"In 1993, when President Bill Clinton signed the policy known as 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' into law, it represented a compromise between those who wanted to end the longstanding ban on gays serving in the U.S. military and those who felt having openly gay troops would hurt morale and cause problems within military ranks." Scott Lamky served 20 years prior to "Don't Ask. Don't Tell" and he details how the Army's culture at that time prohibited him from seeking help when he was raped by another soldier. For the first time, Scott has decided it is time to break his silence.
Military Sexual Trauma Before the, "Don't Ask. Don't Tell Era"
My name is Scott Lamky. I was in the Army from 1980 to 1983. I was a basic field medic (MOS 91B). I received my medical training down in Texas. I did pretty good in class and we spent most weekends drinking at the small bar on base. We enjoyed having a drink after a long week. This week was very different.
It was about four weeks or so into my six-week program we went to a club for enlisted men. Things were going fine as we met some new people. We starting talking about doing some bar hopping, and I was game. I was excited to try something, and be able to get off base. This was the first time I had been away from Michigan and was excited to experience new things and meet new people from a variety of backgrounds. This week was very different. This week I was : Identified, Observed, Targeted, Isolated, Manipulated, Drugged, Kidnapped,
Tied Up, then Brutally Tortured and Violently Raped.
We made it to the first bar, and it appeared not to have too many G.I. Joes (you can tell by the hair cut). I hated drinking beer, and one of the guys who rode down with us recommended I try a Long Island Ice Tea. I’ve never tried it, and not knowing what was in it I downed my first one in about 2 minutes. I drank my second Long Island Ice Tes just as quickly as the first. By my third one, I was starting to feel it, but I was having a great time; cracking jokes and living it up on the dance floor. We went to another bar, and I ordered another Long Island, but I was barely with it at this point. That’s when we started doing shots. At that point, I don’t even remember leaving the bar.
When I finally came (in) to (consciousness), I was completely naked with G.I Joe’s mouth around my dick. It took me a few seconds to realize what was happening, and I immediately reacted. Pushing and fighting past him. I found my clothes in a pile all while he was trying to tell me to calm down. I remember him saying, “It seemed like you were having fun; you can’t tell anyone or they’ll kick you out of the army; you’re just a brand new private, do you think they’ll believe you?” Nothing of what he said mattered to me, I just knew I needed to get out of there. I
thought he was going to kill me when he tried to stop me from getting out that door.
Once I got outside it was still dark, and I was just walking around completely freaked out. That’s when the pain started in my rectum. My legs were cramping and sore. I was scared, embarrassed, and hurt. Then I saw G.I. Joe’s car driving slowly as if he was out searching for me. I immediately hid under a tree and waited for him to drive by. Worrying that he would come back; I grabbed a weapon that I found. It could have been a steal pipe, but I honestly don’t remember. I just knew there was no way in hell I would get inside that vehicle with him.
At some point a couple of locals noticed me wandering aimlessly, and asked if I needed help. Part of me wishes I told them what actually happened to me, maybe it would have turned out differently, but I just told them I was lost and needed to get back to base. They dropped me off at the guards' shack and when I finally got back to my barracks room it was only just starting to get light out.
The first thing I did was head to take a shower, I don’t know how long I stayed in the shower; just standing under that water and crying. If I was at home I would have got through two ranks of hot water. That’s when the flashbacks started and I was finally understanding why I was in so much pain; why my legs were so sore. I was tied up, had foreign objects inserted into my body, all while being bent over a chair not able to move. The bleeding and pain from chronic fissures are a dailly painful reminder each time I sit on the toilet. That has plagued me since. The horrific recurring nightmares that keep me up and afraid to go back to sleep are so violent my wife became afraid to sleep in the same room with me.
In 1980, the Army policy was different. When I enlisted, you had to sign a statement, and swear that you were not a homosexual during your physical. There was a zero tolerance towards participating in any homosexual act and they didn’t care if that act was consensual or not. You would be kicked out of the Army, you would be shown the door. The help would have been outside the army facility. I knew at that point I only had three options. One: report it, and get kicked out. Two: kill myself because of the shame and embarrassment or three: never mention it. For 38 years I suffered alone. The things that happened to me when I was just 8 months out of high school. Set me on a course that led me to withdraw from most everything. I rarely trusted anyone during my lifetime. The shame I kept bottled up has harmed my entire life. I am finally giving voice to it and I won't be silent any longer.
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Dating with PTSD due to MST
The process of dating can be both exciting and anxiety-producing for healthy people. When someone has PTSD especially from sexual violence it can be one of the most uncomfortable experiences for them to endure. I certainly know the feeling. Dating is usually fun at first. It is exciting to connect and learn about someone new. Learning about who they are, what their back story is, and what their hopes and dreams are, make dating feel like a whirlwind of passion and excitement. That is until I catch feelings. Once I begin to attach to someone emotionally, this is where my struggle emerges and for good reason. I have chronic-PTSD and due to a highly dysfunctional upbringing full of physical and emotional abuse combined with experiencing Military Sexual Trauma (MST), I have an extremely difficult time feeling safe when people are getting close to me.
Navigating the sea of single men isn’t fun but I can certainly share what I have learned. People with PTSD go through their own emotional stages of what I like to call the awaking process. At each stage, dating is quite different depending on where a person is in their life. To fully understand what dating is like for someone with PTSD, let’s start by discussing what each stage looks like for someone living with this disability. The chart below puts the stages in perspective for you:
Stage 1: Having symptoms but no awareness
I just want to start by saying this stage is dangerous for anyone getting involved with some who has PTSD and has no idea they have it. This person is dangerous and you shouldn’t be dating them. Run for the hills and run fast. Dating someone at this stage means they have flashbacks and don’t know the difference between reality and memory, they have anger outbursts, they can get easily violent or emotionally abusive. You are not here on planet earth to be their savior. Your flight response is telling you to run for a reason. At this stage, this person isn’t even aware enough of their own emotions to tell you how they feel let alone express their authentic feelings to you because they don’t even know how to name their feelings or set healthy boundaries. The honest answer is this person is way too sick to be in a relationship with you or anyone. I am telling you this from first-hand experience.
