A conversation with Dave Brown and Greg Cope White about The Pink Marine
A few years ago, I dropped everything and moved to Central America and lived on the beach at the edge of the jungle. One day, as I was surfing my way up the Pacific side of Costa Rica, I met another traveling gringo in a small town, and he was one of the most interesting men I had ever met, especially to be around those parts. He was animated and spoke with a radiant combination of confidence, warmth and approachability I rarely encounter.
That man, Greg Cope White, has done, and is doing, all sorts of big things with his life, including everything from comedy writing to a food blog to a TV show. And now he’s just finished a wonderful book about his time as a gay man in the pre-DADT military — The Pink Marine.
I recently had the fortune of catching up with him again and talking about his book, which I think has some great insights for any man struggling to live true to himself in the face of tough challenges. Following are some excerpts from our conversation.
DB: Your memoir, The Pink Marine, about your time as a gay man serving in the pre-DADT Marine Corps is out! This is big news, both for readers and you and your grand life adventure. Remember where we met?
GCW: We were both waiting for a bus on a muddy road in Tamarindo, Costa Rica. You’d been surfing.
DB: You’d been shopping.
GCW: Probably. I introduced myself – something I might not have had the balls to do had I not been a Marine.
DB: Why? Did I look scary?
GCW: No. But I might not have had the confidence to even approach a straight guy. Before the Marines, I feared rejection and judgment. When I was a kid, in the 1970s, I had no gay heroes.
DB: Because they’re weren’t any.
GCW: Right. Society told me that my very nature was wrong and that I was a bad person. And less of a man than other men. How was I supposed to gain any confidence?
DB: So you figured you’d join the toughest branch of the military and everything would work out fine?!
GCW: I know, right? To be honest, I had no idea what I was getting into. My best friend told me he was joining the USMC, spending the summer in boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina. All I heard was “summer” and “camp.”
DB: I know you had to lie and cheat to get in. And how you did that is hilarious.
GCW: Yes, I did have to sneak in. Comedy is an important part of my life; I use my sitcom writing experience to tell very serious stories in this book. If the thirteen weeks of the insane boot camp process instilled in me anything, it was that I am as good as, as masculine as, any other guy.
DB: I can’t get past wondering, “What were you thinking?”
GCW: When we met, you were in the middle of your ReStart Experiment. I find what you did fascinating, and incredibly difficult. Who does that?! You sold everything, left your home and friends, to just…start over. How did you take the first step?
DB: I suppose what we both experienced is all about learning how we, as men, can get past our fears to live out who we really are deep inside, without shame, and in spite of fear, or in spite of not feeling in tune with the dominant system. And getting to the point of thinking, “What have I got to lose, really?” It’s worth testing ourselves by going beyond what we think we can do. So then maybe we can even go as far as leaving our possessions and just jumping off so we can fly, right?
GCW: I identified with what you did because that’s what I did to enlist. Except I didn’t sell anything.
DB: Besides selling your soul to the Marine Corps? Once a Marine… right?
GCW: Honestly, a few weeks into training, I awoke a patriotism I didn’t know I had. America is splendid and it’s an honor to protect. I’m a tough man, but that thought chokes me up.
DB: You had one drill instructor that affected you more than the others. Why?
GCW: He challenged me, and he knew he did. He probably didn’t know that he also threatened me with his masculinity. He was everything I wasn’t. He had this deep voice, hairy chest and that kind of confidence you can smell and it smells amazing. I had none of that. But he’d lock eyes with me and scream at me to stop thinking of myself as average.
DB: So you had people in that world who had gone before you and knew that any man can be more than he thinks he is, regardless of his situation. Did you become friends?
GCW: Once training was over we all scattered to other duty stations, so no friendship. In boot camp, he had a job to do — to break me down (which wasn’t hard) and build me up (which was incredibly hard) — and train me to commit, when commanded, the most vile act of mankind. Murder.
DB: Had a military conflict occurred, were you okay with killing the enemy?
GCW: If necessary. I served in peacetime. I hope we never have war; but I’ll always defend my county. I’m past the age for battle. But there are other ways. One’s never too old to serve.
DB : You eventually earned the rank of sergeant. No one ever discovered your secret?
GW: Readers will find that out in my book. I certainly did not butch it up. Not even Meryl Streep can stay in character that long. And regardless of what we all went through in the Corps, the big thing I can say is that the feeling of camaraderie that one experiences in the Marines lasts a lifetime.
DB: What do you hope readers think when they reach the end of your book?
GCW: That if a skinny, weak boy who’d never run a mile can survive in this hostile environment, anyone can do anything. Or at least try. Don’t let anyone – yourself included – stop you. We live in a wonderful time, the fall of DADT and the rise of the SCOTUS marriage equality decision. I know our civil rights struggle isn’t over, but keep having this conversation and we will charge forward with unstoppable momentum. Just like a Marine on a mission.
DB: I hear that. And I think what you’ve shared applies to any man, any person, gay, straight, military, civilian, poor, rich, no-name or celebrity. By the way, I saw videos with you and movie stars on your website? Is that where people can buy your book?
GCW: Yes sir. Visit thepinkmarine.com