AIR FORCE VETERAN , 7 YEARS OF SERVICE
RAMSAY, ON JOINING THE SERVICE AND A MOTHER’S PREMONITION:
ON BEING THE TARGET OF A WITCH HUNT INVESTIGATION, IN OKINAWA, JAPAN:
ON BEING SEXUALLY ASSAULTED, AND WHY GOING TO THE POLICE WOULD HAVE COST RAMSAY HER CAREER:
I worked in a steel mill out of high school and then joined the service when I was twenty-two. My mother was quite ill at the time. She couldn’t handle the chemotherapy so I took her out on a Saturday in August and I had just brought her home when the recruiter called and said I was finally accepted, and gave me a date- I started September the 14th of 1976. And by June the 11th of 1977, my mother had died. I always looked at that as a transition where she faded out of the word and I faded into it. One of the blessings I had was when I finished basic training and went home for Christmas. I had a different personality- I was talking up a storm in the kitchen and she was over the sink doing dishes. I was telling a story and she just looked at me. She goes I’m so proud of you she said but I’m not sure the world is ready for you. She seemed genuinely happy for me, that I was going to be okay; I was in a new environment, I was in the military, I had a new family and I wasn’t going to be on the streets or anything like that- but in the same regard, she knows I have a very strong naive side. She knew I was willing to go out there and give it my best shot. But I think she had some concerns about whether I was really going to be able to handle what was out there in the world. And it turned out some things I did, and some things I didn’t…
I don’t think I would have changed any decisions I made, not in the least. I believe that every citizen of every country has not only a right, but perhaps a degree of obligation to fight and defend for the liberties and equalities that we have, particularly here in the United States. Women in this country should be able to stand up and join the service just like her male counter part. I’m in this country too. I deserve to fight for the freedoms that I have and not just leave everything to the male. That was my premise. And my mother couldn’t afford to send me to college, which kind of broke her heart. She felt like she had let us down somehow. But it was just keep a roof over your head and keep a job in those days, the early 70s. So I had this idea to join the air force- because their motto wasthat you’re only the best. Back in the day, you could either go to jail or go to the army, that kind of thing- and you knew which kind of person was in which brand of service. The Air Force appealed to me.
So I did and I had this whole spiel for my mother- I would join, I’d have a job, I’d have a roof over my head, they would feed me, and I could go to college. She was very proud of that, she said that was always something that she wanted to do but in her day- the 30’s- you would be a nurse, maybe a secretary. They really didn’t want women in the service. They were supposed to stay stateside, have the babies, that kind of thing.
So I went in and I didn’t have a sexual identity at the time. Very, don’t speak unless spoken to, terminally shy. But the Air Force, they wanted a different type and caliber of person. When stationed in Okinawa I started to play in sports- softball and basketball- we got to travel to different bases and we used to go downtown. We hung out together. You could go to someone’s house and there would easily be sixty or seventy people there partying, all gay, all branches of service- partying, partying, partying. Because we were open there and you could be comfortable, and that was how we networked. No one had a cell phone in the 70s so we communicated the old way.
We would go downtown to a little place called Toni’s , a non-descript bar- upstairs, narrow, with one air-conditioning up at the top above the back door and a few booths. There would be fifty or sixty people –I mean, we couldn’t even move. We would be dancing to Donna Summer and Singing in the Rain, the damn cake would be melted…and the boys were outrageous.
It was so much fun. And I was comfortable there, because before I left the states, I had come out. After my mother had passed, there was a woman who had comforted me- I started to develop really strong feelings for her. And I started to realize, that’s where I was comfortable. I was never really comfortable with men, I could never have a strong relationship with them. I always had felt I was more intelligent than them. I wanted a voice, and thought I should be treated as equal. Not as barefoot and pregnant. And that was the only message I seemed to get no matter where I was but I didn’t accept that. So I went over to Okinawa, thinking I liked girls, but had had no sexual experience and not a clue on my own body- how it functions, where things work and where those buttons are. So I went over there, I got into college and into sports and hung out with these girls. We were downtown one night and these marine chicks—I tell you— these girls were doing illegal Japanese drugs, which was speed, and we were drinking and one of them went back to their barracks. I still to this day don’t know what really happened, but all of us got rounded up. That started the whole bad thing for me.
