Don’t Ask Me Not To Tell: A Soldier’s Story
By Michael L. Counter, Jr. – Dallas South News Intern
I, Michael L. Counter, Jr. do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me according to the regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, so help me God.
I took the oath of enlistment in the winter of 2006. I stood with my right hand held high, sincere, and with as much conviction as one could muster for having endured seven weeks of Basic Military Training. Men with whom I had trained stood beside me.
We shot M-16s together.
We shined boots & clipped strings from uniforms together.
We did push-ups until our arms ached together.
We cried together. We pledged to end injustice together.
Our lives were forever linked as soldiers of the United States Armed Forces. We pledged to maintain the integrity of our mission, our society, and one another. Integrity first. We truly were the “Band of Brothers” that is often talked about. I learned to trust the man with whom I bunked.
He knew about my dad’s hugs & mom’s tuna casserole. I knew that the Air Force was his only option after high school because his mom needed help to take care of his two younger brothers.
He knew about my baby sister’s headstrong attitude, and I knew he loved Van Halen and Tupac.
I knew he had a girlfriend whom he would marry after Basic Training, but he did not know that I was involved in a long-term relationship with Marcus, my boyfriend from college. He did not know that Marcus & I had known each other for two years before dating. He did not know that I was gay.
He never asked. And I never told. Don’t ask, don’t tell…right?
To take an oath of integrity knowing that my total integrity was not encouraged weighed heavy on my shoulders, but I learned to cope. I compromised and internalized the code: “service before self.”
The mission is the most important item on every day’s agenda. I told myself that I did not have to bring my personal life to work, even while my peers spoke about their one-night stands & girlfriends back home.
I volunteered to be the designated driver because the opportunity to get chopped and screwed iwasn’t necessarily afforded to me & those like me. No one wanted to hear about which base I got to. They never asked. I never told.
I met other men like me in uniform. Some older, some younger. Many officers -much more highly ranked than I- were nice enough to instruct me on how ‘we’ were to operate most efficiently.
There were men & women like me who were married and agreed on the parameters of their arrangement. They would attend formal functions together even though they lived separate lives. They said men like me were luckier than the straight soldiers who could speak of their girlfriends and boyfriends and bedroom happenings in the office.
Men like me “had standards” they said, and we understood how inappropriate this office banter truly was. I watched men like me teaching each other how to get rid of their ‘swish’ so that they would be more uniformed. There were places off-base where men like me could meet and be safe.
While none of this was easy, one of the truly difficult parts was ignoring my peers & superiors calling the enemy ‘sand faggots’, which still upsets me because it is blatantly homophobic,and also because it is too close to ‘sand niggers’. Still… they never asked and I never told.
I read articles and saw posters hoping to improve recruiting. I saw recruiters visit schools promising to assist fatties to fitness. The Armed Forces offered to help a man who could not readily perform the tasks needed for our mission. You know, all of those tasks that we do before 9am…more than what most people do all day. But a man like me, with less than 8% body fat and a college degree could not be an asset to the military because of how he loved .
I listened to briefings that told me to report foul language and poor messages that were not acceptable to the Armed Forces standard of living. But men like me heard the same things over and over:
Only faggots ratted out their bros.
Only faggots were too sensitive to words.
Terrorists were faggots and we had to kill those faggots.
We had to protect our country and our families from those faggots. But what of those of us who knew that ‘faggot’ was an evil pejorative meant to instill fear and humiliate a group of people? They didn’t ask. We never told.
As a veteran of the United States Air Force on the heels of Veteran’s Day 2009, I pray for the day when men & women like me are recognized as human beings as we go marching off to fight for a country that wishes to pry its way into our bedrooms or liken us to a terrorists. We should not have to fight a war overseas in order to win our country’s approval stateside. Repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is long overdue.
President Obama and the United States Armed Forces see that Uncle Sam isn’t bringing home the bacon. Recruitment is down, and the show must go on. Numbers don’t lie and Osama ain’t gonna turn himself in. America now needs men & women like me -though over 13, 000 gay men (and counting) have been dishonorably discharged because apparently with all of those penises on the battlegrounds, we can’t think straight. FYI, the War on Terrorism is not in my pants or in my bedroom.
It’s abhorrent that America doesn’t realize the need for men & women like me. Our loved ones, too, were in the towers on 9/11. We fight to protect our partners, wives, husbands, and children. We take an oath knowing that we may return home in body bags. But I guess a body bag is a privilege we are not yet afforded because body bags contain people; and our country does not fully acknowledge that we are indeed people. And although no one wants to ask, I am telling you America men & women like me will still lay down our lives to protect our country, even though we are not yet acknowledged by it.
Some may think that men and women like me want to end the war with hugs and kisses, or celebrate with Uncle Sam sporting his best drag queen fashion while performing Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.” Some say poverty, the recession, and endless unemployment opportunities are surely God’s punishment for homosexuality. It has nothing to do with the greed and hate spread in his name. Don’t worry, America. Your secret is safe with too many. If he doesn’t ask, I won’t tell.
Michael L. Counter, Jr. is a Dallas South News intern. He attends Midwestern State University and is completing his Bachelor’s degree in English with a focus in media studies.
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Edited by Shawn Williams