At this point in my life, I just got out of the Marine Corps. and I knew something was wrong with me but I didn’t know what was going on. I hurt a lot of men during this stage because I was suffering from a disability that I didn’t know how to manage. Let them figure out that they need help. If they prefer to be stuck, well you just avoided a life sentence to hell. That is what a relationship feels like with someone at this stage. Free yourself from this and get your own healing. Everyone deserves happiness and we can’t change others. If you are attracted to severely damaged people, find out why from your therapist and learn how to stay clear of someone at this stage.
People with untreated PTSD are often critical, violent, rude, egotistical, mean, guarded, jealous, untrusting, and angry especially when the bonding process starts. At this point, the only type of bond they can form is a negative attraction pattern. This is due to the fact that their serotonin levels are low and they can only feel negative emotions. At this stage, they can not feel happiness, joy, love, empathy, compassion, vulnerability, and all of the other healthy positive emotions that are necessary to form a healthy bond. They have a long way to go in their journey. Being single is what is best for them. If you see this negative attraction developing in your interactions, cut off the relationship immediately, and seek mental health treatment for yourself. You may end up being traumatized as a result.
People at this stage often play games to try to conceal both their dysfunction and avoid getting too close because they will not be able to tolerate healthy intimate relationships. They will have to constantly keep you at a distance. Relationships with them will feel intensely passionate and the sex may be amazing but the reality is that the chaos and hell you will go through will damage you. If you are trying to figure out if someone is at this stage, you will know if they can not demonstrate humility. It will be impossible for them to express humility at this stage. Maintaining their fake sense of pride is for the self-preservation of their ego and is a delusional defense mechanism they build to protect themselves. This is really their disability. While they think they are protecting themselves; they are actually just hurting themselves and everyone around them. Don’t try to reason with them because they won’t trust you enough to believe what you have to say anyway. Just walk-away. Listen to your intuition and move on a.s.a.p.
At this stage, they will lie to you, cheat on you, have multiple relationships at the same time, have substance abuse issues, and do a host of other harmful behaviors just to have their ego boosted temporarily. Your feelings won’t matter at this stage because they don’t even know their own feelings. Empathy is foreign. People at this stage have never known what a healthy, loving, and trusting relationships look like so they can’t function in a relationship with you. I can say that I didn’t know what a safe and healthy relationship looked like until I was 23 and I got into a relationship with this one guy from Costa Rica. He totally changed my perspective on men. Even at that point, I still wasn’t healthy enough to maintain that relationship because I knew I had PTSD but I wasn’t managing it. Find someone who knows what a healthy loving relationship looks like. Stay clear of this person, you are dating your way to hell on earth. People who only know pain will hurt you. To any of the men that I dated when I was at this stage, I am sorry and I hope this serves as my amends.
Stage 2: Becoming More Aware
At this stage, the person is realizing they have a pattern or a struggle. They can recognize that there is a problem. I’ll give you an example. At this point in my life, I saved every court case I was in ever since I was a child. I noticed a pattern that I dated violent men and that every single man I dated cheated on me and our relationship ended with them hitting me. When I looked at court cases back to my childhood, my mom and dad separated over a host of issues from my dad’s infidelities to my mom’s violent behavior. I was playing out this relationship dynamic that my parents played out with me as a child. While I recognized the pattern, I didn’t know how to fix it and I wasn’t ready to get help. I thought I could overcome this issue with my own inner strength because my bloated ego thought I could. Welcome to living with PTSD. Literally, no humility even during the rough patches.
At this stage, there is a level of awareness emerging that there is a problem that needs to get fixed but it doesn’t seem that serious. When I experienced this, I thought I had the power to change my behavior and just live a normal life after that. I tried to do exactly that. I went on to have a relationship, get married, and get pregnant. I thought I was fully functional at that point and moving on from my past. That was until, my then-husband cheated on me with a multitude of women in one weekend while I was pregnant and they all called me together on the phone to tell me, the heartbreaking news.
I left him because I didn’t want my baby to see me hurting and have a poor example of a father and relive the unhealthy relationship that I grew up with. It seemed like no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't break these chains for myself but I wasn't going to let my baby endure my life struggle. I knew I had to make an extremely difficult choice. I was ready to take on single motherhood despite being terrified of doing so. When I left my ex-husband he came to the condo to pick up stuff and broke in and punched me in the stomach. Despite the pain, I gained the strength to fight back and get him out of the condo. I locked the door and moved my furniture behind the door. He got a knife and started trying to cut my metal lock on the door and break in again while he was threatening to stab the baby out of my womb. I can not even begin to express to you how traumatic this was for me.
I called the police and got a restraining order because not only was I in fear for my life but I was in fear for my baby’s life. It was at this moment that I really started to awaken. How the hell did I end up in this situation, married to a Marine combat veteran who was violent and willing to kill his own child because I was leaving him? I still wasn’t understanding how I ended up here playing out this pattern again and this time it impacted my baby.
At this point, someone with PTSD is aware they have a mental disability but they are in denial about how much their disability adversely impacts their lives. They have relationship issues, they are playing out negative attraction patterns and they still think they have control over the PTSD. In reality, they might behave better in a relationship with you then they would at stage one but the fact is you still need to run for the hills. They need to get into treatment. They are still playing out the negative attraction pattern and it will cause you hell. They have to experience pain so severe that they become desperate to get into treatment. You need to move on.
Stage 3: The Awaking Phase
This phase is insanely painful. When someone is in this phase, they will begin to realize they have a serious problem. They will be in enough pain that they will have a severe PTSD episode relapse. They will surrender to getting help. During this time any additional stressors will be pushed out of their life and that can include you. They won’t be able to tolerate negative interactions because they will be so symptomatic that they will contemplate suicide or attempt it. This is when they will realize PTSD isn’t something to be overcome but a disability that needs to be managed. It is in this moment that they will either die by suicide or go to the VA or hospital to get help.
