I won’t lie. I was called up for a Draft physical in early 1968 at the height of the Vietnam war, an absolutely worthless conflict that resulted in the deaths of some 58,000 American service people and some several million Vietnamese.
I knew I would not go. Fighting a war that some rich old men wanted me to fight against people who were totally incapable of harming the US seemed absurd. Besides to paraphrase Mohammad Ali (still Cassius Clay) “No Vietnamese ever called me a sissy or queer.” Simply put my oppressors, my enemies were right here in the USA.
I did all the stuff guys did to fail the physical. I stayed up a couple of days, didn’t wash. It didn’t matter they took one look at me and sent me over to hang out with the rest of the “girls”. Now I thought I passed pretty good as a guy at that point. I may have been one of the few to think that but that is often the case with us prior to our coming out.
Written on the body.
They sent me over to wait with sisters in full drag and obviously feminine gay men because they knew me better than I did. They didn’t make us strip down and they let us pee in the bottle behind a screen.
I aced the aptitude test just to piss them off.
At the end of the physical they sent me to wait with the others who were too queer to murder for their country.
I was bothered because they hadn’t asked about my arrest record so I went to ask one of the officers and he looked at me and said, “We wouldn’t have you in the service if the Vietcong were having dinner every night in Chinatown.”
I aided draft resisters, I encouraged guys to desert. Our cadre in the Haight and Berkeley had a half dozen different deserters as members over the course the war.
After I came out I was a woman who said yes to a man who said no. He deserted from the Marines after having served his time in Vietnam. He was my lover for two years prior to my surgery and for a year after.
When he was arrested by the FBI I found lawyers and spent my surgery fund to get him transferred from the brig to a hospital in Oakland where I broke him out.
To be gay or lesbian or trans at the time meant that if you were out and political you were probably progressive and anti-war to boot even though many of the founders of the early gay liberation movement in San Francisco and Los Angeles had served in WW II. Vietnam was different, we were different.
Now I know many people who come out as trans in middle age were so deeply stealth, so hidden behind a mask of masculinity as to have both volunteered as part of an effort to become real men and to have been able to pass and serve. The irony being that the screening asked if you slept with men and so many who come out later in life were heterosexual in their assigned at birth sex. As a result technically they were not gay.
As I said I have mixed feelings. Tonight we watched Sergei Eisenstein’s film “The Battleship Potemkin“, a silent film. The Translation of one of the narrative cards says “Revolution Means War. This– This is the one Lawful, Reasonable, and Just, Truly Great War of all the Wars that History has Known…”
Mario Savio put it a different way in 1964 during the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley when he said:
There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus — and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it — that unless you’re free the machine will be prevented from working at all!!
Herein lies the contradiction… In truth I believe the only just war to be revolution and not wars that extend spheres of influence and control or result in imperialistically exploiting and oppressing the people of other lands… Yet my dedication to equality and my belief in the freedom of others, their rights as human beings require me to support their right to enter into the military and serve even when I find that very military to be odious.