Former Marine Marc Winslow describes his experience being gay in the Marines before the repeal of DADT.
With a dozen Marines on either side of him, Marc Winslow marched down a sullen dirt road. “Hoo—rah,” he screamed as the drill instructor called cadence. Marc looked to the left and then to the right, with heads shaven to the skin, faces free of stubble, and a snarl of the lip, each Marine was indistinguishable from the next. His shoulders were back, his head was held high, after months of training, he was finally one of “the few, the proud,” he was a Marine.
After marching to and around the field, the instructor called the men to a halt. The trumpets blared, the drums rolled, the ceremony was about to begin. Marc stood there at the position of attention—arms at his sides, fingers curled and thumbs on top, heals together and feet at forty-five degree angles—he took in a deep breath and gazed out over the field at all his fellow Marines. He had accomplished a victory that few men could claim; he had pushed and demanded more of himself then he ever thought possible. Marc exhaled and let out a long sigh. He felt great, but there was something else gnawing at him. Just below the surface of his young enthusiasm and Marine Corps pride, there was a coating of fear and uneasiness. Marc had a secret. He had a secret that was so dark, so sinister, and so evil, that if the military ever discovered it, he would be instantly kicked out.
Marc stood frozen. If they knew…they’d freak out…they’d kick me out. How many men have been here before, in my situation, willing to risk their lives, but still having to hide?
In bootcamp, the Marines taught Marc cover and concealment. It’s the art of blending in with a bush, a tree, or a desert, and it’s the ability to find the closest rock, building, or mound to hide behind. A Marine needs to know his surroundings and be able to make himself invisible or inconspicuous. For Marc, in the Marines, cover and concealment took on a whole new meaning. A year and a half into Marc’s two year assignment in Okinawa, he was doing so well in his duty assignment that his commander allowed him to have his own car—which is a big deal for an enlisted Marine overseas.
One day Marc and his friend Tom were driving around base in his new car.
“I’m attracted to you.” Tom said.
Tom was a Royal Marine in the British Armed Forces. He was an officer. Marc was a Marine in the United States Armed Forces. He was enlisted. It was forbidden in more ways then one.
“I’m attracted to you, too.” Marc said.
Britain’s military personnel are allowed to be openly gay, and after a brief friendship and courtship, the duo became romantically involved. Marc was even invited to meet Tom’s parents and family. Growing up in a strict Baptist family, having an associate’s degree in theology, and being part of an organization that shuns homosexuality, even when Marc was with Tom and his family, he still felt as though he had to keep up the camouflage—and little to say, Tom did not get an invitation to meet Marc’s family.
In the end, a story about a gay Marine could never be summarized with mere words or sentences; there are no final quips or witty remarks which could summarize the experience of a man willing to give his life for an organization that would shun him if it knew the truth. Sometimes all a person can do is share their story and hope that, somehow, in some way, that’s enough.
After Marc’s second year in Okinawa, he got reassigned to a base back in the states: 29 Palms. With the new distance between Tom and Marc, and with Marc’s inability to be open about his sexuality, he and Tom called it quits. At Marc’s new duty station, after a year and a half of hard work, it was time for him to decide if he would reenlist or not. Marc was torn about the decision. He loved the Marine Corps; he bled green, and he joined at the age of seven-teen so that he could serve his country. But he was torn between the fact that the country he was willing to give his life for, and an organization that he loved with his life, would not accept him for who he was.
Marc was tired of hiding and sought refuge with a Marine Corps therapist. Marc’s therapy sessions didn’t last long. Although what happens in therapy is confidential, if a therapist finds out that a Marine is breaking a rule—such as being gay—they can chapter them out of the military labeling them “mentally unfit.” Not even being free to discuss his situation with a therapist, Marc was more torn than ever about his decision, and he decided to instead see a civilian therapist. After seeing his new therapist, Marc decided it was time to come out of the closet to his closest Marine friends.
“You’re still Marc.”
“I would still share a foxhole with you in a second.”
“You’re a Marine that’s all there is to it.”
The responses were all good, but then again, he knew his friends would be supportive. He knew the real test would come when he told his First Sergeant.
The First Sergeant looked Marc square in the eye. “Sexuality doesn’t define a Marine…” There was a pause. “But not everyone will understand, so make sure you don’t tell a lot of people. I don’t want to lose you as a Marine.”
Marc was gay and in the military. He found love, he lost love, and he was eventually accepted by those closest to him. When asked about his experience as a gay Marine, he simply stated: “Some American’s nowadays are Cafeteria-Americans; they pick and choose from the constitution like it’s a cafeteria line, picking out only what they want… And who gives them the right to decide? … The constitution is the constitution…..Marines are Marines!”
–The next article will cover life in the Marines after DADT.