Playing By the Rules – Justin Elzie (Queer Mojo Press)

Buy it direct from Rebel Satori Press 

Here is Justin Elzie, a Marine. That alone, that simple
sentence alone encompasses much of the essence of this narrative. If, through
this narrative, the accoutrements of the Marine Corps—the traditions, the
mystique, the honor, the always faithful
(Semper Fi) dedication—are perceived as reflective of the character of this
Marine, Justin Elzie, then you have read well. If you also glean from your read
that just being a Marine was not enough, was not sufficient for the Marine
Corps to embrace one of its own—that band
of brothers
—when Elzie exposed his sexuality (gay) on national television
in 1993, then you have captured the underbelly of this narrative.

Justin
Elzie was the first Marine discharged under the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy
instituted in 1993, by President Clinton. By then, Elzie had served his country
honorably for ten years. Interestingly, Elzie, by this time, had also been
living a furtive gay lifestyle for years, even to the extent of sharing
off-base housing with his boyfriend, John, a fellow Marine. As Elzie notes,
“Over the years, I had learned how to ride that fine line, and to be as
out as I could without getting caught.”

And
who would catch him? Most likely the Naval Criminal Investigative Services
(NCIS), a largely civilian agency of the Federal government, operating under
the Department of the Navy, that, yes, ruined the careers, the lives of so many
young Sailors and Marines—beginning well before the advent of DADT—simply because
those Sailors and Marines happened to be gay or lesbian.

Elzie
describes his motivation for outing himself on national television: “I had
an instinctive internal drive, almost animal like, to come out in a public way,
and nothing was going to stop me. I felt like I was on a train to destiny that
I couldn’t get off, even if I wanted to. The thing is though, it was something
that I felt I had to do no matter what the consequences. Some people may
understand this, but the decision to come out was above all a deeply spiritual
experience to the point I felt it was like a baptism in the making. I was
finally going to stand up to the United States Marine Corps and let them know
who the real Justin Elzie was and how screwed up the ban on gays in the
military was.”

Elzie’s
narrative is not unlike the litany of like experiences chronicled in Randy
Shilts, Conduct Unbecoming, published in 1993 prior to the
institutionalization of the DADT policy. Elzie’s description of his particular
history reads much like those in Shilts’ book. The unblemished career. The
passion to serve. The succession of performance reviews by superiors, one after
another, after another, identifying Elzie as an “Outstanding” Marine.
The exposure of a very active gay subculture within the Marine Corps, and the
other services, as well. The constant, nagging reality that the NCIS was there,
just over one’s shoulder, waiting for a misstep, an indiscretion that would
identify one as queer and, therefore, unfit for service regardless of one’s
abilities, regardless of one’s honorable intent to serve even in the face of
death. There was, of course, a difference between Elzie’s “baptism in the
making,” and the outing of the vast majority of those discharged under
DADT—and the “absolute ban” on homosexuals that preceded DADT. Elzie
chose to “come out” (surely a courageous act), while most of those
others, who made no such choice, were no less courageous in suffering the
consequences of their outing with dignity; standing proudly as witness to the
absurdity of the notion that a person’s homosexuality ipso facto disqualified them to honorably serve their country.              

As Elzie points out, the polemic is
clear. The lines have been drawn. What surely seems to denude the honor from
the gay or lesbian soldier’s service in the minds of the anti-homosexualists is
the manner in which those homosexuals make love or have made love or might make
love sometime in the future. How absurd this shibboleth should frighten the
bejesus out of the brass-plated bastions of what is probably the most masculine
institution in this country. But, it does. And, as politically correct as Bill
Clinton may have been in proposing an end to the absolute ban of homosexuals in
the military, it is unfortunate that his motivation was political correctness
rather than heartfelt commitment. There is a difference. And, rightly so, Elzie
is not kind to President Clinton’s backpedal on the components of DADT.

It was, I suppose, quite enough for
Bill Clinton–of all people!–to have been the drum major for ending the ban on
gays in the military. Drum majors strut. And they’re supposed to strut at the
head of the band until the parade is over. What seems to have occurred,
however, is that the drum major crapped out at the point it was clear the band
was not playing the kind of music the crowd—the new Republican majority in the
Senate, at the time—wanted to hear.

There is something desperately wrong
with the American military’s obsessive paranoia with regard to the homosexuals
amongst them. Elzie’s narrative, as well as Randy Shilt’s study of homosexuals
in the American military (and the categorical dispossession of the military
careers of those homosexuals), are not read so much as something factual, but
as something you can’t quite believe; something like standing upon the autumn
grass at Gettysburg and not quite believing that seven-thousand men once lay
dead, and forty-thousand lay wounded upon the gentle slopes of those quiet
Pennsylvania hills. Did this horror really happen here? Did our
country really do this to itself? And now, have the lives of so many
good and decent young men and women really been run through that
despicable gauntlet described by Elzie and Shilts?

Elzie provides in Playing By The
Rules
, an intimate view of his personal experience in confronting the
senselessness of DADT; a confrontation that embraces pretty much the entire
gamut of emotion—despair, hurt, and anger—of those in the military who preceded
him and followed him on the courageous quest for justice; a simple justice that
begs the recognition that a Marine, a Soldier, a Sailor is first and foremost
just that: a Marine, a Soldier, a Sailor. That that Marine, Soldier or Sailor
happens to be gay or lesbian is, or should be, an afterthought; an
insignificant consideration in determining the fitness, the ability of those
willing to serve their country with unquestioned dedication, with honor.    

Reviewed by George Seaton 

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