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October 21, 2010

Part Four: The Education of Private Nguyen

DADT_RainbowBy Huong Nguyen
NCLR Guest Columnist

Year: 1994

“Gaydar? What’s that?”

They smile knowingly, my dormitory co-workers. “The camos and boots are part of my job. Look, I have long curly hair. I wear makeup, dresses, high heels. And, I’m engaged to marry a dude.” Now giggling, they claim gaydar is more than that—it detects an aura, a quality. I throw up my hands sarcastically, “Yup, that explains it all.”

We had just spent the entire afternoon learning about gay culture. The purpose of the class was to help clueless resident assistants, like me, recognize students who were coming out and support them through that process. Fine, glad to sit and listen. But it has no relevance to me, personally.

Or does it?

~~~

Strange things have happened the past couple years, though I haven’t tried to make sense of them. Deep thinking and processing of emotions would only weigh me down, distract me from my goals. That philosophy has worked wonderfully so far. Why change it now? Gotta just keep movin.’

Darn! My head is now spinning, trying to make connections. Like, last weekend. One of my male ROTC cadets and I were out at a club. This girl made a beeline toward us, while we were at the bar. I smiled at my friend, nudging him with my elbow and teasing him about what’s going to happen. She approached us, turned to me, and asked me to dance instead of him. “Me?” Out of the corner of my eyes, I saw my friend, laughing his butt off. Not to be impolite, I hesitantly accepted, but also grabbed my friend as a life raft on the dance floor with us.

And another time, during basic combat training, at an M-60 firing range. Most of us were sitting on bleachers, waiting for our turn, each wearing two long, heavy ammunition belts draped our shoulders. To pass the time, I chatted with this girl, while playing with one of the belts. The conversation started out friendly, but then she got surprisingly—ummm, what’s the right word? Flirtatious? Could you even use that word to describe something between two girls? Reacting nervously to the turn in conversation, I somehow hurt my hand on a belt. She quickly grabbed my hurt hand, held it between her hands, and began massaging it. Confused, I pulled my hand from hers, babbled some incoherent excuse, and walked away.

Strangest of all, though, was the time I was called into my unit commander’s office at the evacuation hospital where I was stationed. “Oh, crap,” I thought, “what did I do?” The commander, a lieutenant colonel—a man in his late forties, extremely well groomed, with a gentleness in his tone and manner unlike any other male soldier I knew— smiled, offered me a seat, and began some small talk. Welcoming me to the unit, apologizing that he hadn’t done so months before, asking whether I was enjoying myself. Something was terribly askew. He was an officer, and I was one of several hundred enlisted low-level grunts under his command. No one in his position should personally care about how I felt.

And then, a twilight-zone moment— he began gently grilling me about what the troops thought of him. This went on for about 10 minutes, until, finally satisfied that I knew nothing, he allowed me to leave. Once outside, I sat down on a bench and melted into a puddle of confusion. Why was he so abnormally concerned about what people thought about him? And why was he so trusting of what I thought?

~~~

Wait a minute. Have all these people’s gaydar-thing-a-ma-gigs been going off on me?

 

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NCLR Guest Columnist Huong T. Nguyen has shared her military dismissal under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” through her weekly diary blog series. Read Part One: Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way, Part Two: Light Bulb, Part Three: A New Identity, Part Four: The Education of Private Nguyen, Part Five: The Girl, Part Six: No Air, Part Seven: The Truth Will Set You Free, Part Eight: The Trial, Part Nine: The Story, Part 10: There’s A Place For Us, Part 11: The Repeal: No One Left Behind,and Finale: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”: In the Olden Days.

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Nguyen is an attorney in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she resides with her wife and two children.

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