So this kind of stuff happens. And my advice to ILYA is: In casual conversation with Basra, make it known that you don’t see why homosexuality in the Army is such a big deal. Be cool and don’t press the point; just state your beliefs. Basra’s response should give you clues on how to proceed. It might even be the opening he’s been looking for to come out to you. If he at least agrees with you, you can probably come out to him without risking an ass-kicking. And if he turns out to be a rabid homophobe, you can euthanize your dreams and move on. —Been There, Done Soldiers
I’m 23, straight, and signed on for the Navy about four months ago. I assume you had much of the same paperwork that I did. If I recall correctly, I signed like five different papers saying that if I participated in homosexual activity I can be thrown out on my ass. Now I may not agree with the rules, but they are there. I guess you have a judgment call to make. Even if you’re willing to deal with the possibility of getting the crap beat out of you, you’ve got to ask yourself if you’re willing to give up your job for your crush too. —No Clever Acronym
I am a straight former soldier who would like to remind him just how ignorant, homophobic and violent soldiers actually are by relating my own story.
Fifteen years ago, while stationed in Germany with the Army infantry, I made an anti-gay joke to a fellow soldier. It involved me using an effeminate voice and concluded with the line: "You wanna get your dick sucked?" Well, one of the ignorant hotheads in our company was approaching at that moment and heard only the last six words without any context. He must have concluded that I was gay and was hitting on our colleague. Several days later this guy and a couple of his buddies jumped me outside a bar, calling me a faggot. They beat me down and slammed my head into a parked car. I spent a day and a half in a German hospital with a broken wrist, concussion, black eye that was swollen shut, and a whole new sympathy for the hatred directed at the gay community. My attackers received the proverbial slap on the wrist from our commanders.
This episode taught me three important lessons:
1) Don’t tell anti-gay jokes. They’re not funny and can have totally unforeseen consequences.
2) Homophobia is everybody’s problem, because if someone is stupid and ignorant enough to be a homophobe, his gaydar probably sucks.
3) Never let your soldier colleagues even think that you’re gay! Your crush may not beat you down, but there’s an excellent chance that someone else will. —Straight Gay-Bashing Victim
I’ve done combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, and I’m working on my fourth year of service in the Army. My advice to ILYA? Drop it. Finish your tour. It can’t be more than four years total, and if you’re really gay, you’d be happier leaving the service in the end. If you think Basra is The One, then contact him once you’ve left active duty and there’s no professional or personal danger. —Common Military Sense
Aside from the obvious advice against dating someone in the same unit, I would advise ILYA to just leave Basra alone, keep his feelings to himself, and not re-enlist if he wants to be out of the closet. Until there is a more enlightened set of regulations regarding homosexuality (and I wish there were), homosexuals are going to have to remain "closeted" if they want to continue serving. Sorry, that’s just the way it is in the service.
ILYA, you knew exactly what you were getting yourself into when you promised to defend our nation and obey lawful orders and regulations. The "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy is widely known, yet you chose to join up. I don’t want to sound mean or insensitive, but suck it up and drive on to your ETS date. Once you get out of the Army, feel free to find a nice guy. —No Witty Nickname
I am gay and have successfully served for three years, primarily because I don’t date guys in the Army, and because I keep my personal life far removed from my professional life. It’s lonely, it’s not fair, but it’s one of the many sacrifices that come with service. If he’s so reckless that he is willing to hit on his roommate, of all people, he’s almost certainly going to be discovered sooner or later.
In any workplace, relationships lead to drama, but in the Army it’s even harder to keep an affair a secret. Whether his roommate does something dumb and accidentally exposes both of them, whether another gay service member gets jealous and exposes them, or someone just finds it fishy that neither ever dates but they spend an awful lot of time in their room together with the door locked, word is going to get around.
I’m sure you’ll get a handful of letters from soldiers who tell you that they’re out and no one in their unit cares, but these are like the 90-year-old smokers who tell you that tobacco is harmless. The bottom line is that he’s taking a risk. There is no surefire way to protect himself physically or professionally, and if he isn’t prepared to face the likelihood of everyone finding out, he shouldn’t try to dip his pen in the company ink. —This Man’s Army
P.S. If he thinks that a likely reaction from this roommate would be to beat the shit out of him, this roommate might not be quality boyfriend material even if he is gay. But that’s another issue.
Fraternization between two service members working in the same unit is frowned upon because it’s unwise. This doesn’t discriminate between homosexuals and heterosexuals — just look back on all your general military training and you know all the answers: It threatens unit cohesion. What happens when things go sour between two lovers in the same work center or platoon? Most likely, you both carry around some resentment and are no longer able to work or train together effectively. Now take that into a survival situation — though I doubt most people would be cretinous enough to disregard your life, you have just spent an entire work-up cycle not firing on all cylinders. Yes, it sounds a little schmaltzy, but think about your unit and its mission. You are obligated to the unit’s best interests for the safety of you and those you work with.
