Archive for the ‘military’ Category

Hanging Together.

Monday, June 27th, 2016

LGBT 5sansLast year an anonymous,* cisgender gay man started a change.org petition urging Lambda Legal, Human Rights Campaign, The Advocate, GLAAD, and several other LGBT organizations to disassociate from the transgender community and become simply “LGB” organizations.

It’s an idiotic, ignorant petition, full of hateful statements and outright falsehoods about transgender people and the trans agenda. Some of the claims are cribbed wholesale from religious right organizations.  Most of the parties to whom it was addressed quickly and categorically denounced it. Including Lambda Legal, of course. If you’ve been following my story for any length of time, you know that Lambda Legal’s attorneys, two of whom were transgender themselves, represented me in my lawsuit, and the organization has always been an unstinting champion of transgender rights.

The nut of the “drop the T” argument is this: to be lesbian, gay, or bisexual is about sexual orientation, while to be transgender is about gender identity. Two different things, with different needs for medical care, legal protections, and advocacy—but they’ve been lumped in together as if they’re all the same. You got your chocolate in my peanut butter! In addition to the cisgender gay men and lesbians trying to push us off the Pride float, a few transgender women and men have also argued for cleaving the rainbow, but there are very few transpeople trying to make that case. This argument mainly comes from the cisgender members of our movement.

It’s difficult not to see the argument as meanly selfish. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has fallen for LGB people, and marriage equality is now the law throughout the country. The “gay agenda” could justifiably be declared a complete success, if it weren’t for us pesky trans people lagging behind. Some probably want to cut us loose like a sick branch from a tree. Others, in fact, have already proceeded as if we don’t matter: The New York advocacy group, Empire State Pride, disbanded last year, standing on a metaphorical carrier flight deck and claiming, “mission accomplished.”

If you hadn’t already guessed, I think it’s a really bad idea to uncross these streams. Yes, there are many technical and societal differences that divide the LGB from the T, but there’s one much bigger similarity that overrides all those differences. Sexual orientation and gender identity are both about gender nonconformity.

The presumption that a man will be sexually attracted only to women is a gender stereotype. The presumption that a woman will be sexually attracted only to men is a gender stereotype. The presumption that a person’s gender identity will match their biological sex is a gender stereotype. All LGBT people confound these stereotypes.

Transgender people benefit from LGB advances that don’t obviously have anything to do with them. Marriage equality is one example. Before the Obergefell ruling, a transgender lesbian b2675e6a34e8586fcf67532b43who legally changed her sex on all of her identity documents might have been unable to marry another woman. Or, a straight transgender woman’s marriage to a man might have its validity denied, as happened to Nikki Araguz Loyd and many other people before last year.

Likewise, LGB people (and sometimes even straight people) always benefit from advances that seem, on the surface, to be about transgender people. My lawsuit, Glenn v. Brumby, obviously was a transgender issue—but the major precedent my attorneys cited in their briefs was Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, in which a woman, Ann Hopkins, was denied a promotion at her job because she didn’t look feminine enough. Hopkins wasn’t transgender (she wasn’t even lesbian), but the precedent her case set, which was extended by the win in my case, then extended still further by the following year’s Macy v. Holder, protects all females who suffer for seeming too masculine, and males who seem too feminine, whether they’re trans or not. Think about the words “butch,” “nelly,” and “sissy,” and you’ll understand how this precedent protects cisgender gay men and lesbians.

But the most important reason why we all need to stay in this canoe and paddle in the same direction is because the haters will always put us in the boat together regardless. Remember the story about two transwomen who were attacked on a MARTA train a couple of years ago? Here’s a quote from their assailant, interviewed after he was caught:

“I don’t hate gay people at all,” he said. “That’s not in my character at all. But when you are a gay guy and you come on to a straight guy and I tell you I don’t go that way then just let it be.”

It’s clear from that statement, and from others he made in the linked interview, that the man had zero awareness that there’s a difference between gay men and transgender women. It’s a very common misconception. Transwomen are called “fags” all the time. We suffer more violent hate crimes than the rest of the community combined. Our assailants may know we’re transgender women, or they may think we’re “gay men” trying to “trick” them. The difference is unimportant to them.