From that fallout, we all got interviewed- I thought it was all done. We weren’t there, we didn’t know what the girl did. And then one day, I went to get my mail out of the mailbox and it wasn’t there. Instead there was a slip, which said I needed to report to the OSI Office (Office of Special Investigations.) I was like what the hell was in my mail? But it turned out it wasn’t that. They took my mail, and they called me in and I was interrogated. Literally, interrogated for hours. It started a nightmare for me because I never did get my mail. And it was letters from my sister, letters from friends I had been in basic camp with. They were reading my mail. And I didn’t even know what it was about, I didn’t even know why they were investigating me. At this point I suspected it was because I was gay but I didn’t even identify with that yet enough to know I was a target. But when you look at what I had already accomplished in the few years I was there, what better prize to bring down than someone who was a female, who was highly honored and decorated, who was now in a foreign country, a foreign land, with my only resource being the government with which I had come to serve and protect. And now I was being stalked.
Literally, I was stalked by three different agents. I would get up in the morning on the weekend and the chow hall was across the way from my dorm room- and one of them would be standing at the door of the chow hall. They came into my commanders office, we called it the orderly room- and it was a buck lieutenant, and he didn’t like me either because he was an officer, but I had more medals on my chest which made me worth more than him. They grilled me in front of him- asked me extremely personal questions of a sexual nature, in front of him and I would just repeat back to them the same thing they had told me.
Why was I hanging around with those girls?
Why wasn’t I hanging around with the boys?
Or the men that were in my unit?
Why did I choose to play sports?
Did I like girls?
Did I ever kiss a girl?
And I was like…uh…no. If you’re asking me, then you don’t know if I have or have not and the answer is no. And it was no, honestly, because I had never kissed a girl. I was waiting for the cherry lipstick, but no, I had never kissed a girl. At that point I hadn’t. But it was embarrassing, he was just chomping at the bit. In that day and age a man wanted to know – and I think this thread still exists in the male culture – what’s it like for a girl to be with a girl? And I was like I got nothing, I can’t tell you anything.
I didn’t have any idea how to respond. The only intrinsic thing I knew for myself is that I couldn’t say anything because I didn’t know what they were looking for. I didn’t know that a misspoken word would lead them to – oh, she’s a lesbian. I didn’t have any experience. I was so naive in my sexuality, I hadn’t really gotten there yet. But they had pegged and labeled me and I was done. They just needed that one piece of evidence- but they couldn’t get it.
Here I was in high regard in the unit that I was in and they are trying to find a way to usurp my identity, integrity, my character, my sense of commitment to what I thought was a career move for me. I was ready to spend twenty years in the service. This was going to be my lifelong job. And I was going to be the most successful at it as I could. That’s the work ethic I was raised with. You shake somebody’s hand and their word is their bond- you can rely on that. That’s what I grew up with. So when I suddenly had these men questioning me about something in my life that I hadn’t even defined or explored- it was a huge invasion of my privacy. Not to mention that it really changed my perception of the power of men and how it’s abused.
You’re away from home on your first Christmas alone and you have to open your Christmas presents in a sterile investigative office- your Christmas is shot. Any bonding between you and your family that had always been a cherished memory- so much for that connection on that special day. It’s all been methodically analyzed and evaluated. And it went on, seemingly forever, no matter where I went- I was at Toni’s and we knew there was an investigation going on and we had to make sure it was boy, girl boy girl sitting next to each other at the bar- all branches were represented there- while the agents were sitting in their car right across the alley with notepads, taking pictures. It went on for what seemed like forever but in my mind, in my memory, I don’t have the time-frame. I just know it was very significant for me that they violated my Christmas that way. And it’s something I would never forget. I would go to the commissary to shop, we’d be at the softball field practicing. Simple things I would do and there one of them would be. And I would know why they were there. People weren’t talking to me. The few people I had befriended that I hung with, they stepped way away. Nobody was talking to me. I was labeled and they knew it and they also knew that if they associated with me there was a chance that they would be dragged into this hunt that was going on. I wasn’t aware that there were witch hunts. I wasn’t aware of hunting someone who is putting his or her life on the line for this country. The whole concept was foreign to me. I hadn’t committed a crime. I wasn’t a threat- like a terrorist- I hadn’t had any behavior that would raise a flag. But they were going to try and make it that way. So now I deal with some paranoia, always having to know where my exits are and how to get out of situations.