I miscarried halfway through my pregnancy after experiencing everything I mentioned earlier. The combination of post-partum depression combined with a PTSD episode relapse led to a more severe episode then when I got raped in the military. The pain was so intense I could not function at all. I wanted to die. Losing my baby was the awaking. I felt like I had failed at being a mom and the first time I really felt what it was like to love and protect someone from a genuine place and I fucked up. I realized that the most important life decision I will ever make is the person I choose to be with. At that point I was so symptomatic, I knew I couldn’t be in a relationship. I was so fragile and vulnerable, these are all the emotions that I couldn’t tolerate without medication so I pushed everyone away including my best friend since childhood. I was so overwhelmed that I isolated myself. I did a hard cut off to everyone in my life except three people that I could trust. I was on the verge of life and death. I was tired of this fight.
At my most broken, I became my most woke. I had this epiphany that I needed to fix myself. I could not continue living life like this. I also realized that being a mom means protecting my baby and picking the right man from the beginning. I had no clue how to do that. What was familiar to me was abuse. It is literally all I have ever known. I also had no clue how to manage my disability. When someone is at this point, you need to leave them. They need to heal. They need to heal alone. They have to learn about themselves and their disability before they can foster a healthy relationship. They need to have healthy thoughts and behaviors before they can offer anything significant where you both thrive. Let them go.
Stage 4 The rebirth, understanding, and disability management:
At this stage, someone with PTSD is safe to date. They will be self-aware, understand their triggers, have developed emotional regulation skills, communication skills, and have developed healthy coping mechanisms, and even be on medication that helps them to live life as close to normal as possible. Life won’t be completely normal and neither will dating them. You’ll have to date someone with PTSD differently than you will a healthy person without a disability. At this stage, the person is capable of forming a healthy secure attachment but it will require work.
How to date someone with PTSD who is capable of forming a healthy bond:
Communication: You will have to communicate at a higher level. Sometimes your connection will cause your partner anxiety. It could be because the bond is developing too quickly and you’re spending too much time together and they may feel anxiety because they feel vulnerable or because there is too much distance and they feel abandoned or a lack of trust. When they tell you they feel anxiety, the best response you can have is to ask what they need. If they feel overwhelmed and need space, give them space and set a date to check back in with them before you give them space so you both feel secure. If they want more communication and connection ask them what they need to feel secure and work to meet and maintain that standard (as long as it’s healthy and reasonable). If you fail to meet this standard someone with PTSD will cut you off because they will feel misunderstood and unsafe with you.
Consistency: Not only does your communication need to be consistent but you will need to be consistent in your behaviors and interactions. Before someone with PTSD decides to trust you and puts their guard down; they are going to assess their interactions with you and if they feel negative and unsure about your interactions, they are going to push you away. If you want them to trust you, you have to consistently show up as a safe person who will protect their emotional wellbeing. Otherwise, you might as well stay single or date someone without PTSD. They will always factor in their emotional wellbeing first, in all of their decisions because they need to be able to function and if you are the reason they begin to relapse, well it's a no brainer that you aren't the right fit for them. In that case, it's best for everyone to move on. If you really care and see this dynamic emerging, fix the problem a.s.a.p. You should not be dating someone with a disability if you are going to irritating their disability. Hopefully, they are self-aware enough to tell you this and they move on from you.
Authenticity, vulnerability, empathy, and compassion: You will have to exemplify all of these on a regular basis for them to feel safe with you. You have to show up as a protector who has good intentions. When you set the standard of showing up authentically and communicate your vulnerabilities they will be inspired to move closer to you in an organic manner. When you are empathic and compassionate to their struggles with PTSD and you are supportive during that time such as a quick phone call or showing you care about them in little ways like taking some stressors off of their plate or getting them food so it’s one fewer task to think about, they will work hard to reciprocate when they are feeling better. Just keep in mind that you are dating someone with a disability so there is a higher level of care in mind to build a solid and functional relationship where you both are safe and happy.
Reciprocity: When you date someone with PTSD you need to match the effort and depth with the person you are dating. If they call you and you don’t pick up, it is okay to text but if you never call them or you never pick up your phone. The lack of reciprocity will be seen as a red-flag and they will start to move away from you. If they feel like they are investing more into you than you are investing in them, they will push you away. You have to match the level of connection they are offering so they are willing to build and deepen the relationship. If you aren't capable of this, dating someone with PTSD is not right for you. Maybe consult with your doctor or therapist about why you struggle with reciprocity.
Intimacy: Both emotional and sexual intimacy can be exciting and scary for someone with PTSD. Communicate a lot before and after sex. After sex, emotions are heightened and they will feel the most connected to you. This is your opportunity to show your protective side and ensure their emotional wellbeing is intact. This will go a long way toward having a fun and happy relationship where your partner feels comfortable and more functional with you. This is what will lead them to trust you and want to commit to you.
These emotional currencies will go a long way to help you to develop a healthy connection and relationship with someone who has PTSD. If you can’t deliver that you should probably stay away from people with PTSD. Remember if you date someone with PTSD you need to be healthy, transparent about your intentions, and have a strong sense of emotional regulation so that you create a safe place for them. It is that experience that will lead them to fall in love with you. When you create this space for them in your interactions with them, that is how you will lead to success.
Once you start playing games or trying to manipulate someone with PTSD they will cut you off. You will feel familiar and dangerous to them. Keep in mind that if you date someone with PTSD who has been through trauma, you really have to bring your best foot forward. Only you know if you are ready for that! You have to develop a positive attraction pattern. That means that your interactions have to be full of positive values such as what I mentioned above. Delivering on these emotional currencies is what will build a secure attachment worth having. People with PTSD develop deeper connections to the people they love because it is a rarity for them to let someone in that close. When they bond with you it will feel much deeper than any other bond you have. It can be very fulfilling but you need to put in the work to arrive there. When you build that connection your partner will work as hard as they can to maintain that state of heaven for the both of you. Remember, they've been through hell and they don't want to go back. Ride the waves to heaven together and foster a love that is deep and powerful.