Such violence is what brought this topic back to my mind. Specifically, the mass murder at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Several of the victims were transgender women, and one account I’ve read leads me to think the shooter also wasn’t aware of or didn’t care about the distinction between gays and lesbians and transgender people.

As it was succinctly put in a comment section I once read: we’re all hated by the same people, for the same reasons. It doesn’t get any simpler than that. We’re all fighting the same fight.

“We must all hang together,” Benjamin Franklin said to his fellow delegates in the Continental Congress when he signed the Declaration of Independence, “Or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

Franklin was a boss.

*He said he remained anonymous for fear of reprisals. Which is cowardly troll-speak used by trolls.

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Autobiography: Anchors Aweigh, Part One.

Thursday, October 15th, 2015

“How long is Newport Bridge, indoc?”
“Sixteen long, long weeks, sir!”

I was way out of my depth, no pun intended, when I boarded the one-way flight to Providence, Rhode Island, heading for Navy Officer Candidate School (OCS) in Newport. It was a Thursday evening in June, many, many years ago. I didn’t know anything about military training, except for what I’d seen in movies about it, like “An Officer and a Gentleman” and “Full Metal Jacket.” The printed literature my recruiter gave me wasn’t very informative. Written descriptions of curricula and photos of pensive young men in white uniforms holding binoculars didn’t tell me much about the impending four months of my life.

Furthermore, there wasn’t any Navy experience in my family. I hadn’t been in ROTC. I’d never even lived on the coast. Would I be up for the challenges, physically and psychologically? Would the physical readiness requirements put me in the hospital instead of that white uniform? Would my inveterate smartassery send me into the brig? Would sadistic drill instructors insult my manhood, and then force me to do a hundred pushups? In the rain? In Greenland?

I had no way to know the answers to any of those questions. I comprehended less about the experience I was about to have than almost any of the other men and women who would become my classmates the following morning. I’d arrived at the head of a whirlwind. Just 24 hours prior to boarding that white Department of Defense van in Providence, I’d had no clue that in 24 hours I’d be boarding a white Department of Defense van in Providence.

Nearly a year earlier, after going through the application process, I’d heard nothing more from my recruiter until the phone call earlier that day. I received a last-minute

My new home. Photo source: www.navydads.com

My new home.
Photo source: www.navydads.com

appointment to this OCS class when another candidate dropped out. If I’d declined, I probably wouldn’t get another opportunity. So I said yes. I had nothing better going on in my life at the time. I quit my temp job, threw some clothes into a gym bag, and headed to the airport.

The guy next to me in the van was Dave, from Pennsylvania. He had a degree in statistics; I was to learn many of my classmates were from a background like this. He was headed for a career in naval nuclear power. He was the product of a program I’d never heard of before: he hadn’t been ROTC in college, but the Navy had paid for his education in exchange for a commitment to attend OCS and serve for at least five years after graduation. The program was only for nuclear power engineering candidates. I suppose people with that kind of high-demand talent aren’t willing to forego the usual collegiate carousing for ROTC.

Dave had known he was headed to this OCS class, on this date, for many months. Asking everyone else in the van, I learned that my whirlwind whisking away, my Shanghai surprise, my ambush appointment, was unique. Everyone else had received their appointments months earlier, and seemed to have a much better notion of what was in store. They probably even read the printed literature.

It was after dark when we stumbled out of the van in front of King Hall, a barracks at the Naval Education and Training Center. King Hall perched on a cliff overlooking Narragansett Bay, and was within sight of Newport Bridge, the massive metaphor for the 16 long, long weeks ahead of us.

In miles or in weeks, it's a long way across.

In miles or in weeks, it’s a long way across.

The course was divided into two eight-week “semesters,” and each term overlapped the next; my classmates and I were about to begin the “junior” semester, overseen in part by the candidates in the class ahead of us, who were just beginning their senior semester. The mission of OCS is to teach people to become leaders, and candidates get their first experience of that by managing the class right below them.

School wouldn’t officially start until the next morning, and the new officer candidates (or “O.C.s,” but we were called “indocs,” short for “indoctrinees,” our first week) had been arriving throughout the day, in waves. You should excuse the pun. We were a mix of men and women—I’d guess at least a third of us were women. We were from all over the country, and ranged in age from a 20-year-old Doogie Howser type who’d finished college early to a 28-year-old enlisted radioman who’d come to OCS from the fleet after finishing college in his spare time. He was married and had three kids; at 28, he looked 40.

