I think there were seven witnesses, but I remember only four distinct faces. Inside the courtroom, there were high ceilings, brass fixtures, pews for spectators, flags, and wooden jury benches that rose up like stadium seating.
Men in dress uniform stood as sentinels at every exit and by every important figure present. But the waiting room for us witnesses was an unadorned office with a long meeting table. The room was tense. It was the kind of atmosphere that when someone inhaled too deeply, it sent every other occupant into some sort of physical reaction: All of the others were straight men, except for my ex-boyfriend. Every man in the room had been a victim of sexual assault except me.
We'd been in the waiting room for more than a week because the trial was restricted to a nine-to-five schedule. Sailors are issued only one pair of dress blues, our most formal uniform, and after a week of fearful waiting, the smell was intense. We were told not to talk among ourselves about the trial, which was ongoing, down a hallway with marble floors. Randomly, a court emissary would come into the room, state a name, and escort that individual to the courtroom. The face that would return to the room would be profoundly changed, but no one was allowed to say anything about what they experienced.
We searched the lines of each other's faces, trying to communicate without speech, trying to assuage the trepidation, the shame. We had been "Gay military guys" for silence, trained efficiently. When I was in boot camp, in Naval Station Great Lakes near Chicago inthe chief in charge of my battalion used to stand at the entrance to the large open shower rooms and watch us.
He was in power. We Gay military guys nothing and had no one to complain to. There were murmurs of him doing more than just watching. He began to pick his favorites. One evening during the period of time when we were required to iron our tighty-whities into perfectly creased squares, the chief called me into his office.
It was situated at the front of the Gay military guys barracks, with a window that allowed him to look out and watch us.
Through that window, he could see everything we did. When I entered his office, he directed me to sit under the window, on the floor, positioning me so that no one outside could see me. Once I was in the spot, he handed me a cookie and he told me to eat it. I didn't know what to make of this request, but I did what I was told. He watched me as he sat in a chair, a strange expression on his face.
He leaned back, his eyes gazing downward at me. When "Gay military guys" was released back Gay military guys the Gay military guys, the guys were concerned, asking me what had happened in there. I told them I had eaten a cookie, but their concern didn't abate. He continued to call me into his office in the evenings, always a cookie on hand. Then some middle-management petty officers caught him doing something overtly wrong—leering at a lone man in the shower—and they reported him.
He was relieved of his position as our lead, but he kept his rank and was put in charge of another unit. Our petty officers apologized to us and said that his conduct was not fitting with our core values.
Still, not one of us had a voice in that scenario. Even as the issue got rectified, we were kept silent. It was only later that I realized what it looked like from the outside of the chief's office as he sat in front of his desk and I ate his cookie on the floor. All you would have been able to see through the window was him leaning back in his chair, a strange expression on his face, his arms lifted to cradle his head in his hands, his eyes looking down at me.