A Hero

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I never went into the military. They courted me as I was getting done with high school. But then, it was the cold war, and I lived in a military town. They courted everyone.

I didn’t join because I figured I wouldn’t get in anyway due to my poor eyesight. I also had no self confidence and figured I only ever be a mediocre soldier, whatever that meant.

And of course, even though I had never revealed it or said it to anyone or had any kind of experience at all, and completely repressed it and hid it from the entire world, I knew I was gay. And being found out that you are gay in the military was one of the worst shames there was according to the rules of life at the time.

Still, so many things expressed by Capt. Stephen Hill are mirrored in my own life. Wanting to love women and have kids…

“”God, let me be normal””.

Can’t tell you how many time I whispered this in the night, or cried out in a deserted field those exact words! And I’m not even religious!!!

“”Sometimes, he thought about how easy it would be if he stuck his head out of the truck and an enemy bullet just erased him.””

Mine was driving along the freeways on the San Diego coast thinking “If I just swerved right now, I’d go right over the rails and right into the ocean, and that would be that”. I never would have done it. Survival instincts would have never allowed it. But the thoughts…. Oh, there were very much there. A lot at some points.

“”The bartender handed him a Diet Coke and touched the straw, which made him fear he might contract AIDS.””

I inadvertently started the long journey of accepting myself and my feelings for the same sex just when the term AIDS was just becoming used more to refer to the gay cancer rather than the diet pills of the same name. I was in high school at the time, and there was talk here and there that AIDS was a good thing, because it will wipe the fags from the face of the Earth. I don’t remember anyone person saying that, but the specter of AIDS, yet one more shame to be piled onto the shame of being gay, now also wandered about in the corridors of my lonely life. The stigma of being was by many automatically connect to the disease, so if you were gay, well, you automatically had AIDS, and needed to be quarantined like they used to do to lepers.

Then there was being on the diving team in high shcool. I didn’t even WANT to do that, but my sister, a year older, was on the swim tea as a freshman, and had told the diving coach about her little brother who could already do flips and things on the diving board when we were kids. So when I was a freshman the next year, I was already pretty much on the team.

Part of the reason why I didn’t want to do it, even though I did have some natural talent for it, was because I KNEW I would lose – talk about a self fulfilling prophecy – but also, being in a locker room with other naked guys was a fearful thing, not just because… Well… I don’t have to explain that I think. The bigger problem was that I didn’t WANT to feel the things I felt, the unnatural desires, and being in that environment made locking those desires away an impossible task. Every day was a horrible reminder that I would never be normal like everyone else. Every day was an inescapable immersion into a private pool of fear and shame.

And I didn’t even have a burning desire to compete. That wouldn’t sprout until later, once I realized I wasn’t ALWAYS destined to lose. And it’s a shame too, because I almost certainly would have been a better diver than I was, and I wasn’t bad at all. Oh well… Water under the bridge… Or board.

There is more to compare and contrast. And though some of the details of my life and struggles I experienced while coming to terms and peace with being gay may differ from Capt. Stephen Hill, there are a lot of commonalities for those of us who, for whatever reason, took a very long time to find peace with who we are, to find and build a life that was free of the negativity and fears that used to weigh us down when we said the words “I’m gay”.

But Stephen Hill risked losing a heck of a lot more than I ever had when he took that final leap. I didn’t have a career and pensions that would have been in jeopardy to lose when I finally was truthful to the world. So I tip my hat to a fine human being Capt. Stephen Hill.

Brave soldier.

Brave man.