The senior O.C.s manning the quarterdeck (in the civilian world, this is called a “lobby”) berated us for arriving so late, knowing full well we hadn’t had any control over that. They made it clear that our tardiness plainly indicated we lacked what OCS required of us, and would soon “D.E.” or disenroll and be sent home in shame and disgrace. They were embarrassed, the seniors said, to see the poor quality of the incoming class. The nation was clearly going to fail, if the likes of us were who it looked to to defend it. I felt certain they couldn’t yet have sufficient information to make this sort of judgment, but decided not to say anything.

Next they gave us sheets and blankets, told us our room assignments, and marched us to our beds.

Mine never looked this good except for inspections. Photo source: www.bryanweatherup.com

Mine never looked this good except for inspections.
Photo source: www.bryanweatherup.com

Except beds were called “racks.” The Navy, I was learning, had a different word for everything. We were two to each room, and our names were already printed on cards taped to our doors. Except for mine, that is; my name was hand-written on every label and roster, when it appeared at all.

I said King Hall was a barracks. That word may call up a picture of the Quonset hut Gomer Pyle’s platoon resided in. Really, this was a dormitory, just like a dorm anyone who’s been to college has seen. King Hall housed the student body, called a regiment: all officer candidates in the two classes. It had four floors (which we called decks); each deck was occupied by a battalion. Each battalion’s deck was further divided into three halls, or passageways, or p-ways, of rooms. Each p-way was a company.

I found myself assigned to Alfa Company, on the first floor with Bravo and Charlie companies. We were the 1st Battalion. Delta, Echo, and Foxtrot companies were on the second floor in 2nd Battalion. On the third floor, 3rd Battalion consisted of Golf, Hotel, and Juliet companies. Kilo, Lima, and Mike lived in the penthouse as 4th Battalion.

Yes, there was no “India” company. We do not speak of it!

My roommate’s name was Luke. That’s all I remember about him. After introducing ourselves, we didn’t talk much that night; it was already after taps when we’d arrived, and reveille was at five the next morning. Besides, what was there to say?

It took a long time to get to sleep that night. My mind was a churning sea of emotions. Nevermind the pun.


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Autobiography: Underway Replenishment.

Friday, September 18th, 2015

Here’s another new excerpt from my in-progress autobiography. This page contains information about how you can help me out financially with the project. Thanks, and I hope you enjoy this!

We were part of an aircraft carrier battle group, doing training exercises in the Pacific a few hundred miles east of Taiwan. Today, we were not doing a training exercise. Our cruiser approached the Navy tanker ship, or “oiler,” from astern, on its starboard side. The oiler had slowed to just five knots; we were doing seven knots to overtake it. I had the conn, but the captain was also on the bridge to supervise; I hadn’t done this many times before. The oiler had fuel and our ship needed fuel; an underway replenishment, or UNREP, was about to commence.

Down on the port side of the main deck, at about amidships, one of our gunner’s mates held a rifle. It wasn’t loaded with standard ammunition; it had a “monkey’s fist” attached to the tip of its barrel. A monkey’s fist is a tightly knotted ball of light rope; sometimes it has a ball bearing at its center. It’s good for throwing or, in this case, shooting.

On a signal from the bridge, the gunner’s mate aimed his rifle at the air above the oiler’s main deck and fired. The monkey’s fist arced over the churning sea between the two ships, dozens of yards of line trailing behind it like a streamer. This was the “shotline.” The ball hit the oiler’s deck and bounced; a dozen of the oiler’s seamen scrambled to catch it. In short order they did, and secured it to a bitt. Then several of them began to haul on the line while the boatswain’s mates at our end paid it out.

The shotline, which was light enough for ballistics but too light for anything else, was spliced into a heavier line, which was spliced into a still heavier line, until finally a heavy, load-bearing ropeMonkey's_fist with a pulley and winch apparatus connected our two ships and the real work began.

Once the connection was secure, the first item passed between the ships, supplied by the oiler, was the “P and D” or phone and distance line. As soon as we received our end, a seaman hustled it up to the bridge and delivered it to me.

