Thursday, June 02, 2016

Eric Fanning, First Gay Secretary of the Army

Eric Fanning, Secretary of the Army

Folks, now this is a day I never thought I would witness.  Eric Fanning was confirmed by the U.S. Senate to be the first openly gay Secretary of the Army.  Did I hear this right? An openly gay man as Secretary of the Army?

Wow.  Have we ever come a long way from the first "openly gay" situation comedy, "Will and Grace."  And even that was a very tentative move, casting a straight actor, Erica McCormack as Will.  Like there aren't enough gay actors around that could have easily filled that role.  Will's friend "Jack" role was filled by the really gay actor Sean Hayes, who had to be dragged kicking and screaming even to finally admitting he was gay in real life. God forbid that Sean should lose an acting job if he came out.  Courage is all too often in short quantity with too many gay actors, and that includes you Sean.

The "Will and Grace" cast, all straight except for "Jack" on the left and even he stayed in the closet all too long

I have all the respect in the world for a man like Eric Fanning who has lived his life as an openly gay man.  I respect people who live truthful lives and demand to be accepted for the person who they are.

I have to admit I am enjoying a bit (a lot actually) of schadenfreude at the thought of all those homophobes in the Army now who are just beside themselves now.  Who are they going to call "FAG!" as the ultimate derogatory putdown.

As regular readers of this blog know I joined the army fresh out of high school (with a six month detour due to me failing my first physical). I was 18 years old and scared to death but I felt I owed this obligation to my country.  And besides, I couldn't get a job.  And I didn't want to get drafted.

18 year old Army Recruit - Ron

So where should I end up?  Working for the National Security Agency (NSA) outside Washington D.C.  The problem?  I was assigned a Top Secret clearance.  I didn't ask for this job nor the top secret clearance.  My problem was that I knew I was gay but that I could lose my clearance at any time and be thrown out of the Army, thus ruining my life forever.  And one didn't have to be caught in doing any gay acts (no problem there with me, I was a complete neophyte at that time of my life).  One only had to be accused and one lost one's clearance and was less than honorably discharged.  Folks, for the two and a half years I lived and worked at the NSA headquarters at Fr. Meade Maryland, I had that threat hanging over my head. 

National Security Agency, Ft. George G. Meade, MD - where I worked for 2 1/2 years 1960-1962
Second largest government building after the Pentagon

While I was stationed at Ft. Meade I saw too many of my fellow soldiers losing their clearance and go through the ignominy of being discharged.  

I loved my job at NSA and could have easily converted my Army job to a civilian status when my three year term of enlistment was up.  Couldn't do it though because the U.S. government also had a ban against gays. Why? They say gays could be blackmailed and thus divulge U.S. secrets.  This is a classic Catch-22 because why could gays be blackmailed?  Because they were not allowed to serve in the U.S. Army nor work for the government in a classified capacity.  Stupid right? Absolutely.  

I had even considered making a career out of the Army.  I actually liked being in the Army.  But I figured out that eventually I explore the ways of the flesh and become involved with another man and thus be caught.  I did the calculation and figured the odds were not in my favor.  Thus, I reluctantly left the Army and my good job in January of 1963.  But one of the first things I did when I got out of the Army was come out to everybody.  And I mean everybody. 

I lost about half of my friends.  I was disowned as unclean and not worthy of being a friend, relative or whatever because I was "one of them."  You know, "them."  

To this day I am estranged from my family because I choose to live my life openly as a gay man thus causing them discomfort in their own lives.  "Gay Uncle Ronnie" doesn't play well in their conservative, insular lives.  I wonder what they think of Eric Fanning being named the first openly gay Secretary of Army. 

Me today, honorably discharged from the Army, retired and working part-time as a hotel front desk clerk. No big-time government pension for me like so many of my fellow gay retirees here (all former government employees who playinged for the U.S. government. 


James Flagg said...

Thank you for your service!! You are one of the strong pioneers for all of us younger gay guys. I can't thank all of our gay forebearers enough for paving the way for us.
If it wasn't for guys like you, I would still be in the closet. I couldn't imagine that!! But I know that you faced a lot in those early years. I can't even begin to imagine.
I too lost several friends when I came out. I'm also very selective to those I that I tell I'm gay. Thank God, I had an ex girlfriend that helped through a lot.
Again, thank you Ron!!!

Randy in NEB said...

Ron, I can still see your face in that photo of you as a young soldier! I think so many where helped by you and others quiet struggles over the years, it took long enough though. When I was in the USAF I found out later through the grapevine that co-workers were talking about me. I didn't think I gave them a reason to. But like you I was glad I joined up. Randy.

Larry Meredith said...


One of my biggest regrets is that we did not communicate our feelings very well and lost a big chunk of time.


WARPed said...

I think my house is somewhere in the background of that NSA picture...

As others have mentioned, thanks for living as your authentic self.



Ron said...

I know it is hard for some to believe now but coming out in the early Sixties was scary and dangerous, very dangerous. In fact even today it is dangerous to live life as an openly gay man. However, at that time I made my decision not to live my life as a lie. No way was I going to live my life according to others who thought I should live my life. I remember how angry I was that others assumed I would live my life according to what made THEM conformable. I also remember how relieved I was once I made my decision. Such a feeling of freedom I have never experienced since. I felt like a heavy yoke was lifted from my shoulders. I feel sorry for those members of my family who continue to feel ashamed of me and members of their immediate family they know are gay. I have never felt ashamed of who I am, never.

Ron said...

You can still "see my face" in that old Army basic training photo Randy? WHAT? I haven't changed THAT much (smile). Of course I've changed. I've always considered myself very lucky in that I've been happy with all the ages of my life, even now. Now what's coming up as I approach 80 is another story. We shall see.

Ron said...

We did lose a big chunk of time there didn't we Larry but thank goodness our friendship is back on the front burner again and will continue to be there until we finish out our term of "service."

Ron said...

Wow Andy! You live that close to Fort Meade? As far as me living my "authentic self." I felt I had no choice Andy. There was no way I could or be able to live a life as a lie. Just not in my nature. Of course I've paid a great price for that a decision but I would make the same decision again.

Ur-spo said...

a good survival tale.

Ron said...

My life like many others is/was all about survival Dr. Spo.