Joshua Kelley is currently serving in the U.S. Navy and he is fighting for a more inclusive culture in the Military by using drag to entertain sailors and to challenge the masculine culture that currently exists in the Military. Josh's drag alter-ego is Harpy Daniels. Harpy Daniels is teaching all of us about what it means to be bold in a world that doesn't yet accept diversity of expression. Josh details his story of why he chooses to be bold and stand out in a world that is designed for everyone to be the same. Josh has been featured on Intercept, NBC, New York Post, PINK News, and other national news outlets and now he is a role model and volunteer for MSTM. He innately represents our organization’s core values.
I was born in a very small and close-minded town in Pennsylvania. Just like any person who is queer, in a backwoods life environment, I never fit in. Since I was a child I went against the grain and stood out; because hiding who I am, seemed impossible. My own mother always told me, "Boys don't wear makeup!" or "Boys don't paint their nails!" The irony that I live out now is that I am in an over masculinized culture doing exactly that. My own experience and perception of the military have been a toxic world of masculinity often triggered flashbacks of my memories of growing up in a small town where conservatives still thought women should stay home and men to bring in the money. I clearly already knew my strategy to work past this culture of toxic masculinity within the military environment. I had to work harder than anyone else but without hiding who I am. My work will always speak for itself and my personality has always shined fiercely. For any person who has played chess before, I learned all the moves, the culture of the U.S. Navy, and surpassed even my own expectations within two years. I never once hid my flamboyance from anyone or formed into a masculinized version of myself just to appeal to the audience. What I did was the opposite. I decided and took the opportunity to educate people that expressing yourself authentically, no matter what the cost is can create an outcome bigger than oneself.
The cost would have been possible humiliation, bullying, and even hazing, but it was the total opposite, I was seen for who I am, as a Drag Queen, a Sailor, and a person. Performing on a Naval Warship in full drag, was not only to boost morale but to show so many enlisted Sailors and officers that queer-inclusive people serve with them and we are here to serve out loud and proud. The feeling and rush I received to break that cultural boundary were both scary and rewarding, I was able to show so many Sailors it's ok to express ourselves, and self-expression keeps our spirits high, morale high, and allows people to breath more comfortably in their own skin. I was a Drag Queen way before the Navy so to perform for a crowd was never intimidating; I was concerned about the feedback received by others that I work with, within the service because of how close-minded military culture is, but that chance to show a feminine culture had to be made. I knew that despite my fears, I had to be courageous so we can push down walls of toxic masculinity in the military. I was told by a close member of my chain of command that they were afraid of how people would see me, which fueled my fire to bring Harpy Daniels into the spotlight because no one should be afraid to be seen as less because they choose to go against the society's norm of "Boys don't do that"! Well this MAN did just that and since I gave that drag performance, many people, in and out of the service have sought me out for praise, support, and love, which I am humbly thankful to receive.
While the majority of the feedback was positive and the spotlight reached many media outlets, there were still negative reviews by many who truly weren't educated on queer culture or felt discomfort because, after years of only seeing a Masculine culture in the service. This has been one of the first events seen from major media outlets to break the masculine traditions and show LGBTQ+ feminine culture in the Military. Currently, I'm still serving, and I've been threatened with my life, harassed, and seen as less than a Sailor because I simply wear the uniform of our U.S. Military and do drag. The toxicity hasn’t broken me because I experienced years of bullying as a child it simply was nothing new to be seen differently and not understood for who I am in the world, but that is why it is important as queer individuals, we do our best to support each other, and keep breaking the stereotype of the military’s cultural status quo. The negative feedback showed that this needed to happen because even though "don't ask don't tell" was abolished, there is still no education on diversity for the LGBTQ+ community in the service to assist with growth and acceptance for everyone. The best highlight I can give to the negative reviews is we are the world's best Military because of our diversity and cultural backgrounds, and the LGBTQ+ community is one of those cultures and it's time to recognize and support us! With that being said my journey has always had an optimistic outlook because I shape my life to perceive situations as beautiful and I don't allow anyone to tell me differently as long as I'm doing my duties to serve my country.
Even though my positive outlook took time to build, as any gay member of the armed forces I still experienced the direct and indirect tone of hate and discrimination just for being a feminine gay man, it even hit home for me. Since the media outbreak and publicity, the biggest question I was ever asked was by my own father, a retired senior chief, who asked, "What does being gay have to do with the military?" Now, I know the answer he wanted was, "My duties are to serve and protect my country and allies, has nothing to do with my personal life." I understood this, as anyone who serves, this is our mission, but my response was, "Being gay has everything to do with serving because I am a feminine gay man, who took an oath many never will, and I’m discriminated against just because I was born this way. I was born a queer, feminine, individual, and even though there is hate, and I go against society’s military norms of "Boys don't do that!" I'll never stop being me. I'll simply work harder to prove LGBTQ+ people are here and that we matter! " The support in the service for LGBTQ+ people is growing but there is still much more to do, the path has been paved even before me, and it's our duty to continue walking this path and create more legacies until we are all seen, heard and respected as U.S. Military Service Members!
Corey Cashmon details her account of enlisting into the United States Navy as she worked towards becoming a lifelong medical corpsman and on her career journey Corey endured Military Sexual Trauma (MST) that led to her being transferred. Her dreams of becoming a medical corpsman were shattered. Substance abuse became her way to cope with the trauma. As she found herself on a path to self-destruction. While she became a corpsman she was unable to maintain her dream job due to the trauma and retaliation she endured.
When I enlisted in the United States Navy. I signed up as undesignated because the occupational specialty of Hospital Corpsman had no availability. I thought I knew what I was getting myself into and what the job entailed. I knew I’d have to fight to strike Corpsman. We had recently finished our maiden deployment on my ship when I was checking my email in the office, and my E4 walked in. I was super excited because I just got approved to start doing some OJT days during the workweek up in Medical to train to become a Corpsman. I tried to tell him that, but when I stood up to tell him he took both his hands and grabbed my chest. I stepped back and told him no that’s not ok. He proceeded to do it again, but this time he told me I better leave that room right now otherwise he was gonna rape me. I extracted myself and walked into the hall but shortly down the passageway, I got stopped by a couple of shipmates. We were talking when all of a sudden the same E4 comes up behind me grabs my left breast and proceeds to dry hump me from behind. In front of two witnesses.