It truly traumatized me and violated my personal space in a way I didn’t think was ever possible. Something like that was never on my radar. Then it cleared up. Eventually one day my mail was in my box. But it didn’t relieve this anxiety, I wondered Okay, did they really stop this investigation or are they just making me think they’ve stopped so that now I can let my hair down and they can catch me in something I haven’t done, I’ve never done, don’t have an inkling for, don’t have any idea how to pursue. Still there was that sense that somebody was watching me all the time, waiting to catch me.
I stayed in Okinawa for three and a half years and transferred to Clovis New Mexico around 1981. I had met someone overseas and we had become a couple. Eventually we had a civil union, performed in Phoenix. She was in the air force, too.
Unfortunately for me, I had befriended the owner of a laundromat. There were two laundromats and this was the better of the two; this one had a car wash in the back. The owner was always saying, come over on Saturday, we’ll have a BBQ. My wife is home and she wants to meet people. So I was like, okay. I accepted his offer one Saturday, which turned out to be a traumatic, traumatic experience. And a huge mistake.
I went to his home. I’m a beer drinker. He didn’t have any beer. What he had was a drink that was like watered down grape cool-aide. I drank some of it. He was giving me a tour of the house- I was like well where’s your wife, I thought she was gonna be here? And there was another guy there. He was wearing a hat- I had seen him before in the laundromat- kind of a shady looking character, but I didn’t think anything of it. They’re giving me a tour, and we are up in the bedroom area, and I’m wanting to leave but they’re cornering me. And I’m really not comfortable with this, I’m like when are we going to BBQ? I’m ready for that part of it. Well, suddenly there is no one around. Except me and him and this other guy. He started to make some advances and I pulled out the only card I had. I said I’m gay. Listen, I’m gay. I’m really not interested, you have a wife. Well, unfortunately, there was something in that drink, which I didn’t know about. He drugged me in the house and I came to in the laundromat, in a loft above. And I came to with him on top of me, raping me. I left there on my own and drove back to where I was living.
I never said anything. I couldn’t say anything. I already had a sealed OSI file from the investigation in Okinawa. I couldn’t go to the police and tell them I had been raped- I had been raped because I was gay. I wasn’t asking for it, I wasn’t looking for it. I wasn’t exhibiting myself in a manner that would be sexually attractive to a male. I’ve never been a pretty girl. So I was in a state of what do I do? I didn’t tell my partner- she probably would have asked twenty-questions: what was it like, did you like it. Later she would take the house and leave me for a man.
I’m traumatized here and I can’t even go to the police. I can’t say that I was raped and it was wrong and I’m gay. As soon as I say that, my career in the military is over. I would have to say that I was gay.
The horror that I live with, besides the reality of the rape, is that about 30 days later, I was leaving that base and they actually arrested him for molesting some little girls. Across the street from the laundromat there was a penny arcade where a group of little school girls would hang out after school and they finally arrested him for that. This is the hardest thing in my therapy. I still can’t deal with the fact that I couldn’t defend myself, I couldn’t stand up for myself and right the wrong. And since I couldn’t stand up for me, some child has been traumatized. And I’m an adult. And I believe very strongly that adults have a responsibility for children and to ensure their safety, particularly the sanctity of their sexuality. And every time I hear a story on the news, or anytime I see some kids, little girls, I just feel this tremendous shame. And sense of remorse. And I’ve had to live with that for over thirty years now. My therapist has spoken with me at length- logically and intellectually, she’s absolutely right; he came with an agenda, he obviously was setting a pattern, my naivety was very childlike for him. What better way than to figure out how to put a drug into a drink that appeared completely harmless- that a child would drink- like cool-aide – and get the impact of a combination where the person is still functioning but he could have his way with her. I was drugged.
