask and that wasn't a big deal because I trusted them, and I would be up front and honest with them.
Do you think it may be generational? That our generation is more accepting about this?
I do think so. It's generational and also where they come from. It really depends on the person and their upbringing. Like there's a girl from Texas who was totally fine with it. She was country as crap, but she was one of my best friends. The entire time I was [in Georgia for training] I didn't meet one female who harbored bad feelings toward me for being gay.
How about some of the male soldiers then?
Yeah, there was a number of them. Nothing ever came of it; they would just talk crap to me. They wouldn't even say it to me, they would just say it while I was in earshot and mostly it was them mimicking my voice. Nothing really ever got out.
So it's not as bad as I may have pictured it?
No, for me it wasn't that bad. Maybe we were just really lucky but in my company, we had tons of lesbians. There were two girls who were openly dating and everyone knew it and everyone liked them.
Do you think DADT should be repealed?
I don't know, honestly. Even though DADT is in effect right now, I still feel like I'm serving openly. Here at home, my sergeants know, my brother--who is in the same unit--knows and so do our mutual friends. I do not feel like I'm closeted by being in the unit. I feel open.
... If they get rid of [DADT], I don't know what exactly that even entails. Does that mean we're all going to have to start coming out? Or, is it going to be OK if you have not come out? And I know that there's been talk if DADT does go away, then a lot of people are going to petition that homosexuals have their own housing because they don't want to be mixed with us. I just think that opens up a whole new can of worms because if you give gays their own housing, then it's just going to be easier to target them for hate crimes.
Personally, I don't think [being gay] is affecting me or my service to the country. The only people who really care about it are the head honchos of the army who have been in for 20 years or more so I think it really is a generational thing.
How have your friends and family reacted to you joining?
My brother actually encouraged me to join ... When I left I actually didn't even tell very many people why I was leaving or what I was planning on doing because I wasn't sure of their reaction. But they've all been very supportive.