I’m Michael, and I’d like to believe that 60 is the new 26 though my body tells me otherwise. Over the years two things have remained a constant for me: enjoying nature and Batman (don’t hate). In all my years as a Christian, at least four decades of that has involved doing my own thing. I have so many stories to tell; most of which, you won’t believe are true. I still have trouble believing them myself, but all have been part of God’s plan for me.
Prior to joining the Army in 1982, I had been kicked out of my church for my honest struggle with homosexuality. I joined the military because I figured it would make me more masculine — that I’d become attracted to women instead of men.
It actually worked . . . initially. During my eight weeks of basic training, and then another six weeks of schooling, I was too tired to think about sex with anyone, let alone other men.
My first duty station was in Germany: a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language and had no friends or church to attend. Sure, the Army had chapel, but let’s be honest: chapel watered down everything, including the Word, not to offend anyone.
Because of this, I found myself exploring my sexuality again. I did the women thing but kept going back to men, again and again.
After two years abroad, the military sent me to my second duty station in Washington state. I decided to put sex with men behind me and find another church. I attended one regularly, but this didn’t stop my feelings for men.
I started having chronic insomnia, so I’d drive around for hours until I got tired enough to sleep. One night around one in the morning, a woman from my new church got off work and saw me driving downtown.
“What are you doing down here this time of night?” she asked, and I answered her. She told me she’d see me that Wednesday at church.
I showed up that night, only to be stopped at the door by some of the members. “We don’t want your kind around our kids!” someone said, telling me not to come back.
Fast forward a couple years to 1986, and I was at my third duty station in Germany once again — the same situation as the first time around.
Sometimes you just have to be honest with yourself about who you are. After another year and a half there, I woke up one morning, walked down to my first sergeant’s office, and told him I was gay — that I didn’t want to be in the Army anymore.
“Okay,” he said, “it’ll take about two weeks to process the paperwork and you’ll be out.”
My colonel had to sign off on that paperwork; he refused. And I was arrested.
The Army rushed the investigation, and I was court-martialed. My lawyer told me the colonel had recommended to a panel of my “peers” that I get the maximum of twenty years because he didn’t want f**s in his unit. These “peers” felt far from accurate, though, as all seven members of this panel were high-ranking non-commissioned officers.
I signed a plea agreement for ten years with my official charges being sodomy and lying on a government document. Keep in mind this was many years before “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Back then, the last question on the form read, “Are you a homosexual, or have you ever taken part in a homosexual act?”
Of course, I’d checked no when first signing my paperwork to join the Army.
My hands and feet were shackled to my waist like I was some kind of murderer, and military police escorted me from the courtroom. They gave me two minutes to call my family. Because of the time difference from Germany to my parents in Florida, I woke my mom at 4:30 in the morning and told her I was going to prison for being gay.
After that phone call, I went into solitary confinement: a six-by-nine cell with a wooden slab and a three-inch mattress for a bed not even a foot off the floor, along with a toilet and a sink. Once the officer closed the gate and turned the key, I broke down in tears because I couldn’t believe this was actually happening.
I continued crying and wouldn’t eat or drink during meal times, getting myself placed on suicide watch. My clothes, shoes, and linens were taken away so I wouldn’t harm myself, leaving me completely naked. I had just a blanket and pillow to sleep, and officers checked me every fifteen minutes until morning — before taking the blanket and pillow, too.
After three straight days of being naked, cold, and crying without food or water, a chaplain came to talk to me. I remember his exact words to this day:
“You need to pull yourself together and stop all this crying, or you’re going to be in solitary the entire time you’re locked up.”
For someone who’s supposed to be supportive and inspirational, he definitely missed the mark. I did stop crying though, because I didn’t want to be in solitary for ten years.
After two more weeks in this Germany cell, the military flew me to Kansas (shackled for the entire nine-hour flight) to serve my remaining sentence in an American military prison. Once we landed, seven U.S. Marshalls armed with rifles surrounded the plane until other military officers arrived. They told me and the other prisoners to disembark and load the bus on the tarmac.
Remember where I thought I couldn’t believe this was happening? Well, I thought it again.
On that bus ride to prison, we were told none of the other prisoners would know why we were sent here. I was relieved.
But my relief was short-lived. Multiple other prisoners did know I was there for being gay and started asking me to do sexual things with them. I refused all of them. I even cussed out one of them, because I didn’t want to do anything that would only extend my stay in prison.
I truly hated being called “convict” every time an official told me to do something. Hearing my identity as “convict” rather than my actual name cut through me every time.
It was just another confirmation that I was locked up and not free.
To be continued . . .
Did you join the military or some other stereotypically “masculine” arena, like a sports team, in hopes of seeing your sexuality or masculinity “fixed” in some way? Have you ever come out to an individual or group only for things to go horribly wrong?