My Navy Experience
I spent the summer of 1970 watching news clips coming out of Vietnam. My days were spent worrying about being drafted, and my fear of it caused me to seek a way out. I knew I could not run away; I had been doing that my whole life. In my mind, heart, and soul I had known since very early that I was not the boy I was seen as. I knew inside I was a girl, I wanted to live as a girl, and I felt sure I couldn’t survive life in combat. Then, after speaking with a girl I was close to whose brother was an officer in the Navy I found what I felt was my only option. I thought if I joined up I would probably get a sea assignment and that perhaps I would be safe there.
A few days later, only two weeks after my High School graduation, I went in for my pre-enlistment physical. I arrived and found myself alone among so many other boys and men. I felt ok, but I was not at ease. It was like having to ***** down and change in front of others on the first day of High School in PE. The coach must have seen me sitting with tears in my eyes and the fear that day and I found myself not having to dress out and play. I was given things to do in the gym while everyone else was out doing whatever they did. I did this all four years of High School, graduating with a grade of D- in PE my freshman year. I only learned recently when I requested my name changed on my high school transcript that I had received no grade in PE for the remaining three years of school. I did go to PE those three years as PE was required for all four years of High School but I saw I had received no grade. But here now, here among all these men and boys, I had to remove my clothes.
As I unbuckled my pants, I remembered I had on a pair of panties. Girl’s underclothes were my best way of feeling real in my true gender when I needed to be seen as a boy. I was in somewhat of a frenzy trying to decide what to do. Finally I approached one of the orderlies and quietly said I had no underwear on. He supplied me a pair of paper boxers. I secretly crumpled the panties and shoved them in my pants pocket, depositing them in a trash can later. Once I got through the physical I found myself on a bus on my way to the recruitment center in San Diego. I thought that I lived in hell up till then, but when I stepped off that bus and found several sailors yelling and pushing us new recruits around, I thought to myself “what have I done!”
That night, I did not sleep; I had never been as scared as I was then. I buried my head in my pillow and just cried. I thought about running and considered every possible way out. I finally decided the only way I could survive was to become someone who I knew I was not. That morning in the day’s first rays of sunlight I worked on creating the deceptive shell I thought would be my only protection.
It turned out my fears of being drafted were well founded as three days after entering boot camp, my mother had received my draft notice.
I made it through boot camp. Initially I had wanted an assignment on a carrier thinking that on something that large I could just disappear like I had in High School. All the assignments I requested at first were carrier-based. I was told to choose at least one alternative so that if a carrier assignment wasn’t available I could still get something I chose instead of just getting stuck wherever. As I looked over the options I could request, I saw submarines and thought about how safe I could be there. Underwater there would be no one to shoot at, not to mention anyone shooting at me. I put it down as my last choice on the assignment request sheet, thinking it wouldn’t happen anyway. After a short and difficult visit home, I was on a plane to Submarine School and deeper into hell I went.
I was getting a little better at playing my deceptive role. But at the same time, this was the first time in my life when I could get away alone, when I could take short escapes where no one knew me, where I could be real. I slipped away whenever I could, and I started to make friends outside the military. My non-military friends at that time saw me as a young effeminate gay man, and accepted me as that. On base I think they sensed that I was feminine but never showed it. I was not really one of the guys, like always, but they seemed to at least tolerate me.
Outside I met an older lady who liked me and we became friends. She soon discovered my gender feelings, allowed, and even helped me to be who I knew I was, a girl. As a child there were other adults who had also seemed to accept me but always at a price. Once again someone found me and as I see it now I became her toy. At least this time it was a woman. I looked forward to these escapes as the only opportunity I had to feel truly real.
When Sub School ended and I was given my assignment, it turned out to be a submarine under construction; I would not be going to sea for a while. My life outside, unknown in my military life and crew members, could continue a little while longer. However as soon as the sub was completed and sea trials began and I had to live and be seen as a boy full-time again, I was completely cut off from my true self once again. I will say that despite the fact that I was living enclosed inside a steel tube with 95 other guys, with no place to hide and no escape, I still had moments that I consider fond memories. I was serving on one of America’s newest and most advanced submarines, and I think I did my job well. For the first time I was part of something, I belonged to a special group, and was looked upon with respect. My deceptive role, even though it meant being who I was not, brought with it comradeship, which was something I never had. I wondered if maybe I could really be this person I was pretending to be; if I could be what others and society saw me as, a man. I decided I would outside become the man my parents wanted but inside I would be real in who I knew I was, a woman. I could live both lives. I even thought I could make it.
Of course, I really failed at it, and then I became rebellious. I let my hair grow; cut the hems of my pants and shirt allowing them to fray. It was then that my troubles began. My rebellious attitude was not acceptable, not something one did in a structured military life.
During a trip to the Caribbean during shore leave members of our crew as well as I visited a night club. I had been seen with one of the girls there and was later told by several crew members who were very inquisitive that she and I were very intimate and had even been seen going upstairs with her. There were extremely curious what we had done together. I told them nothing but talked, and even bragged somewhat about the sex we had together. They continued in their questioning about her finally telling me that they were told by others in the club that she was a guy. I said nothing and walked away refusing to discuss it with anyone. I was always being talked about after that, looked at with grins and comments.
