YOU Can Make
It Get Better
by Denny Meyer
Gay youth are committing suicide. Teenage
savages are brutally attacking gay people.
Fifty years ago, when I was a child, you didn't see
such headlines. That was because the media
kept silent about such things. It was
forbidden to mention "forbidden love," back then.
It's different today. Today it's perfectly ok
for adults to stand up in public, on TV, and in
church pulpits and preach hate against homosexuals.
The same fine folks like to walk around in public
with loaded guns and sneak around in the woods
killing Bambi with assault rifles.
Many of these folks would not qualify for military
service, even if they dared to put themselves in
harm's way where someone might actually shoot back
at them. Being a sociopath is a disqualifier.
To serve in our American armed forces, you have to
actually be willing to serve alongside patriotic
volunteers of differing races and religions, be able
to respect women as fellow service members, and be
ready at any time to run through a hail of bullets,
explosions, and flames, to pull a fellow service
member to safety without pausing to consider his
skin color or sexual orientation. Courage
Today, young people, who are just discovering that
they are gay, are faced with the satanic piety of
those bigots who seem to be so inadequate, or feel
so self righteous, that they have to be obsessed
with what others do to pump themselves up. And
so, some young people despair, taking the hate to
heart, and cannot imagine living in such a hostile
world. In response, Dan Savage and others have
launched the "It
Gets Better Project" to tell their stories of
overcoming and success. In that spirit, this
is my story, for young people to read, of making my
own world to live in.
When I was very young I signed up to join the
military and my friends told me, "YOU CAN'T DO THAT;
YOU'RE A LITTLE FAGGOT!" I told them, "Watch
me!" I served for ten years in two services
and left honorably as a Sergeant First Class.
That's the short version; it wasn't all that simple,
to be honest.
I'm a gay sixty four year old multiply disabled
veteran. I don't sit around staring out the
window. I've been an activist for fifty years
and still am. I was supposed to die of cancer
six years ago. I'm still alive and making as
much trouble as possible. My problem is that I
just don't know how to quit. I give speeches
on gay rights, write cranky web rants like this one;
and I represent two national queer veterans groups
to the media, giving news interviews on-line, TV,
radio, and to newspapers. I just did a TV news
show that was watched by 5 million people throughout
South America. I've been all over the world,
sailed the seas, and most importantly I loved and
lived with the same man for nearly twenty years.
Its not all that unusual; there are lots of gay folk
who have led great lives full of adventure, love,
and self fulfillment.
was a very lonely, socially inept, goofy, nerdy kid
born in the dark mid 1940s just after World War II
ended. My parents were refugees to America.
After escaping machine gun death several times, my
mother arrived as an illegal immigrant and first
cleaned toilets to earn a living here. I
didn't even learn English until I was seven years
old. In junior high school, I became famous
for making the morning announcements over the PA
system in a funny foreign accent; all I did was go
back to the way I spoke when I first learned
English. I didn't get invited to parties; I
was too weird or foreign. The "hoods"
always tried to beat me up; but I could run really
fast, and if they caught me I'd start talking really
fast asking them to think about what they were doing
and they'd get a headache and just walk away.
Later in life, I became an inter-agency liaison, a
negotiator; hmm, I wonder where I learned to do
When I was twelve, my mother did this really
horrible thing and made me go to summer school to
attend a typing class. Later in life, I had a
ten year career in military administration.
(Actually, I always hated typing). When I was
thirteen, I rode my bike to the next town to join a
Civil Rights march. Angry bigots were outraged
to see a four foot tall white kid marching with
blacks; they threw rocks at me and hit me in the
head; I came home covered in blood. It really
pissed me off, and I've been an activist ever since.
When I was fifteen, I finally figured out why I was
always looking at boys instead of girls. I
told my best friend. He got really deeply
disgusted, rejected me, and told everyone in our
high school that I was a fag. Well, I was in
the Drama Club (of course) and the most beautiful
girl in the school, who was in the club, became my
new best friend; and she went to the Senior Prom
with me, the weird foreign nerd, and that blew
everyone's mind. I really wanted to go to the
prom with her brother, but she was a wonderful
friend that I've never forgotten. I was able
to tell her everything; without her I probably
wouldn't have had the courage to go on in those
few years later, the friend who rejected me, because
I was queer, ran away to Canada to avoid being
drafted into the Army and being sent to Vietnam.
I volunteered to serve my country. I don't
know, you tell me who has balls.
Navy boot camp was brutal. They cut off all
your hair and shout at you and call everyone a fag.
Well, I figured that if all the straight boys could
take that, so could I. From there, I was
assigned to an aircraft carrier, a grey steel
warship, loaded with bombs and missiles, with 5000
men and jet fighters taking off and landing day and
night. Serving on a warship is the real thing!
You know you are doing something important for your
The best adventure I ever had in my life (other than
falling in love with my man) was serving in a Navy
helicopter squadron headquarters; I got to fly
around in huge Hueys (the Vietnam era Bell UH-1)
wearing my own greasy flight suit! The pilot
officers I worked for were helicopter cowboys who
lived to fly; all I had to do was spare them the
paperwork by doing my job. On weekends, I flew
up to New York from Norfolk, VA to meet my
boyfriends. The officers didn't ask what I was
doing, and I didn't tell. It was a shame,
because we were like a family. I wish I could
have just told them about my latest boyfriend.
Then, after four years, I left the Navy to live
freely and openly. I got a job with the Army
reserve. So, then I was in an Army uniform. (That
doesn't make any sense to me either, when I think
back on it). The Army just wasn't any fun at all the
way the Navy had been, and it was full of bigots
with foul mouths. The most exciting thing I
did in the Army was to learn how to drive a truck.
Well, really, I was just told to drive a trailer
truck to deliver it down the coast to a base about
180 miles to the south. "I don't know how to
drive a trailer truck," I told the sergeant.
"The trailer will follow you, don't worry; just
don't try to back up," he said. Don't even ask
me about shifting all the gears; my feet could
hardly reach the clutch pedal. Well, I got the
truck there; don't even ask what it was carrying.
Then, I fell in love; actually we fell in love with
each other. He smelled good, he tasted good,
once we were wrapped around each other at night we
felt safe; we wanted to be with each other and share
life; we did for nearly twenty years. He died
a long time ago. I still miss him. But,
I would not give up those twenty years for anything.
I did a lot of things, had a lot of adventures, but
being in love is the best part of life.
could go on with more of the rest of my life, but
you get the idea. The point is, you can be
whatever you want to be. I didn't let anyone
tell me that I couldn't do something because I'm
queer. I just went ahead and did whatever I
wanted to do. Sometimes I made mistakes, but
even those were adventures to remember (for example,
don't jump out of hovering military helicopters; its
great fun, but it's really bad on your back later in
life). Don't let some bigot asshole stop you
with his hate. A bigot has nothing but his
hate. Years after you have had a wonderful
life, he'll still just be an asshole. Remember
Remember my former friend who ran off to Canada?
Nearly fifty years after I last spoke with him, I
googled and found him and telephoned him. We
had a nice chat; but believe it or not, he's still
in Canada and he's still an asshole.
So, what can you do right now? If you are old
enough to vote, then vote. Don't be
discouraged by disappointment with our elected
officials; you have to vote for those who will
support our rights. If you are not yet old
enough to vote, talk to people and tell them to vote
for your future. Not voting only helps the
bigots get elected. How can you tell who to
vote for? The bigots are the ones who say we
shouldn't have rights. Remember, they are the
assholes. Vote for the other ones. You
can make it happen. Just don't quit, or you'll
miss all the adventure.
© 2010 Gay Military Signal