I can remember some things but have huge gaps in the memory, except the tragedy of the traumatic experience. I would never have been able to defend myself in the court of law. In those days the attitude was that you must have done something to provoke this. There was no counseling, there were no victims advocates, there was nothing for women. If a male decided to violate you, it was your fault. Now there’s some little girl out there that’s completely traumatized. But to what degree, we’ll never now because it’s like the priests who are pedophiles and the children who didn’t say anything because they’ll be some tragic consequence to you or your family or the people that you love, so you just shut up and take it.
So that’s the two-fold PTSD that I deal with. Being stalked by agents of the government, which sounds so ridiculous but it actually happened. And by keeping my mouth shut and staying the good little road, I didn’t loose my career in the military. But after the rape it was very difficult for me. I drank more heavily. I started to smoke pot. I just did anything to numb myself. I developed a pattern of just getting blitzed every night so I could sleep. Now some 30 years later back in 2009 I had a bad flashback at work. I’m working at the VA now. I thought going back in that environment would be healthier for me. I would be secured, I could use my time in the military for job seniority, I could actually have a pension finally. But I was working in a really stressful situation. I had a bad flashback, and ended up in therapy. Thankfully, I’ve been with the PTSD coordinator, and she is a very caring and conscientious therapist. We went through it, the whole twelve weeks like a bull in a china shop. And it just stirred up this whole Pandora’s box of emotions and anger, I was having one crisis after another, severe panic attacks. It went on and on. And I took great offense that I was failing my therapy. Finally I said I’ve done everything that you’ve told me. I just can’t deal with some of this. I didn’t get everything fixed.
I’m in a situation again (at work) where it’s a very hostile environment for women. I’m now at the point where I am going to be forced to quit my job and go out on medical retirement. I am already 50% PTSD. I’ve been reevaluated for an increase to 70%. My therapist has already told me, once I get to that, I need to quit my job because mentally I will no longer have the capabilities. I used to thrive on stress. Stress junkie, it used to be my thing. I was in medical billing; how many plates could you spin at the same time? It was my forté. Everybody would come in harried and I’d be like, this is what we’re going to do to get it done. Since I’ve come back from workers comp and the flashback, I don’t even know where to start. I’ll start something and forget that my work is half done. And the reviews come back reflective. I don’t have these parts, I’m missing parts.
I have lost some of the intrinsic skills I have from the PTSD being exacerbated by the stressful work environment I’m in. The thing that saddens me, at this point in my life is that when I was twenty-one, when I started out in the service, I had such a dream, I had such a goal, everything is going to be so great. I was going to see the world. I was going be this person that was so well rounded, an intelligent, striving, successful woman. I could do anything in the Air Force. I’d already achieved beyond what they’d thought. I’d made E4 and E5 the first time I’d tested. When you seek a promotion in your job, you take an hour-long test on your job and an hour-long test on the history of the service of the branch you’re in. The first time I’d missed promotion by 2/10th of a point. So within 6 months I had my stripe. And it wasn’t happening that a lot of people were making E5 in four years. It was the end of Vietnam and there were a lot of field promotions, but when you had to test to be promoted, it bogged the waters down. People just couldn’t do that. And here I was a successful woman, despite what I had been through in Okinawa. I was still able to be successful. But then to come back to the United States and be sexually assaulted, it changed my whole world. So by October of 1983, I was out of the service. I was discharged under a general- under honorable conditions. I had gotten busted because my girlfriend had wanted her pot and the coach on the softball team walked by our dorm and saw a towel under the door. So we got called in, and we got drug tested. Only I was positive, not her. I raised that question, how could we be smoking pot together and only I came out positive? It didn’t matter- they wanted her for the softball team. And I was summarily sent home on a plane and discharged. But it wasn’t dishonorable and I have to say at this point, that’s the only plus because I have full medical benefits. But I deal with the stigma, if you will, of being a mental health patient, which is not something I’m comfortable with. I deal with severe depression and suicidal tendencies.
It saddens me to a point in my being where it feels like such a failure that I couldn’t get a grasp on the traumas that happen to me and move forward. The sad thing is that none of the investigations they did on me had anything to do with the quality or the productivity that I provided to the government. They just wanted to know who I was sleeping with and how I did it. And I had never even had that experience yet.
