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Another American: Asking & Telling

[Ed Note: Another American: Asking & Telling was previously reviewed for Theatermania by Kathleen Reynolds, but we offer Forrest Mallard's perspective on the show because of his special insight as a gay ex-Marine.]

Another American: Asking & Telling had a very personal meaning for me, as a gay man who has served in the military. The power of this show--which recently ended its limited run in a production by The New Group at the Theatre at St. Clement's--was enough to take the average gay Manhattanite out of his secure, proud environment and relocate him to a place where it is dangerous (if not deadly) to show one's true colors.

Through interviews with service members, their family, and others directly affected by this issue, Marc Wolf paints a vivid and painful picture of what it's like to be constantly under fire by your own government. As the writer/performer of the piece, Wolf's beyond-amazing characterizations bring you face to face with many tough people: some fighting to keep gays out of the military; some serving honorably, yet silently; some standing firm and proud; and others, grieving the death of loved ones. Wolf's portrayal of these characters was so authentic, I felt like I was back in the Marines, covertly trading stories with other closeted members of the armed forces. Halfway though Act One, as Wolf began to revisit certain characters by means of the slightest gestures, there was no doubt exactly which one of his personae was speaking.

The performance I attended was followed by a roundtable discussion by Mark Green, Daniel O'Donnell, Eduardo Machado, Don MacIver, Robert Murphy, Kenneth Sherrill, and Walter Zimmerman, moderated by Donna Lieberman. Each shared personal experiences and/or professional views on the subject of gays in the military; and many of the situations covered had been portrayed just moments before in Another American....

This was an exceptional experience, and though I usually like to keep my personal life out of my writing, here it is necessary for me to actively participate. I served in the USMC for eight years, starting immediately after my graduation from high school. At the time, I was curious about the legal field, and I had scored high enough on my entrance tests that I was guaranteed a great position in the Marine Corps legal department. After finishing school and being placed overseas (at my request), I began to work in Administrative Discharges, and was soon being sent to act as court reporter at various locations around Okinawa--usually traveling with the attorneys.

Did I think that being in such a situation would cause me to doubt my own morality and erode my respect for the military? Never. But, in case after case, men and women (mostly women) had their lives ripped to shreds before my eyes because there was evidence that they had been involved in some form of homosexual encounter. Sometimes, there was no more evidence than the holding of hands.

Friends whom I spent my days with, officers whom I respected, became monsters before my eyes as they acted on the military's behalf in violent and cruel interrogations. On return journeys, I resorted to staring out the car window, unable to look at the attorney. Perhaps he would see something in me that he saw on the stand...and this would cause him to passionately hate me, too.

Never was I sympathetic to the military's actions in these interrogations. For every Marine who was tied to the stake, there were multiple witnesses who gave nothing but glowing, exemplary reports of the person's conduct and character. Such testimony came mostly from officers in charge of the accused. But these witnesses were ultimately faced with a simple question that would invalidate their whole testimony: "Knowing that [the accused] has been charged with breaking the Uniform Code of Military Justice, if these claims are true, would you serve with them in combat?" To this question, 100% of the witnesses--often with tears in their eyes--would have to respond, "No, sir." Because to say otherwise would mean that the witnesses had no respect for the UCMJ, and would themselves be in danger of scrutiny by the courts.

Look at what's happening on the other side of the fence, however: Military leaders not only condone adultery and the use of prostitutes--they celebrate it! When traveling overseas, the unwritten rule is: You can screw as many women as you want, and if you don't tell my wife, I won't tell yours. But if two military women kiss, their careers, lives, and often families are destroyed. A man may have fought heroically in Vietnam and been named Marine of the Year--but if he has a relationship with another man, he becomes persona non grata (true story). These are the grounds which allow the U.S. military to kill an honorable person's spirit. Sad to say, this killing the spirit often extends to the actual killing of the person.

I lasted a little over a year working in Administrative Discharges, watching as the military ruined the lives of countless innocent people. I lied about my own sexual orientation and quickly rose to the rank of Sergeant in the Intelligence field, gaining a Navy Achievement Medal and a letter of commendation from the Commander of the Pacific Fleet for my leadership skills during the Gulf War. The system currently in place gives a gay member of the military no alternative but to lie.

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" don't work. I applaud Marc Wolf and The New Group for addressing a vital issue with passion and truth.