The phone part of the term was a sound-powered telephone, a truly ingenious invention that the Navy has used for many decades. It works like a regular phone, except that, as the name implies, it’s powered by the pressure of the sound waves of each speaker’s voice. The waves are converted into electrical signals that travel across the wire to the other speaker’s headset, tin-can style; no external power is needed. I used this phone to communicate course and speed directly to the conning officer of the oiler, as well as to my own helmsman and lee helmsman.

The distance part of the P and D line is determined by the flags hanging from it, each 20 feet apart and color-coded in the order Green, Red, Yellow, Black, White, then starting over with Green again. The mnemonic for remembering the order is the relatively demure, by sailors’ standards, “Go Rub Your Balls With Grease,” but the order isn’t as important as remembering to keep the line taut with at least seven flags, or 140+ feet, between the ships. My captain told me that when he was a young ensign, the standard gap between ships was only 80 feet, but in the years since, the powers that be decided, as he put it, that “life didn’t need to be that interesting.”

My ship, like all U.S. Navy vessels, used UNREPs because it’s easier and cheaper to resupply a ship ata1800 sea than to send her into port every time she needs gas, food, ammunition, or anything else. And we didn’t stop for UNREPs because, dead in the water, we’d be at the mercy of wind and wave. So instead, as on this day, we pull alongside supply ships and match course and speed before the shotline is fired across.

It’s a dangerous operation. If we veered toward the oiler or vice versa, we’d collide before anyone could stop it. The danger of this occurring is compounded by something called the Bernoulli effect, a physical force in fluid dynamics that tugs on two ships steaming side by side, trying to draw their bows into each other. The helmsman, on orders from the conn, must always fight with the rudder to prevent this from happening.

However, if the opposite happened, perhaps through a hypercorrection or a steerage failure, and we turned away from each other, the cables and lines could snap and recoil with deadly speed. Fiber lines that part can kill, dismember, or decapitate any unlucky sailors in their paths. Wire ropes that part unravel their strands as they recoil, becoming metal propellers that shred anything they touch, including people.

Or, if the lines are strong enough not to part, they become the pivot points of a giant bola, sending the ships’ sterns crashing together.

If any of this happened during our refueling and gas hose parted along with the lines, it could spray fuel all over, starting fires or causing explosions on either ship’s deck. A hose malfunction could happen even if the ships behaved, which is why smoking and flammable materials are strictly forbidden on deck during a refueling exercise.

These dangers explain why I was in direct communication with the oiler’s conning officer, and why I was constantlyoiler calling out course and speed corrections to him. When I say “course corrections,” I mean one or two degrees at a time—three at the most. And when I say “speed corrections,” I don’t mean in knots; I mean in revolutions per minute of the ship’s main drive shafts. That’s how precisely in tune we had to be.

This day we were two weeks into a month-long exercise with the carrier group. We were the aft AAW picket, which meant we were stationed 100 miles behind the bird farm. No other ships were ever in sight, but thanks to radar and radios everyone always knew where everyone else was.

A thick fuel hose with an unfortunately phallic nozzle on the end was run out across the amidships cable from the oiler to our ship, where it slammed home and locked into a pipe with an unfortunately yonic receptacle for the hose on its end. A man stood by this junction with a sledgehammer; the apparatus was designed to break clean and seal itself in an emergency.

These refueling operations took up to an hour to complete. One or more of these oilers, and other supply ships, traveled with carrier battle groups, and their crews spent all day, every day, doing UNREPs like these. Sometimes they did two at once, with one ship on each side.

Throughout the operation, extra lookouts kept their eyes on the water dividing us, ready to spot any sailor unlucky enough to fall overboard. This patch of sea roiled and churned like rapids in a shallow river; the Bernoulli effect at work again. If a man fell overboard during this, he’d probably get sucked under a hull or into the spinning screws.

My ship was a guided-missile cruiser with the primary mission of anti-aircraft warfare. IUNREP_Refuel_probe didn’t serve during wartime, so all the “action” we saw was in the form of training exercises. In the Combat Information Center, we looked at a scope and pretended to fire a missile at an icon representing a fake blip on our radar. If the icon disappeared, the pretend missile had destroyed the pretend enemy aircraft. If the icon didn’t disappear, it meant we had pretend-missed the pretend-aircraft. Either way, someone would write up an after-action report. Yee haw.