Yes, I know that, in practice, straights in the same unit sometimes have romantic or sexual relationships (so do gays — or so I’ve heard), but it does go against the order and usually ends up more trouble than it’s worth. —Call Me Ahab
Regarding the whole "dropping hints to the best friend he’s attracted to who also happens to be a male" thing, I’ve got this to say: No, and again, no. There’s a time and place to out oneself, and the desert during a friggin’ war is so not either of them. I’m speaking as a pretty balanced bisexual male in the military, who’s danced along the edge of ambiguity without more than speculation against me for six years. It’s challenging enough to get your needs met on a noncombat base if you’re bi or gay. Trying to do so in a war zone is honestly tantamount to suicide. ILYA needs to keep his cock in his pants, and his sexuality in his mind, until he’s at a place where the phrase "taking a shot in the face" is a pleasant euphemism and not a literal threat. At least if he masturbates, he can claim to have been thinking of a girl. —SRA
I was in the Marine Corps for five years — well, almost five. I got kicked out after giving head to a guy who freaked out a good bit into it. Still, my advice to ILYA is to get drunk with this guy and, if it happens, it happens. I had some really, really good experiences with guys in the Marines and they were all good friends. That one guy I blew, though, was not a friend and I got careless. Let the beer do the talking. Just you two together, some beer and good music never hurts. Remember, if you go slow, a friend isn’t gonna freak. Yeah, you might get kicked out but, dude, my discharge never once affected my life — and you won’t have an arm blown off.
Good luck from an ex-Marine who served with a "few" good men. —Eric
I am a soldier currently deployed to Iraq. I’m straight and neither homophobic nor homophilic. My advice to ILYA is to knock it off. Stop sending signals, subtle or otherwise, and stop looking for signals that may not be there.
I don’t think he or his battle buddy would be in any danger, but if the rumor gets around that one or both of them is gay, it could ruin their chances at an army career, if that is what either of them wants. And it could damage unit cohesion. If Basra is not gay, ILYA’s come-ons could damage their friendship and the working relationship they have. A war zone is no place for that kind of pressure.
Deployments are a year long, and I know that seems like an eternity when you’re young, but it will end. Once off deployment and at their home station, ILYA can then ask Basra if he is interested.
Love the column by the way. —D.S.
I spent five repressed years in the Army and only once did I breach the boundaries of good taste and common sense. As a result, I was discovered by my immediate supervisor (a beautiful Mexican man I had also been lusting after). I convinced him that what he saw was innocent. He believed me, it blew over.
ILYA might do well to engage in an indirect "what if" scenario-style conversation with his object of affection. At some point when they have some modicum of privacy he should aver that he does not have any problem whatsoever with gays. He will know by his friend’s response whether to proceed with any course that might lead them to the "under what circumstance would you suck a cock?" conversation. The best-case scenario is that Basra will suggest a weekend pass in a neutral zone. The worst-case scenario is that he will ask him, "What’s up with you and all this fag shit?" —Field Artilleryman
I’m not in the U.S. Army, but I was in the Canadian navy for more than 10 years — and if that doesn’t establish my credentials on the left side of the military debate, I don’t know what will. Hell, we were accepting gays long before Clinton betrayed both left and right with the "don’t ask, don’t tell" debacle.
But when I read the letter by In Love Yet Afraid, my gut feeling was an immediate no, no, no. Don’t even think about it. Stay away. Take 10 deep breaths and a cold shower. It’s not just the threat of physical violence or even the complete unpredictability of Basra’s reaction (which could be negative even if he is gay, but wants to stay closeted). First of all, even if Basra were to enthusiastically welcome ILYA’s initiative, how long would it be before the romance collapsed and life became hell for them both? It’s like any office romance — no, worse, because they live and work so closely. People who work that closely shouldn’t be dating, especially in a homophobic environment like the U.S. Army.
Even if that didn’t happen, and everything went perfectly, how long would it be before someone else in their unit figured it out? Young men aren’t long on restraint. Then they’d both be in deep, deep shit. Official and unofficial.
But while those are compelling, real-world reasons, they’re not the main reason ILYA should rein himself in. The main reason can be summed up a single word: professionalism. Being in the military isn’t about being a boy with toys. It’s a profession, and those who choose it should act the part. That goes for the dicks who persecute gays in the military too, by the way. —Among Them, But Never of Them
As a former Army soldier (albeit female) and war vet — romance under any "field" conditions, regardless of the leanings, is a bad idea. Your writer, ILYA, needs to first and foremost focus on his mission at hand. His distraction, as you aptly pointed out, could mean some injury or, worse yet, death. I’m not suggesting that he cannot pursue a deeper friendship with Basra. In fact, that’s probably his best course of action. Once he’s finished overseas and back in garrison, he’s in a better place to perhaps share his secret with Basra. After a longer time of getting to know Basra, he’ll also have a better idea if he can trust him enough to do just that. He should also trust his gut instinct of not trusting Baghdad. My time in the service most definitely taught me to trust my gut instinct.
So take your time, ILYA. Learn more about Basra. It sounds cliché, but if the two of you are meant to be together, you will be. But it will be when you’re finished in the war zone.
Be safe. Come home safe too. —Sympathetic Vet In Detroit