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November 4, 2010

Part Six: No Air

DADT_RainbowBy Huong T. Nguyen
NCLR Guest Columnist

Year: 1995

My American dream is turning into a nightmare.

I’m sitting in a major’s office, being grilled about an alleged “interpersonal problem” with a male cadet. A few days ago, that cadet and I had a knock-down, drag-out argument in front of the entire battalion. It was over his refusal to follow orders to prepare for a field training exercise. I couldn’t let his challenge of my authority go unchecked in front of everyone. But that’s insubordination, I thought, not an “interpersonal problem.”

You see, the cadet and I went on a few dates last year, until I called it off. He was simply—what’s the right word? Uninteresting? Bingo. I didn’t know exactly why, until now. Lately, he’s been acting strangely. Like, last weekend. The girl and I woke up to the sound of rocks thrown outside my dorm room. When I peeked out my window, it was him.

~~~

For the past several months, I tried to break it off numerous times with the girl. “You can’t be here. We can’t do this. OK, you can stay the night, but it has to stop tomorrow.” Each time, though, I inexplicably didn’t lock the proverbial closet door, and she marched in and hauled me back out. Persistent, that girl. Or maybe she sensed I didn’t really want her to leave.

We had no choice but to hide, and lie to everyone—friends, family, co-workers, strangers. While my dorm room was generally safe, the world outside was a minefield. Since I was constantly in uniform, and she was a known gay activist on campus, we had to devise ways to see each other, but not be seen with each other. Before going to classes in the morning, I would leave my room key for her in my mailbox. If she used the key to return to my dorm room before me, she wouldn’t open the door for anyone—except me, of course. We had a code—I would kick the bottom of the door three times so she would know it was me, and she would open it.

We also had other rules. Like no coming to or leaving my room at the same time, or using the same route. No public interactions, unless we were with our dormitory co-workers. And, in case someone inquired about the time we spent together, we made up stock stories about being somewhere else.

The deceit was thorough and necessary. But it also exacted a heavy price on both of us. Our grades suffered. Our emotional and spiritual well-being took a hit. And, most unfortunate, our relationships with others—especially close friends and loved ones—withered. How could we stay close to them, when we couldn’t share the most fundamental parts of our lives with them?

We were constantly looking behind us, literally and figuratively. One time, a cadet and I were studying in my room when he left with my key to fetch something from his room. Meanwhile, the girl came by for something else. I ushered her in, and completely forgot about the cadet and that he had the key. When the key hit the lock, she and I both looked at each other in utter terror. She quickly made some excuse about work, and left like the wind.

Another time, we snuck out for some dinner and were pretty proud of ourselves for doing so undetected. While in a dark parking lot, one of our co-workers came out of nowhere and surprised the heck out of us. We must’ve jumped a few feet in the air, and away from each other. We again told more stories to cover our tracks.

And, just a few days ago, I overslept my alarm clock, and was late for a field training exercise. A cadet was sent to my room, and the girl nearly opened the door for him. Her half-awake self, thankfully, remembered that she didn’t hear three kicks on the bottom of the door.

~~~

The major barks at me, “When did you first meet him? Have you spent time together outside the unit? Are you friends? Have you had sexual relations with each other?”

Sexual relations? Wait, I thought I was here because of the cadet’s insubordination. Why exactly are you interrogating me when he’s the one eff’ing stalking me? In your reptilian brain, this could only be a relationship gone sour.

“I’m not into dudes!” I want to yell at the major. To defend myself. To tell the truth. To stop hiding. To stop lying. To just … stop. But all I can do is sit, keeping my thoughts to myself.

 

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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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