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Naturally, I would talk about my partner, so others would learn I was gay from hearing that. One of these was an NCO [non-commissioned officer] who was assigned as one of our leaders. After he found out I was gay, his attitude toward me changed completely.

James Wharton (author) - Wikipedia

The third time I came out, I decided to do it on my terms. Since most of the soldiers in my unit were from New York City and the surrounding area, I decided to start my first day during introductions by telling my section where I was from and that I lived with my partner, so there would be no room for that awkward moment.

In many ways, it was less complicated than coming out to my family, some of whom had a problem with it.

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It was a totally normal conversation. The fourth time I came out in the military was while I was deployed to Kuwait, and once again I found unexpected acceptance.

Out in the Army: My life as a gay soldier

One day, I randomly decided to put it on because I missed wearing my ring. Was I willing to risk losing that capital before I had the chance to earn it? I tore the bright sticky notes into confetti and tossed them into the trash. The military is built on a foundation of earning trust and proving yourself to your peers and superiors as capable.

But none of that had been mentioned in the notes.

Something that after September was supposed to be meaningless. After a few months at Fort Drum, I discovered a group that convened for secret support meetings. No two people were similar — a woman who had been in the service nearly as long as I had been alive, a married father, an infantry soldier a rank below me.

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Each person identified as something other than heterosexual, but only privately. In their everyday lives, they pretended to be straight. We met in different places — in barracks rooms and offices after hours — but always in secret. Sometimes it was to console or commiserate.

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During these meetings I always talked about my anxiety over not knowing who had written those sticky notes and if they were standing next to me in formation or would be the person I sat beside, alone, on my next hour shift. Remembering this was sometimes helpful — as if I were seeing things with greater perspective, finding the silver lining.

Other times it made me nearly sick with shame to compare my fears with theirs. But I never stopped going. I left the Army in December , but I still feel as if I am coming to terms with my identity.

Out in the Army: My Life as a Gay Soldier

There are moments when it feels wrong to claim my status as a veteran; as if being gay made me less of a soldier and somehow invalidated my service. Every memory evokes an emotion: rage that I had to serve with a constant sense of fear of my fellow soldiers; paralyzing sadness for those who endured abuses worse than I can know; and, the worst, guilt over the service members — gay or straight or transgender — who died while serving in the military while my body is still whole.

But it is when the guilt is most crippling that I remember my support group. That chance to share an unseen pain and know there were others like me struggling each day still helps me wake up each morning, pull on my boots and go about my day. Details Seeking escape from the quiet countryside of North Wales, the young James Wharton joined the British Army with adventure on his mind - and he found it - At basic training, boozing and brawling accompany the daily trials of army life, but all the while James faces a battle of his own: he is gay, and finding the courage to tell not only his family and friends but also his fellow soldiers will be the biggest challenge of all.

Out Author & Soldier James Wharton: Out in the Army: My Life as a Gay Soldier

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