Good morning everyone and happy Saturday once again! And yes, Happy St Pat’s Day/Irish Heritage Day/All Snakes Day, Blessed Ostara and don’t forget – Mercury goes DIRECT tomorrow! Can ya feel it?
Well, this week, I thought I’d do that journalist thing and provide you all with another Pagan military member interview. So, I’ll leave my parting here. Have a great week everyone, and many blessings to you and yours!
When the average American envisions a U.S. Marine, he or she may imagine a recruitment billboard: A tall, physically fit, broad-shouldered, square-jawed man standing in attention in a flawless dress uniform. The ads remind us there are only a few guys like these, and they sure are proud of it, and we all should aspire to be just like them. Or perhaps, some may recollect the stereotypical, perhaps frighteningly comical, Gunnery Sergeant Hartman screaming at his new recruits – some excited, some scared, and almost all well aware they will most likely be pulled for Infantry thousands of miles away from home. Then there are the action images we all picture – the dirty, adrenaline-infused Warrior firing off rounds in a foxhole while sneering at his enemies with a blunted cigar gnashed between his teeth.
But are any of those reflections accurate? The only time we do not picture a Marine as a strong caricature but instead as a human being, is either on homecoming clips or as wounded warriors struggling to adapt to a new norm – perhaps someone to pity. And in those homecoming clips, thousands of them we see every day, reminding us to thank them for our service but their individual faces we quickly forget, it’s either surprising the family or kissing his wife or girlfriend in a long-overdue embrace. And even then, when we do see Retired Marines (never say Ex-Marines!) who returned home whole, they are always projected as decidedly straight and Christian, perhaps as fist-shaking grumpy old men telling the neighborhood kids to stay off their lawns or as the over-protective, authoritarian fathers intimidating the new boyfriends of their teenaged daughters.
Whichever image is conjured, there is, I believe, one constant: a Marine, whether active or retired, represents the epitome of what it means to serve our country – a standard only a select few of us will ever achieve. A Marine is the toughest of the tough – a true badass in every sense. They say “Don’t Mess with Texas”, but that’s really just a stern request not to litter on the highways. Now “Don’t Mess with Camp Pendleton” – while it doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, well my Gods, that’s what I would call a serious warning! Don’t even think about it. Seriously. Just don’t.
One image we collectively do not picture for Marines are as being gay or Pagan, and definitely not the two combined. With that said, I would like to introduce you all to Sobu, a gay, Pagan Marine.
Sobu (left) and his handfasted partner, Phoenix
Thanks for taking time out for our readers, Sobu. I understand you were active duty in the U.S. Marines from 1996 to 2000, back when DADT was still fairly new and women of course were barred from direct combat positions. What was it like for gays in the military back then? And too, this was during the time when Pagans were decidedly not welcome in the military, recalling Bob Barr’s and George W Bush’s comments from that time, so please enlighten us on that aspect of the culture.
From what I experienced it wasn’t the best place for gays back then. I knew several gay service members who were discharged. It was definitely an atmosphere of fear and mistrust…even meeting other Marines who admitted to being gay could be a risk. At one point they added “Don’t Pursue” to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell , which meant that if someone was suspected of being gay they weren’t supposed to be investigated, but it did happen. I was actually accused of being homosexual by one of my roommates. His “evidence” was that I had bodybuilding magazines (just like every other Marine did) and there was a cd in my music collection that had the words “gay-friendly” on it. It was a cd of a political-oriented band that a friend had given me.
Being Pagan was a bit different. I got into Paganism while I was in the Corps, and never really faced any real prejudice about it, at least to my face. I was pretty much out of the broom closet to most of the people I knew. The chapel on Camp Kinser on Okinawa gave us our own space to meet in, and we held weekly classes and had open rituals that anyone could attend. The group when I was there was called ARC (Alternative Religious Circle) and I eventually became one of the co-leaders. It was a great time. There were a few other groups on Okinawa that we coordinated with and we all met up for Sabbats, camping trips, and the occasional picnic. I have very good memories of being Pagan on Okinawa.