The next day at muster I was slotted to be working with him, and I immediately went to a victim advocate who was also my friend. He told me my options and let me know I’d have 24 hours to contemplate on how I wanted to move forward with it. I immediately went to my best friend who worked in medical to talk to her about it and try to figure out which way I wanted to take it. Unfortunately, that choice was taken from me. The lead victims advocate turned out to be an HM1, and when she was told about the situation both her and the HMCS interrupted the conversation with my friend and pulled me into the office.
The one choice I had hoped to actually be able to make myself after experiencing so many choices taken from me was also robbed from me. The HMCS informed me unless I wanted to send my best friend up to captains mast for failure to report I would be making an unrestricted report. The one place on that ship that I felt at home, the last place I felt safe was forever changed. That was the beginning of the end of my naval career basically. The only good thing to probably come out of it was that I was transferred full time to Medical where I doing basically everything a Corpsman does, but as a seaman. At least until the E4 was interrogated by NCIS. It took 3 hours for him to confess, and after that happened; word got out. His friends started harassing me and calling my phone. My new chain of command in medical was so concerned for my safety that three days after his interrogation before he even went to captains mast; I was transferred to a temporary command on another base until my Corps School date came. I lost the job I loved and fought for, I lost my friends and even those who I thought as family. The trauma I endured, led to a host of other life-shattering events that negatively impacted my life.
I never really dealt with the trauma while I was still on active duty. I was under drinking age when it happened so I started taking NyQuil to try to sleep my days away. That continued until I became of age and added drinking into the mix. I stopped going out with friends, and I didn’t think I’d ever be able to trust a man again after that. I went into my shell and never wanted to come back out. Towards the end of my time on active duty, I did start to see a therapist about the trauma. My chain of command had referred me to mental health, but at that time I wasn’t ready to face trauma and open myself up to therapy until I had left the service. After separation, I went on to get the help I desperately needed.
Chad Keck is a volunteer for MSTM. He is a U.S. Marine Corps. veteran. He received a retaliatory discharge after experiencing Military Sexual Trauma (MST) while serving on active duty. The struggle to attain VA benefits left Chad to struggle with PTSD due to MST without any support.
I AM VANESSA GUILLEN
I remember when I first understood and recognized that I had PTSD. It was a moment of awakening to understand exactly why I was falling apart, acting bat-shit crazy, doing harmful behaviors and I fell into drugs, alcohol, fighting and I ended up in and out of jail. My credit is crap and I had a short temper with most employers which led me to have well over 50 jobs since I’ve left the Marine Corps. My grandfather (USMC Korea ), My father (U.S Army Vietnam), Dad's brother Danny and his second brother Dustin (U.S Army desert storm). I always wanted to be the next one in uniform to stand proud with my family tradition. I joined the Marine Corps. fresh out of high school and straight to boot camp as soon as I turned 18. Unfortunately, I only served a year in service. I was discharged with an Other Than Honorable (OTH), A pattern of misconduct, and a RE-4 on my DD-214 and PTSD that would haunt me in my future years ahead.
No VA benefits or payments, back child support, and currently halfway homeless with my wife and three kids, no job with one felony and eviction and still trying, praying, and hoping for better days. My whole childhood I grew up to pictures of my family history in uniform hanging on the wall. Now in my opinion, any honorable veteran would ask or active duty service member would ask, "How the hell do you get PTSD with no deployments and one year in service?" My response is, "What if another man or group of men shoved something deep into your ass where you could feel the ripping pain in your stomach?" The times I have spoken out, I have received questions like, "Why you let that happen to you?"
Let me guess because you’re no bitch? It wouldn’t happen to you? Well if I told you I had no choice as I laid there in my barracks bathroom floor halfway in the shower passed out paralyzed by heavy drinking and partying. I came into consciousness for a split moment or two as the same exact Marines that I was partying with started shoving an object into my body; that I felt the pain in my gut; not to mention everyone was in my room was laughing. I felt less than human, I felt severely emasculated as if I was no longer a man by society's definition, and nowhere close to being a Marine. Besides I was one of the guys that would always be said “ If anyone tried to put anything in me I would fight to the death”.
I felt extreme shame as I thought to myself, "I should of done more to not put myself in that situation." But hell, drinking, partying and fighting was part of the barracks culture, especially as a Grunt. I was 18 and being a fresh “boot” who would have known this would of happened to me. The depth of negative emotions emerged as I felt high levels of guilt, shame, resentment, that ultimately led to Depression. That's how “A demon was born.” Trauma causes people to respond to negative attraction patterns. That's how I ended up in and out of jail. Remember that old-time joke, "If you and I went camping and you woke up with a hurt asshole, would you tell anyone?" Who the hell was I supposed to report it to? Who was I supposed to tell? I was singled out in my barracks, threatened to be killed by the Marines in my platoon once went to Iraq together. The higher-ups didn’t give two shits about what I said.
if they didn’t like what I told them, I would get punished for my attempted asks for help or embarrassed where my problems would be announced in front of my platoon and others would be ordered to "fix my problems." I was constantly attacked and even jumped by seniors of my platoon and even my own peers as coming forward made me seem weak. To all of them, this was just hazing. It was apart of the culture that I signed up for. I still have severe trust issues until this day. It was those days in the Marines taught me not to trust anyone. If I could not even trust the people I enlisted with and the Chain of Command (CoC) how could I trust anyone? I learned quickly that this "brotherhood" consisted of hazing and sexual violence. The most elite fighting force in the world proved they couldn’t be trusted. 18 years old and I resented the fact that I had no one to talk to or trust and the shame and guilt started to eat me alive and since I couldn’t trust anyone to confide into, I started cutting myself to release the inner pain that was choking me inside.