So I don’t even think I could imagine what it was like for the women that were already gay when they joined the military. Some of them already knew about the witch hunts and how they worked and what to do- there was like a network or an underground. But I didn’t know. I didn’t have gaydar. I didn’t know who was gay or not.
And I would say that when I was in the military, at least 75-80% of people in the military were gay. And if they ever really knew- I think the commanders would just throw up their hands in shock. But some of the best people I knew have been gay and in the military. We in some way have the character and sense of commitment that they look for in the military. We have no difference of loyalty, whether we’re gay or straight. It’s whether you believe in the principles and the foundations that the father of this country started this country with, or you don’t. And what are you willing to step up over yourself and commit to, to support, defend, nurture to see that it continues to grow.
But when you deal with a patriarch, it’s basically a business. And it’s a brainwashing business. We only talked about our jobs and the military. When I came back stateside, it was like- there’s issues in the cities we’re living in, there’s a whole other world outside of this box. I became a full- and still am- card carrying feminist. And I will continue to be that way. I’m an activist in the little city that I’m in. I believe that people have a voice and the beauty of this country is the right to use that voice. I went to war to fight for people to tear down my flag and stand on it on a street corner while I call the police. I don’t care what country you came from, I wouldn’t step on your flag, you’re definitely not going to step on my flag. I’m a veteran. I bleed the same colors as those stripes and I will continue to bleed that, weather there is a rainbow in there or not. I am a human being and I’m a person- that’s the thing that’s most important. Not my sexual orientation. Or who I chose to love. Or who chooses to love me.
If there had not been the cloak of gay identity and the impact of that against me in my time in the military, I think I would have been able to go to the police. Maybe I would have gotten my rapist arrested. I don’t know, back then they didn’t have DNA evidence, it was always the man’s word against the woman, no matter what you said. But nowadays if a woman has a restraining order against a man he can still go and shoot her. We still live in a society with such a patriarchal mindset that we still don’t have the space and capacity to protect women- regardless of their age.
It’s like you have to live a lie to survive. To protect yourself, to be successful, you have to live a lie. You can’t live an authentic self. Not 100%. You can put on the work face, you can put on the soldier face, and say raw raw raw USA, don’t get me wrong, I love the USA- this is my country. But for me to enjoy my personal love- the duality of your life is that you can never let one person see the other. It’s like a person with two heads, one in front, the other in back and you can never let one see the other. Because if that were to happen- if your gay friends saw you were in the military, then you could be the catalyst for something to happen to them. And you don’t want to be that person to bring scrutiny on their life.
I wish there had been an accounting of the amount of man-hours and energy and governmental resources that were utilized to hunt down and weed out individuals that were considered unacceptable, less than. If you were gay, that was grounds for you to be terminated and discharged. We didn’t have a gay core, like the Tuskegee Airman- they were all African American- they were allowed to fly planes, they had separate barracks. Were they treated with dignity and respect? No. There were bigots and racists in that time. And they still exist in the military today. That good old boys attitude is still pervasive. And the most recent examples of that are the sexual assault hearings that are happening in congress. They still categorize and judge and look at people. So if you know you’re gay, you somehow know how to protect yourself. But if you’re like me, just coming out, just discovering your own sexuality much less discovering that it’s a gay sexuality… in yourself you fight your own demons. Am I really this person who’s weird? I’m a deviant in society? I had a good mother and father, there was no perverse sexual activity in my house- and I happen to love a woman, to be strongly attracted to that gender. That suddenly makes me weird, some kind of socially unacceptable individual? No. I’m the same person who would stop in the middle of the road if you had a flat tire and help you. Whether I love a girl or I love a boy. What you should be looking at is the person and the integrity of their character- not who they’re sleeping with.
The biggest thing that I heard when I was in the military was that gays were a threat; the enemy could manipulate you to give away secrets because they would threaten to tell the military you were gay. They knew that if you were gay you would be discharged. So therefore, gay military personnel became a liability. Because the government made gayness a liability.