Because your active duty service ended a full year before the terrorist attacks, the overall defense climate was different as well. Would you care to detail where you were primarily stationed and your position?
I was a Weather Observer, MOS-6821, stationed on Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. I was one of the people in charge of our mobile weather vans, meaning I spent a lot of time deployed. I’ve climbed Mt Fuji twice, toured Korea and mainland Japan, and spent one night in Bangkok while in Thailand. The climate in Okinawa was a bit tense at times due to the horrifying rape case that occurred there a few months before I arrived. There were a lot of protests and attempts to remove several bases from the island, so security was always on the forefront of our thoughts.
You are handfasted to your wonderful partner, Phoenix, but I would like to inquire if it is legally recognized as a civil union in the state of Illinois. Are you two looking forward to Illinois moving forward to marriage equality?
The Illinois Senate has passed a gay marriage amendment, and the governor has stated he will sign it into law, so we’re just waiting on the House to approve it. I’m very much looking forward to marrying Phoenix, but we’re in no hurry. We enjoy each other very much, and there’s no doubt in our minds it will happen someday, but we’ve both been in relationships before that have taught us to take our time and not rush into anything. We handfasted in 2011 at the Pagan Spirit Gathering, and we consider ourselves engaged (in the real world), but as far as I’m concerned he’s already my husband.
With things progressing forward in the Supreme Court, do you believe we will see equal marriages occurring throughout the United States by this summer? How will you celebrate?
I don’t know about this summer, but I think it will happen eventually. As for celebrating…ha…maybe watch a few episodes of Will and Grace. We’re kinda low-key.
As someone who was raised in a small Midwestern town, how difficult is it for you to be open with your family and childhood friends about being gay or Pagan? What about at work?
With family and friends we are totally out. Even my grandmothers love Phoenix! He’s really fit into my family and I’m ecstatic about that. It wasn’t always easy, though. For years I felt like an outsider because of my homosexuality and distanced myself from my family. I spent so much time being afraid of losing the love of family and friends and I realize now that I sold their love short. When I came out I received so much support and well-wishes from so many people it was overwhelming, even friends from the Marine Corps were very supportive and happy for me.
I’m pretty much out at work. Several of my co-workers have met Phoenix, and ask me about him from time to time. It’s been a great experience to be open about that aspect of my life and have my co-workers be supportive or even indifferent to my lifestyle.
Being Pagan, on the other hand, is something I don’t really advertise. I work in a very Christian environment, and my family is also very Christian. Open-minded yes, but only to an extent. I have Pagan listed on my Facebook page as my religion, and I’ve had several people ask me about it, but not as many as I thought I would have.
With the climate being much more tolerant in the military toward gays and Pagans, do you believe your time in service would have been easier? In that respect, what has been your greatest challenge?
I think it would have been much easier! The main reason I got out was because I couldn’t handle not being true to myself anymore. I mean, you give up a lot of things when you join the military, and it’s worth being away from your family and not having the freedom to do what you want when you want, and I looked at hiding my sexuality as one of the sacrifices I could make to serve my country. I was proud to be a Marine, and I still am. My time in the service was one of the best times of my life. But the Corps Values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment were something I couldn’t truly uphold. I was lying to myself and to my friends and that started to wear on me. I had friends that knew, and they were cool with my being gay, but it started to get to be too much.
For those who are thinking about stopping by the recruiter’s office, what would be the one piece of advice you’d give them?
Do it! It will take you places you’ve never been and you will see things you can’t even imagine! It will change your life!
And before we part, I’d like to ask: If you were given the opportunity to restart your life just prior to enlisting, would you still serve? I know your family has a long history of service, so was that a huge factor for you?
I would definitely do it again. I’ve seen amazing parts of the world and been introduced to so many exciting cultures, foods, and experiences that I never would have if I hadn’t joined. My family’s history of service was very important to me, but it really didn’t factor into my decision to join.