While there liquor was allowed to be purchased and be brought back to the states duty-free in a limited quantity, locked up of course. Word spread that it was being secretly brought on board, which prompted an inspection. We were assembled on the pier while the Captain and Chief of the Boat searched private lockers and berthing spaces. My secret self was discovered when my girl things were found. Word of them soon seemed to spread and with the issue of the girl at the club I became an outcast. I was shunned, but that was nothing compared to what was to come. I had to keep my shoes with me while sleeping as there were those that felt the need to ********** into them; even into my socks.
Twice while at sea I was cornered in the equipment space, each time both stated they knew “this is what you want, we all know it, you know it” as they raped me. These were the same words I heard many times as a child while being molested by the boys in my neighborhood that had somehow learned of my gender issues and were eager to use it as an excuse to rationalize sexually abusing me. There were adult men as well that used my gender feelings to fill their sexual desires that used those same words but they seemed in my young mind to care. I felt they truly believed I was a girl and let me be real in that belief.
My attitude became worse and I was called in for talks with my superiors about that attitude and was told of the need to become one of the crew. I needed to be a man, a sailor. Of course I never said anything about the tortures my crewmates were putting me through.
One day, I wanted to make a phone call to an outside friend while on duty. I asked for permission from my Section Leader to make the call from the pier so I wouldn’t tie up the ships phone. Given permission I left and walked to the phone only a few yards from the boat to make the call. On returning to the boat I was told I had to remain topside and my superiors were called up to meet me. I found myself on report for abandoning my post, and absent without leave. I explained that I had permission, but the Section Leader denied it was given. I was told I was restricted to the boat, on report, and was facing Captain’s Mast (a form of Court Martial.) It was wartime then, and I knew punishment could be death or at least a long term in military prison. I thought my life was over.
I had my day. I entered the Captain’s Cabin and faced my fate. I was allowed to present my case. The Duty Officer, my Section Leader and the Topside Watch, all said they knew of no such request to leave the boat for that call and it would have been denied if requested. It had been a policy on board that in order to not tie up the boat’s telephone, calls from the pier were allowed, and something I had done before. This was not even acknowledged. They had me. I was found guilty of being absent without leave, AWOL. My punishment was restriction to the boat, I was reduced in rank from E5 to E3, fined three months pay, and asked to remove myself from the cabin and return to duty.
I sat at my station lost and afraid, not knowing what my future would hold. I was then asked by the Executive Officer to come to his cabin. He talked to me saying I needed to stop my outside “activities”, and discard my “things.” I knew he was referring to my female articles. He said I needed to stop seeing people outside my Navy “family” and become more acquainted with my shipmates.” I was to cut my hair, and wear my uniform in a proper manner. I knew in a nutshell what he was saying to me “Be a man.” If I did all of these things, and became a model sailor, everything would be restored as it was, and my rank and pay would be would be returned. He then asked if I thought I could become the man and sailor I was supposed to be. I stood there yet again as I had so many times in my life, being told I was a boy, and being told to just be one. My reply just came out, a quiet but firm “NO.” I then went on and explained that restricting me to the boat would not stop me from leaving if I wanted. Reducing me in rank took away my leadership responsibilities, which was something I considered a good thing. I said the only thing that hurt was the cut in pay since I was already broke. I told him quite frankly that I was not going to “kiss anybody’s *** for anything.” I was then asked to leave, and return to my station. For the first time in my life I had stood and fought and said no. I walked out and away shaking.
Afterwards I sat with several others from my section. They kept asking me questions but I wasn’t listening, I only wanted to think over what had just happened. I could not believe that I had actually stood up and said no. I had never done that, not through all the abuse I had endured since I was five years old, but I had just done it. I was saying no more to the sexual abuse, the physical abuse and the mental abuse all heaped on me because I said I as a girl. There was a feeling of elation and power initially, and then the reality of what had just happened started to hit, and I began shaking and crying, thinking “what had I done now?” I knew that I had had to get off that boat and out of the Navy if I was going to retain my sanity.
At that time the Navy was on a campaign to clean itself of drug users, and I realized that this might be my answer. I returned to the Executive Officer’s cabin, and said we needed to talk once again. He said he was glad to see I had come to my senses. I claimed that I had used marijuana and that I was turning myself in. After a short talk I was again asked to leave. A few minutes later the Chief of the Boat came to me told me to pack my things and remove myself from the boat. I was to turn myself into Squadron Headquarters as a drug user.
A little over two months later, “rehabilitated,” I sat outside the Base, my Honorable discharge in hand, alone. I had been in the Navy for two years and one month.
I have done many things in my life that I have feelings of regret about, and leaving the Navy is one of them. To this day that decision still brings up many bittersweet memories. It was the first time in my short life up to that point when for a moment I was true to myself. I look back now and wish I had been able to remain true to myself, and not continued to give in to the expectations that others had about who I should be. I could have saved others and myself so much future pain if I could have been able to be real from that point on.