When I told some guys in the military I was going to join the Air Force, they said well there’s only two kinds of women in the air force, whores and dykes. I’m like, I don’t know what either one of those are but it’s not a label I want to pick up and carry on the rest of my life. But the way they put it, the tone of voice, the emphasis was so negative and I wanted to be a good girl.
Here I was going into a male dominated organization breaking through a small glass ceiling. But they wanted it to be the all boys club. And they wanted to know what’s going on up your skirt. And if you were sleeping around, they wanted to get a piece of it. But if they thought you were with another woman or had an interest in another woman, they wanted to tear that down, to dispel your wrongful thinking and correct it. To protect you from yourself. And I didn’t come in with any foreknowledge of how to handle these kinds of situations. I was just basically winging it.
I have to look at it as God comes full circle. Those that damaged me and caused impairment to me now have to pay my medical expenses for the rest of my life. But the price I’ve had to pay to gain that…way too high. Never should I have had to go through this. Never should I for thirty years of my life have had to stuff and mask and self medicate to function so that my thoughts everyday aren’t permeated with the trauma of remembering those experiences. To have a good job, to be successful at that job, to continue to strive and be a contributing member of society and try to fulfill my personal sexual desires, to have that loving and nurturing relationship with someone of the same gender knowing that I’m damaged goods, knowing that I’ve already been violated, that I’m not a genuine authentic self because there are things I’ve hidden from people because I think it’s such an atrocity. Why would you even want to be involved with somebody who has been subjected to this behavior, who has been judged by society, and treated this way and yet professes to be an activist who stands up for women as a feminist but was never able to rightly do that for myself against the people who perpetrated these actions on me? It’s a bipolar condition.
I’m not out at work and I’ll never be. I don’t go to veteran’s parades. I can never be my authentic self in that environment because I’ll always feel like someone is watching me.
So I’m interested to see, once I disengage with the work aspect of my life if I’ll finally be able to engage with the gay aspect of my life. I am in the fifty-ninth year of my life, and when Feb 4th comes around I will be living the sixtieth year. And for me, those are milestones. This is a huge change for me. It’s going to cost me a pension. One of the things my mother said from early on is the only thing you need in life is peace of mind. And I’m still on the journey to find that. The joy would be to fully realize that in an authentic self and to find someone who can work with all of this – but I don’t think that will happen. I have things I’m working on that I don’t think will ever be fully resolved. I can still live a life. But you still need that human interaction. The fear around a lot of that for me is that if I told people this I’d be rejected. I fear the probability is too great, so I don’t even go there.
This finally gives a voice to the horrific, horrific circumstances that I was subjected to. That I can’t change or fix, that I can’t hold anyone accountable for, but that happened in my life. This project, if it touches someone else in the same way or a similar manner who doesn’t have a luxury of having a therapist like I have, they might finally reach out and get that help. Or finally put the pieces together and say, yeah, you know what, that was wrong, that shouldn’t have happened. But I’m not going to carry that grudge around me for the rest of my life. They screwed me, I got outed, I got discharged, I paid the price then. I’m not going to continue to pay the price the rest of my life. I will try to resolve whatever happened and get to my genuine authentic self and move forward.
If I can come to rest with what happened to me, then I will have piece of mind and that’s the greatest thing that ever happened to anyone. And therein I think you draw to yourself people of like mind and like nature to help you heal and go forward.
My dreams have always been so real since Okinawa; sights and sounds are so realistic that I awaken and I’m not really sure where I am. The dreams usually involve a lot of people, some kind of chaotic situation that somehow I am in the middle of. But I don’t really know what it is. And I’m being targeted, like the most stressful and poignant moments in my life, being investigated by the OSI and being raped.
I’m either being chased by a group of people or there’s just this intense negative energy towards me. There’s always some sort of a danger, some sort of a threat to me. It’s a chaotic situation, wherever I am and something is coming to a head and I have to try and fix it. Literally, I’ll wake up like I’d been running, heavy breathing, the whole nine yards, just trying to get away from being chased but I am not a fast runner. It’s just the fear, the adrenaline pump. And when I wake up the state I’m in is exhaustion. So realistic and life-like, the nightmares that I have.