I could imagine what Vanessa Guillen was struggling with. Help me get justice for her as well as the rest of us by signing and sharing our petition to Urge Congress to Establish MIRA, an independent regulatory body that will protect servicemembers from MST, retaliation, and hazing when they experience sexual violence. MSTMovement.org/MIRA Please sign and share in honor of Vanessa Guillen.
Listen to Chad Keck tell his story on MSTM's Perspective Podcast. To Listen to Chad Keck's I Am Vanessa Guillen Podcast visit:
Join our Fight to #EndMST
Black Trans Lives Matter Protest held in Poughkeepsie, New York on June 30th, 2020
Black Trans Lives Matter is a statement some people want to be appalled by. In reality, black trans people have it the hardest out of any marginalized group. Now, imagine being a black transgender veteran who experienced Miltary Sexual Trauma (MST) on deployment. That story is the real-life experience of Royal Parker (he, him, his). He is a disabled U.S. Army veteran who gave a speech about how the transgender ban adversely impacted his life during active duty. Not only did he speak about transphobia in the military but he touched on receiving a retaliatory discharge based on gender dysmorphia. He also spoke about the racism he endured as well. Imagine for just a few seconds you were in his shoes, how do you think all of these traumas would impact you?
You serve your country and you're hated on the basis of your skin color, your gender identity, and your gender at birth. The message the military is sending you is that everything is wrong with you. Now, you are fighting for freedoms in an organization where you have forfeited all of your rights to be who you are. You are fighting for freedom in a country where you don't have any freedom.
That is Royal's reality. His story is an important one about intersectional justice. This is a deeply embedded value within MSTM. Our civic engagement activities are oriented towards allyship with other disenfranchised communities because so many of our volunteers are apart of these other marginalized communities. When you think about someone like Royal who is apart of three marginalized communities, he has is much harder than any of us. I have privilege based on my skin color and my sexual orientation while he gets condemned for being a black transgender male who was adversely impacted by the transgender ban.
I dare to ask you - how do we in one statement say we support our veterans while our actions as a society allow so many of us to suffer in silence. The life expectancy of a black transgender person is almost half of a straight white male or white female. This is solely based on the violence against this community. As MST survivors we can relate. While our life expectancies are cut short due to suicide, some of us have experienced hazing and many of us have gone missing at some point. When we look at Vanessa Guillen's case, she went missing after telling her mom she was experiencing MST. Imagine, what Royal has had to endure while serving on active duty. His story isn't one full of pride in serving our nation. It is one full of pain and violence while being denied the very freedoms, he was fighting to protect for cis white people. It is quite cruel that we treat our service members this way. It is a very sad reality we live in, in 2020.
Transgender people are humans. Just like you and I, they deserve respect and support. They also deserve a life and a workplace that is free of violence against them. We are not hopeless here. Hope is on the horizon as we work towards allyship across all of our marginalized communities. We are all facing similar battles. When we unite and raise our voices in solidarity, we will create a more equal and just world. One where we all belong. At MSTM, we support people who are out to change the world. The thinkers, the doers, the innovators, the courageous, the unique, the one's out to defy the status quo are the people we seek out to amplify their voices. Royal exemplifies every single one of those qualities while in his pursuit of justice and equality.
The National LGBTQ Task Force complied research that demonstrates the devastating effects of structural racism against black transgender individuals
"Discrimination was pervasive for the entire sample, but anti-transgender bias coupled with structural racism meant that transgender people of color experienced particularly devastating levels of discrimination, with Black respondents often faring worse than all others. Among the key findings of the analysis released today:
- Black transgender people had an extremely high unemployment rate at 26 percent, two times the rate of the overall transgender sample and four times the rate of the general population.
- A startling 41 percent of Black respondents said they had experienced homelessness at some point in their lives, more than five times the rate of the general U.S. population.
- Black transgender people lived in extreme poverty with 34 percent reporting a household income of less than $10,000 per year. This is more than twice the rate for transgender people of all races (15 percent), four times the general Black population rate (9 percent), and eight times the general U.S. population rate (4 percent).
- Black transgender people were affected by HIV in devastating numbers. More than one-fifth of respondents were living with HIV (20.23 percent), compared to a rate of 2.64 percent for transgender respondents of all races, 2.4 percent for the general Black population, and 0.60 percent of the general U.S. population."
When you combine these statistics with the statistics of MST survivors, there is one very clear fact that comes to mind. It is that Royal Parker is a mother Fucking warrior king. That's why the LGBTQIA community calls him King Royal. It makes perfect sense when you've seen him defy all of the statistics while he has become a voice for a severely silenced and vulnerable community. We must take a stand and fight for change. We will not know peace until we know tolerance, we will not know tolerance until we know equality. We can not have equality without a politics of compassion and love.
Read our Reflections Magazine to read Royal's story!
Listen to Royal's Podcast: The Struggle of a Black Transgender Male MST Survivor
Royal Parker served in the U.S. Army before his transition. Royal faced a series of hardships based on race, gender identity, and as a survivor or Military Sexual Trauma (MST). Royal's preferred pronouns are he, him, his. Royal details his story of adversity and struggle while serving our nation. Today, Royal is an activist in the Hudson Valley Region of New York helping other transgender veterans.
I am an American soldier. My experience in the military was heartbreaking. I experienced sexual assault, rape, gender inequality, racism, and countless other trials and tribulations that were continuously swept under the rug. I experienced gender inequality throughout my entire career. Having been born biologically female, we were looked at as less than. Even when we aced PT scores and were leading the class in testing scores; the idea of a woman being a leader was downplayed. I experienced trans-phobia first hand, as I was denied medical assistance on two occasions before the transgender ban was implemented. I was told that it wasn’t the time to pursue my transition for military readiness before deploying and that upon my return I would be given that.
During this time I was not on any hormones. I had not begun my transition, but I was not silent about who I was. Once the leadership started to receive memos about people being transgender and what regulations would change for transgender individuals within the military, I began to receive backlash and harassment. I was not late to formation, I was always on time; I was always ready and willing to do whatever duties were assigned to me. Yet, I was still put on the radar as a malingering soldier.
