Marine Tells Powerful Tale of Life Post-‘DADT’, Taking a Date to the Marine Corps Ball

In a new piece on his blog, Marine Officer Matthew Phelps talks about bringing a date to the recent Marine Corps Birthday Ball in San Diego. This is perhaps one of the best glimpses into what it's like for military service members post 'DADT' repeal that I have ever read. Very inspiring piece.

PhelpsPhelps writes of the challenges living without 'DADT' has produced:

There is an enormous pressure–perhaps self-induced, I admit–to prove that I can do my job as well as (if not better than) anyone else. I had always placed this pressure on myself, as all of my gay military friends had, because I felt I had something to prove, even if no one else knew I was doing it. For my entire career I lived with the idea that people–from conservative civilian lobbyists to my fellow Marines to my Commander in Chief–believed I was incapable of succeeding as a Marine because I was gay. They thought we had no place in the military, and therefore it was up to us to be beyond reproach and the very best in our fields. In many ways that pressure has since been compounded, because it’s no longer a secret struggle.

The world is watching as we expose our true selves. Those who opposed repeal are scrutinizing every one of us, waiting for the opportunity to say that repeal was a mistake. As an officer and a leader of Marines, I lead from the front, setting the example for junior Marines and officers and to prove that there is no need to describe my service as that of a gay Marine, but just a Marine. Because of this, every word I say, every email I write, every look I give is a conscious effort, as carefully thought out and worded as the letters, essays, and interviews I gave prior to repeal. Each and every moment of my life holds in it the possibility of discredit and disservice to my Corps. I cannot fail the Marines who are counting on me to pave the way forward as a Marine in a post-DADT military.

And later describes the moments of entering the Ball with his date Brandon, calling the Ball "the most obvious example" of the new pressure he feels:

Standing there and looking around to see Marines throughout the lobby, we both thought, “What the hell are we doing here?” We looked at each other, took a deep breath, and stepped inside. We were careful from the very beginning not to be too close to each other. At one point, while the one of us who passed land navigation as a lieutenant in Quantico, VA managed to get lost on the way to the bathroom, our hands bumped and we quickly pulled them back. We made our way to the bar because the glass of wine and cocktail we had while getting ready weren’t taking the edge off as effectively as we’d hoped. A Marine I knew from work walked up and introduced his wife.

I had gone over the next moment a million times in my mind. Was he my “friend”? My “boyfriend”? My “date”? How should I represent our relationship in the most respectful way to people who might not be happy we were there together? I knew there were people who didn’t yet know I am gay (not because I had avoided telling them, but because it hadn’t come up yet in day-to-day conversation), so how would I introduce Brandon in a way that made it clear but still allowed them to avoid being caught off-guard? What about the people who suspected I was gay but that I’d never confirmed it to? How do you tell people something they already know without feeling like an idiot when they look back at you and say, “No kidding. Who didn’t know?” (Trust me, it happened plenty of times before when I had stressed about “coming out” to people who had known far sooner than I did.) I thought briefly about whether any straight Marine had ever asked himself those questions, or even considered whether it would be appropriate to take a date.

Take the time to read his whole post HERE.

On Marines, equality, and my date to the Marine Corps Birthday Ball [work in progress]


  1. Dorishin says

    Great Post!!!! Worth taking the time to read the entire thing. You will feel like you were there experiencing the whole entire amazing life changing evening.

  2. Greg says

    I second Dorishin’s comment…well worth reading the entire blog….very touching and affirming!
    That Marine has courage!!

  3. Martin says

    Well worth reading the entire story – a powerfully deep look at not just the military, but at an individual soldier. As is so often the case, the more personal a story, the more powerful it becomes and this was no exception.

    Beautifully written – thanks for the link and for so many other stories like this.

  4. says

    It is a stark reminder that even as U.S. economic data has improved in recent weeks, the euro zone debt crisis and concerns about slowing growth in China still cast a long shadow.

    Estimates for fourth-quarter S&P earnings growth have tumbled over the past two months as global macroeconomic headwinds prompted analysts to slash forecasts.

  5. Daniel says

    So, not sure where the economic commentary came from . . . but . . .

    Great post, especially if you read the whole blog. Touching.

  6. uffda says

    Yes, thanks for this very American post. The whole piece was beautifully set up, well written and heartfelt by a man of character and courage. The last moment – without spoiling it for others – was exactly right and especially sweet.

  7. Jay says

    The Captain’s story is powerful and very well written. My only disappointment is that he and his date didn’t actually dance at the Ball. They left for a gay bar, in effect segregating themselves. Self-censorship is better than official censorship, but it still bespeaks an embarrassment or shame at being gay.

  8. anon says

    The irony is that we see (presumably str8) soldiers dancing with each other in musical videos they put online all the time.

  9. Mikey says

    Your story brought tears of joy for you and Brandon; and tears of sorrow for me. In 1956, after 8 years in the army,a staff sergeant serving in So. Pacific (2 h-bomb tests); in London with the Joint American Military Advisory group (to the Western Union treaty); and under Eisenhower’s command in NATO hqs. in Paris, etc., etc. I was thrown out of the military, humiliated in front of all my staff, and my “friend”(we were not lovers but expressed our nature in letters to each other) was given a dishonorable discharge because he was gay. I had recommendations from 3 generals, 2 colonels., and it meant nothing to those who needed to get rid of “an undesirable” soldier. I was discharged “for the good of the service.”
    I tell this story, so people will realize what it was like prior to DATD, and then the lifting of the ban on gays in the military. I was 28 at the time, and now at 82, I still bear the scars and psychological damage the U.S. Army did to me after years of living with the shame they inflicted on me. I thank God that such hatred of gays is now over, and that you and Brandon have found acceptance and the joy of being open about who you really are. God bless you both, and all other gays in the military who now have the right to be considered human. Michael Ward.