Michelle, United States Army
Like most soldiers, I grew up in a less than ideal household that I wanted to escape as quickly as possible. It was bad enough that I enlisted with parental permission less than 2 weeks after my 17th birthday. I was very young, and pretty naive. In high school I didn’t really date anyone, was actually a virgin until after graduation, when I finally let the boy I was dating have very awkward sex with me so I wouldn’t be the only virgin in Basic Training. While in Basic, I finally realized that I might actually be a lesbian. I had grown up in a very homophobic house where that simply wasn’t acceptable, so I decided I was just…wrong.
I spent the next three and a half years trying to convince myself I was straight. I drank like a fish (going to Korea at 18 sure helped that) to try and make myself actually friendly to men that I really didn’t want to sleep with. Of course it didn’t take. At 21, some very good friends finally took pity on my laughable attempts to be straight and took me to my first gay bar. It was growing more obvious I had a crush on my best friend, at least to them. Before I could make a return trip, or even begin to acknowledge what I was going through, I went off for 5 weeks to do a rotation at JRTC (Joint Readiness Training Center) with my unit. When we got back from the long field exercise, the usual drunken party got underway in the barracks. An E-6 from my unit (I was an E-4 at the time) who was married decided to come to the barracks for the party. Several of us were drinking in my room and in general blowing off all the accumulated steam. I was pretty drunk myself.
When I realized it had gotten really late and the party had started to die out, I asked everyone to leave so I could go to sleep. All left but the Staff SGT who didn’t live there. I asked him 4 times to please leave, then attempted to ignore him. I climbed into my bed and under the covers, with my tshirt and shorts I was wearing still on. He somehow decided that was an invitation. He promptly climbed on top of me over the covers and started trying to kiss me. Somehow I managed to shove him off. I jumped up and opened the door and told him to “get the f&*k out” of my room. He said he was too drunk to move, and sat down in my chair again. I looked down the hallway for the CQ (Charge of Quarters, the duty NCO for the barracks) and did not see him. I figured, “I know this guy, I know and like his wife, I’ll just keep on him until he goes, he’s too drunk to realize he’s being an ass.” I closed the door and told him he could sit in the chair for a few more minutes and I would go into the hallway to the phone booth and call him a cab. I started walking back to the door when I heard a squeak from his shoe on the waxed floor. Then he grabbed me with both hands around my neck from behind. I struggled quite a bit, but between the alcohol and lack of oxygen I eventually blacked out. He must have dropped me at that point, because the bump I had on my head the next day felt like I landed right on it.
I groggily came around to him raping me, my shorts down around my ankles and the smell of Wild Turkey overwhelming virtually everything else. I couldn’t breathe well, he was laying on my chest with his whole weight (I was literally half his size) and one of his forearms pushing down just below my neck. I tried pushing him off as I had managed on the bed, to no avail. All I managed was to rip a muscle in my stomach. When he finally finished, he got up, pulled his pants back up, and sat back down in my chair like he owned the joint. I couldn’t even manage to get off the floor for a couple of minutes. When I did, I pulled my shorts back up and stood up to face him. Before I could say anything, he said “You know, everybody knows you’re a dyke. This just helps keep the rumor down. If you say anything to my wife or anybody about this, I’ll make sure everyone knows its true.”
At that point I finally panicked enough to run out of my own room. I beat on the door of my best friend’s room down the hall until she finally woke up and answered. I went into her room and immediately began crying. When she asked what was wrong, I told her that he had raped me. Her response? “You shouldn’t have been drinking with the guys.” After that comment, I put all the blame on myself. Yes, I shouldn’t have trusted the soldiers I served with every single day of my life. It as all my fault, and probably what I deserved because I was gay, even though I wanted so badly not to be. The next morning I went to sick call and got treatment for the torn abdominal muscle. I managed to get the doctor to give me a temporary profile so I wouldn’t have to return to my normally very physically demanding job and have to take orders from that SSG. I managed to pull a temporary duty assignment away from my unit for 6 months, something very few victims are able to do.
During that 6 months, I finally came to accept what he and everybody else knew, that I was gay and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. Ironically, that was immediately after President Clinton was elected and promised to repeal the ban. When DADT went into effect that summer, it was the final straw.
I left the Army that fall of 1993. I realized that there is no honor in forcing someone to live their life a lie. I also knew if I had ever reported my rape, that I would have been the one investigated. Sexuality meant more than sexual assault to the Army.
Flash-forward 9 years. A good friend at work was joking around with me and put his hands around my neck from behind while I was sitting in my chair as a joke to startle me. I went off on him. I stopped feeling safe in my job, and started missing work and having flashbacks of my rape along with other problems, most of which will sound old hat to victims of MST. But I’m incredibly lucky.
After several months of trying to survive the breakdown on my own, I moved back home to Seattle. I walked into the women’s clinic at the VA there and was introduced to one of the most caring social workers I’ve ever had the honor of meeting. She helped me understand that MST is way more prevalent than I had believed, and that I was most certainly not the only woman (or man) this had happened to. I finally got the care I so very much needed. As I write this, some 8 years after meeting her, I realize how much has changed. I’ve been in a healthy relationship with the woman I love for nearly 7 years. We’ve made a great life together, and I know finally how lucky I am. I’ve seen the very worst of myself, and thanks to that social worker and several other caring professionals at the VA, I’m the one in control of my life. Me, not the man who raped me.