Stressful and scary as UNREPs were, I looked forward to them as one of the few really exciting things we got to do as a matter of routine.

When our tanks were full, we began what’s called the “breakaway.” We cast off all lines and accelerated to twice our speed while the oiler held steady. When our stern drew even with the oiler’s bow, I ordered “right full rudder,” and we carved ocean away from the oiler in a long, majestic arc. Every ship traditionally plays “breakaway music” over its weather deck speakers to assert some personality and signal a thank-you to the replenishing ship. My captain, who loved classical and symphonic music, always had us play Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man.”

It was exhilarating. I loved every moment of these operations. When we were clear of the oiler I turned to my helmsman, smiling ear to ear, and said, “On days like these you just want to give back your paycheck, right?”

His expression didn’t change. “Maybe you do, sir.”

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Veterans Day

Monday, November 18th, 2013

Veterans Day was last week, and every time it comes up it reminds me of something I’ve been thinking our country could be much better at.

When I was a young naval officer stationed in San Diego for training, I visited the local Unitarian-Universalist church one Sunday and went to lunch with another group of young adults. A woman sitting across the table from me asked what I do, and I explained that I was an ensign in the U.S. Navy.

She looked at me blankly and asked, “is that like a sergeant?”

I took a deep breath, and while I don’t remember what I told her, I hope it was something along the lines that no, it’s nothing like a sergeant. An ensign is the lowest rank of commissioned officer in the Navy (and Coast Guard), which has no sergeants, and that sergeants are senior noncommissioned officers in the Army, Air Force, and Marines.

I didn’t hold her ignorance against her (even in a Navy town like San Diego). Who teaches this sort of thing? The average civilian isn’t. When I was growing up, in good public school systems in Georgia and Texas, in social studies I learned geography, history, a good bit about the judicial system, and how the government works. I think I was taught some very general things about our armed forces and how they’ve been used in the past, but that’s about it. I knew very little about our military before I entered Officer Candidate School. Americans should know more than they do.

The United States has the world’s largest defense budget. It’s bigger than the defense budgets of the next ten or so countries combined, Russia and China included. That’s about a third of the federal government’s total spending for each year.

The five armed forces (Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard) employ several million people, including officers, enlisted, and civilian workers. Many of its bases are the lifeblood of towns across the country (and even in other countries; the U.S. naval base in Yokosuka, Japan and the Army base in Wiesbaden, Germany make big contributions to their local economies).

The previous decade was more or less defined by our military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. The military also looms large in the politics of the Cold War; nuclear weapons, after all, are military assets. Do most people know how atomic bombs would have been used? Or how they can serve a purpose, even if they’re not used? The same goes for more conventional assets as well.

Given all that, it seems perfectly reasonable that the average U.S. citizen should be taught a few basic things about the military while they’re in school. It would make them better-informed about why we devote so many lives and treasure to it, what’s really at stake when our President initiates saber-rattling or conflicts, and what life is really like for people who serve. Most people don’t know what they’re really expressing gratitude for when they say “thank you for your service.”

  • The difference between the Navy and the Coast Guard.
  • The relationship of the Marine Corps to the Navy.
  • The purpose of the National Guard and Reserves, and their relationship to the regular forces.
  • The mission of the U.S. military (It’s absolutely not, as I’ve seen it claimed, to “kill people”).
  • The difference between commissioned officers and enlisted personnel, and the names of ranks in each.
  • How assets are used (Why does the Navy have airplanes? Why does the Army have ships?).
  • Very generally, what the different services’ uniforms look like. I wouldn’t expect civilians to know a major’s gold oak leaf from a (Navy) captain’s eagle, but it doesn’t seem too much to ask that they know Army uniforms tend to be green, Air Force uniforms are dark blue, and Navy uniforms are black or white. Or that the Navy’s black uniforms are called “blue,” even though they’re indisputably black (I never understood that myself).
  • How the military budget is spent, and how the “military-industrial complex” works.

In the 1960s and 1970s, at the height of the counterculture, a suggestion like this would be met with deep suspicion that the powers that be were trying to install a militocracy. I think we’re past that now. This is just good governance.