I experienced a sexual assault during my deployment when a male off duty NCO entered my room. I was on the floor with all men at the time. I was the only female on that floor, so he figured he wouldn’t need to knock after obtaining the master key from the patrol desk on the first floor. I told my NCOS, my First Sgt and he got written up and nothing more. I never received an apology and I certainly didn't receive justice. So once I got back to the states from my deployment in South Korea, I sought out to begin my transition. After countless attempts, appointments, blood work, and after I was classified with a mental disorder; all of my paperwork was fulfilled: only to be denied by my officers. Who told me they didn’t want this to be brought up on the red carpet and that this was an elective procedure that they wouldn’t approve.
Listen to Royal's story on our Perspective's Podcast!Read more
Black Lives Matter. For some people in America this statement seems radical when in reality, we as a society can not say everyone's life is equal and meaningful until we are willing to acknowledge that in 2020, we still treat black lives as 3/5th a person. This statement remains a fact when we look at every sector of our economy. When we look at consumer staples we see a number of influencers and corporations who appropriate black culture for profit while not giving credit or even funding to the Black community. On June 1st, 1921 in Tulsa, Oklahoma contained the Greenwood District known as "Black Wall Street." There were 300 black-owned businesses that were burned down by racist whites who were envious of the rich black people in this part of the country after an incident between a black man and a white woman, where the black man tripped in an elevator and grabbed the white woman's arm to support himself. This led to one of the deadliest race riots in American History. The damage led to many deaths and the wealth of these black families was never restored as all of the insurance claims on their properties and businesses were denied. In the 1940s Black families were denied FHA mortgages. These are government-backed mortgages that insure high-risk borrowers from low-income backgrounds. During this time Black families were denied access to these mortgages while white people were afforded the opportunity to build wealth and move to the suburbs. When we fast forward to the 1960s during a time of Jim Crow Laws and a well-known slogan of the era, "Separate but Equal" is the reason Black communities emerged and developed separately. It wouldn't be until Dr. Martin Luther King's poetic death, a violent assassination that created civil unrest across the nation because White people refused to close their businesses while black people mourned the loss of one of the greatest civil rights leaders in the country, that riots broke out. After 100s of riots broke out, Congress signed the Fair Housing Act of 1968 which prohibited the government and banks from discriminating against minorities seeking to purchases homes. This was one part of MLK's Economic Bill of Rights. By the time Black folks even got an opportunity to participate in home buying, Whites already had almost 40 years of government-subsidized wealth accumulation on their side.
Fair Lending Laws which still exist today, alone would not end racism in America. J.P. Morgan Chase Bank was fined for Fair Lending Violations in 2017 for $55 Million Dollars for denying Black and Latinx mortgage applicants who rightfully qualified. On June 18th, 1971, President Nixon began his campaign for the War on Drugs. This campaign was a systemic effort to funnel Black and Latinx people into jails in America. This system still remains in place today. Many of the private military corporations such as Lockheed Martin who are contracted out by the government operate the welfare programs in almost every state in America. Black and Latinx Americans are more likely per capita to get involved with CPS, end up in jail because of a non-violent offense, and join the military for a better a life. I am very familiar with the institutional injustices because I worked for Wall Street for 12 years of my adult life. It was by far an eye-opening education to see how deeply rooted racism is in the American economy. It was one of the factors that motivated me to get involved in local politics in the Hudson Valley. I was working for J.P. Morgan at the time and the North Dakota Access Pipeline became a huge debate because the pipeline was being built on sacred Native American land. At the time, J.P.Morgan opened a proprietary investment called the J.P. Morgan Energy Renessaise Portfolio. Our firm's Certified Product Specialist was coaching us on how to sell it. The company's economists were all talking about how they expected 9% annual returns and that this would provide wages of $25.00 per hour at a minimum for workers. As they started discussing what companies would be the holdings in this particular portfolio, Halliburton was one of the top ten. That alarmed me because I had known them to be a weapon company while I served in the United States Marine Corps. I couldn't understand why they would be in an oil portfolio until I started doing research. I was attending Post University at the time and I made this my research paper for my advanced economics class for the semester. This was how I went down the rabbit hole of really understanding minority issues in modern America. After I concluded my research, I learned Halliburton is an oil company that won a weapon's contract because Dick Cheney was not only on the Board of Directors for Halliburton but he was also the Vice President of the United States. This $5 billion dollar contract would help take over territory in the Middle East that Halliburton had been fined for doing business with in the past. This was a very strategic deal at the expense of the American taxpayer and would ultimately take the lives of many service members who believed they were fighting for freedom. As I began researching every portfolio I sold, I began to see a trend that minorities are essentially funneled into certain aspects of the economy in order to create wealth for the white and wealthy on Wall Street. That didn't align with me. While working at J.P. Morgan, I protested this portfolio and everything it stood for, and for the remainder of my career, I refused to sell any oil portfolios. I began internally protesting this portfolio. There was no reason why in modern-day America we should be profiting off of Native Americans, Black Americans, and Latinx Americans while disrespecting their cultures and rights at the same time. These economic issues exist in every sector of our society in 2020. When we look at law enforcement and the prison industrial complex these same trends emerge that black lives will serve longer sentences and be convicted at higher rates than white people will for the same exact crimes. The prison industrial complex is the backbone of consumer staples and products that we purchase every day in America. Many for-profit businesses use prison labor to create products at a lower cost. That labor mainly comes from Black and Latinx prisoners.
You don't have to be against law enforcement or the military to acknowledge that we have serious systemic issues surrounding race in America. It is okay to support the military and law enforcement and still fight for justice and equality within the institutions that are currently benefiting from racism. Racism can be both conscious and unconscious. I have seen both in my interactions with people in power. Civic engagement and involvement in politics are how we can create meaningful change as a society. We have to work towards removing racist elected officials from power while supporting elected officials who are willing to hear and see us. Many local police departments are governed through local and county governments. As well as the District Attorneys that prosecute individuals. All of these elections happen in off-cycle years and generally have primary elections. Most people do not vote in local elections or in primaries. In states like New York where there are closed primaries, unless you are registered to vote with a party line, you can not vote in a primary at all. This restricts an individual's power in the political process. We each have the power within us to change the future. It requires all of us to take action.
