By Huong T. Nguyen
NCLR Guest Columnist
Oh. My. God! The girl, she’s in my bed. How did this happen?
I first met her several months ago in 1994. We worked in the same dormitory— I, a resident assistant, she, a program assistant. She was shy and quiet, at least around me. I paid little attention to her, because we didn’t work directly together. Until one day, she rocked my world, literally.
She made an announcement at our weekly dormitory staff meeting. “Hi, everyone. We’re having a rally tomorrow to ask the university to address its non-discrimination policy and the presence of ROTC on campus, since ROTC doesn’t allow LGBTQ students to participate. So, please come out to support us and help end the ban on gays in the military.”
Holy crap! She’s leading the charge to kick ROTC off campus? All this time, why didn’t she tell me? Why didn’t anyone tell me? We all worked together for heaven’s sake. The staff knew I was in ROTC. It’s hard to miss, since I was constantly in uniform, even at these meetings. They also knew I wasn’t homophobic, either. How could I have been? Like, a third of the staff was queer.
This was eff’ing rich. We’re supposed to support all students on campus. Yet, when it came to ROTC students, screw them. Screw them all for the sake of equality. Screw me. And kids like me, who desperately needed this opportunity. And, who were willing to stand on the wall, to make the ultimate sacrifice, so y’all can have this right to protest —to screw us. The gratitude, it’s overwhelming. Of course, I told a much tamer version of my thoughts to the swarming TV reporters covering the anti-military rallies on campus. The ones led by the girl.
Several weeks after the announcement, I was going to wash my clothes one night. When I entered the laundry room, I saw the girl—and no one else. “Just my luck,” I thought. She looked up and smiled at me. I responded with a weak smile and proceeded to load my clothes into the washing machine. “Are you doing anything fun this weekend?” she asked. I truly didn’t want to talk to her, but she was so disarming. And I didn’t wanna be impolite. To my surprise, we chatted for a long time about many things, except the pink elephant in the room.
What intrigued me, in a disconcerting way, was that she immediately saw through my exterior. The one I had cultivated for so long to protect myself. The badass, take-no-prisoner, I-can-kick-anyone’s-ass-with-my-pinky-or-die-trying persona. Of course, that was me. But she also saw my core— the lonely, abandoned 6-year-old who was looking for a home. No one had been able to do that before.
“Gotta go. I’m late to drill with my unit,” I tell the girl.
Immediately upon arriving, a captain slips a form under my nose. He explains, “The law is now called ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ The military can’t ask you whether you’re homosexual anymore, because being homosexual is not illegal. But signing this form ensures that you know that you still can’t commit homosexual conduct.” My panic only subsides when I realize that everyone is being asked to sign the same thing.
The new law is brilliant, I thought. I know I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed. But if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, isn’t it an eff’ing duck? How can you say that you have nothing against ducks, and at the same time ban all animals that look, act, and sound like ducks? What a pile of highbrow sophistry. In other words, cow dung.
But I have a more immediate problem: the girl.
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.
Nguyen is an attorney in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she resides with her wife and two children.