To say I had been sexually confused while I served in the US Army was an understatement.
Back when I was in High School, I experimented with guys my own age in the safest manner I was able to find: the Boy Scouts. Encouraged by my then Step-father (not because I was gay and confused, but because he thought he could bond with me if we were both in the Scouts), I joined the local troop in the Taylor Ranch Neighborhood. Headquartered at the nearby Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, many of the teens there were people I knew of, went to school with, but not necessarily friends of mine. There were the three Davies (false name to protect the innocent or not so innocent) brothers where hardly a year separated each other, Kade, who I had complicated friendship with, had also joined, and several others whose names my memories have forgotten.
Decades before the Boy Scouts of America allowed openly gay youths into their ranks, it had been a bit tricky to find those who, like myself, were exploring more than just the Northern New Mexico forests. Subtlety and discretion not only had kept us unnoticed, but had allowed us to find one another. A few years later when I joined the US Army, I thought those same rules would have applied, but I was wrong, and confused.
There were two women who were in the same field of being a crypto-tech like me, and forty or so other men. One was Kailoni, a bi-racial Hispanic-Pacific Islander from Hawaii, and the other was the Jersey Giant. Where Kailoni was brown, with dark hair and eyes, and stood about five-and-a-half feet tall, the Jersey Giant was six feet in height with blond hair, blue eyes, and rather pale skin. Both women were elegant, shapely, intelligent and strong, but where Kailoni's height put her below the eyeline of most of the men, none of them were intimidated by her as they were by the Jersey Giant (unfortunately, I have forgotten her given name).
George, Lee, and I often frequented a double-wide that had been transformed into a hole-in-the-wall bar, as did Kailoni, the Jersey Giant, and others from time to time, which had served underage soldiers alcohol. It was there that I had asked Kailoni if she'd like to celebrate our upcoming graduation with dinner at a local steakhouse, for a shared love of cooked cow and success in our class, to be followed by a fun night of billiards and beer back at the hole-in-the-wall bar. She said: Yes.
It wasn't a date in the strictest sense. Not only had I worked consciously to avoid talking about sex or romance, but the strength of my sheer excitement at finding someone who had had common interests with, like horror, or comics, roleplaying games, and Japanese anime, had been hard to differentiate from someone who I had found I had romantic desires for. My emotions peaked in that way for Kailoni. Though I admit being a bit bummed when she had just wanted to be friends, it was a friendship, a limited time friendship, that is gone, greatly cherished and never forgotten. It was the same night that the Jersey Giant had arrived at the bar dressed in a stunning red, formal dress and red heels so that she towered over everyone. At one point she hiked he heeled foot atop out table and demanded the men to kiss her feet. Where George, Lee, and the couple other guys did so without protest, I just looked at her, with what must have been the gayest look possible and said:
"Hell, no." Everyone laughed.
The Jersey Giant and I bonded in a different way.
She had used that intimidation, her sheer size and strength, to make those men who had fragile egos to steer clear of her. There was just one time during our training in our jobs that we had had a required, overnight field exercise, and not one other guy in our company wanted to buddy-up with the Jersey Giant in a foxhole. Sure, they verbally spared over Kailoni, she picked another friend she felt safe with, but no one wanted the Jersey Giant, so when she asked if I'd buddy-up with her, I smiled and said: Of course! She had looked obviously relieved. I had asked around why no one wanted to buddy-up with her, and I had gotten this response nearly every time:
"What if she's on the rag, man?"
It was an adventurous night. Not only had we both been up all day, but when it came to dig our foxhole, we had had the worst spot. Except for about six or so inches of soft topsoil, the rest was nothing but the hardest red clay. Taking turns we managed to dig the hole three feet deep, six feet from side to side and about two feet wide. There was just enough room for one of us to sit in a curled ball for sleep and the other kneeling at just the right height to keep watch. It was laughable. Then things got worse.
She had offered to take the first watch of the night while I was to take the last watch 'til morning. I tried to sleep in that seated, curled ball shape only to have been awoken by the panicked voice of the Jersey Giant about mysterious green lights in the forest. After working hard to get my eyes to focus, I saw it too. There between the trees and bushes of northern Georgia were pale greenish dots of light that danced and bobbed about. For several long minutes I stared both terrified and amazed by what I had witnessed. When I had turned to comment to her about it, she had already fallen asleep. Keep in mind, she was from the city as much as I was, and I had never seen such a sight in the Jemez or on the backside of the Manzanos or Sandias. So when we told others the following morning what we had witnessed, we where honestly baffled why they snickered and laughed. After Kailoni, Lee, and George caught their breath, they asked us both:
"Have neither of you seen a firefly or lightning bug before?"
Understanding my emotions, where there was little or no real difference between the excitement of building new friendships and the rush of romantic entanglements, was an added complexity that only made me more confused. While I was in the US Army I ignored to tried to ignore that rush when it came to men, but not long after I had left the service, I was determined to "be out," and as I debated how I was to do that with my Mom, she approached me, before I had the chance, and made it clear that none of that mattered. She'd long suspected and she didn't want it to be a problem because it was okay to be gay. I had gotten very fortunate that everyone in my family was happy for me and very supportive.
But that didn't solve the larger problem. How could I tell the difference between friendship and romance? To me, they felt the same.
Sex. I chose to rely on sex. And there lay the rub. At nineteen, I couldn't allow myself to feel sex because when I did allowed myself to do so, I could have only seen that in men, and if any other man had caught on, very bad things could, and most likely would, have happened. Confusion was to be one of the most common denominators in my Army experience, and the most terrifying moments of confusion were yet to come.