I received a number of people who told me they were disappointed in my support of the Black community and their belief that MSTM should only be focused on survivors. As a political organization, there are times when it is necessary to speak out. Black people serve in the military and in law enforcement. Black people go through MST as well. My point is that Black people have it harder solely on the basis of skin color. They have a right to feel protected, supported, loved, and empowered. I will always stand on the side of civil rights and equality. MSTM will represent those same values. I have heard the stories of many black women who shared what it was like to serve and go through MST and to experience trauma, retaliation, and discrimination on top of it; it takes an incredible level of strength that most people do not have within themselves. These are struggles that no one should have to endure but unfortunately, they do. We can't ask for allyship with MST survivors if we aren't willing to show up as allies for others. We can not ask people to see us as survivors when we chose to deny every other part of their story. We have to accept every part of everyone's story while in our pursuit of justice. MST is deeply correlated to racism in that they both are manifestations of white supremacy. In order to have true and meaningful progress, we need to show up for everyone. Not just ourselves. I know that concept is difficult for some and I ask that you can take a moment to think about what it feels like to be a Black woman or man in America who served this country, experienced MST and feel as if your life is less valued or as if you don't have the same freedoms. There comes a time where we need to acknowledge the pain and strength of the Black community and be there for them during this time. They need love and support and we need to be here to provide that. We need to help echo their voices and fight for justice.
Having personally experienced injustice when I experienced MST, I know what that pain feels like. It is one of my life's deepest pains. I specifically remember this one day a few months after I got out of the military that I was walking on the streets of New York thinking that no one actually cared about service members unless it benefited them. I cried thinking about how no one would ever really know what I went through. I was also terrified to share my story because I thought people would think that I was going against the military versus trying to make it better. When I reflect on what is going on now with the deaths of George Floyd, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, and many more who have died by police violence who are standing up, I know the level of courage it takes. That is why I chose to stand with our black community despite receiving a number of messages that suggested I should not. I am proud of our black community and I am proud to stand with our Black community. I do hope this message helps put their struggle in perspective as well as helps create empathy and bridge to the black struggle.
Empathy for our Black community is the first step but it is certainly not the only step. A lot of work needs to be done and we need to move into action now. Peacefully protesting is a right afforded to us in the constitution but it is only one aspect of politics. Protesting has always been a marker for where someone's values lie. It is a clear indicator of what shortfalls they perceive and what motivates them to act. We can not have diversity, inclusivity, and freedom when we are not allowing everyone's voice to be heard. We need real action now!
When I got involved in local politics, minority issues in my community became my interest. As a Puerto Rican woman, my cultural upbringing is tied to Caribbean culture, from the foods I eat and cook, to the music I listen to, clothes I wear, and hair products I use. Also learning about the economic injustices that occur after working in finance, I really wanted to explore and understand how these policies get executed politically. I remember one of the first political events I attended was at Beacon Town Hall. It was about the Dutchess County Jail Expansion. The room was packed and I remember that the unrest in the room. It was because the Black community was concerned about the Poughkeepsie High School-to-Prison pipeline. This is directly correlated to a long educational segregation battle that took place in Dutchess County throughout the 1960s when IBM, a major technology company during the time built a large plant that would be home to many of IBM's senior-level executives who have the money and power to fund a lengthy campaign to keep the divides between a manly Black and poor school and a White and wealthy one that both neighbor each other. These fears from the black community were completely rationale to me. I supported their cause to ensure that the jail does not get expanded and that support services do. At the time, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro made the argument that New York State was mandating the expansion and remodel due to the fact that it was completely full and Dutchess County was outsourcing and paying for inmates to be placed in other county's jails. I understood the economic situation as well as the government mandates but I still felt it was morally wrong. I questioned if our predominantly White government understood what it is like for minorities in the Hudson Valley. I remained engaged in politics and I consistently saw racism and even experienced it myself. A local paper in Wappingers Falls called The Hornet wrote an article making fun of me for having PTSD due to MST. I really had to sit and reflect on this for a number of reasons and the main one was would a White male veteran who told his story about MST experience that? I knew for a fact that a white male veteran in my town, would be met with overwhelming support if he shared the story I did. I'll be honest this left me resentful to those in power in the area. I consistently watched how elected officials and party officials disenfranchised minorities in a number of ways. I began seeing this pattern within the county Democratic party which is why I never fell in line with what they wanted. This became the reason I ultimately resigned.
When the organizers from Stop the Violence Movement asked me to assist them in organizing, speaking, and leading the demonstration in Poughkeepsie, New York yesterday my answer was a resounding yes. Given all of my experiences along with my moral compass, this was a no brainer for me. It was an emotionally powerful day as well. The peaceful protest drew over 2,000 demonstrators from across the Hudson Valley. Someone else was in attendance, our Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro. I'll be the first to admit that I thought it was for a photo-op but as I spent the day leading side by side with him, I started to see his engagement and care for the people around him. He was fully present and participating in the activities of the day. He understood the pain of the community he serves. He made a leadership decision that he needed to be present for the Black community. I think that speaks volumes about where Dutchess County can maneuver to in the future. Marc is well respected and loved by just about everyone. His participation is far more powerful for the community than what most people realize. He represents a White male leader in a conservative power structure in a diverse county in New York. If he can stand with the Black community during this time of George Floyd's Death and the civil unrest, well then there's hope for change on the horizon. The reality is that we need everyone to create progress and to have meaningful change. There is a light shining in Dutchess County, New York even where other places in the country look dim. I hope that our story from the Hudon Valley inspires community leaders across the nation and that we continue to take actions that demonstrate Black Lives do Matter!
Janelle Marina Mendez
CEO of MSTMRead more