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From tragedy to comedy. (my perspective).

I was kicked out of the Air Force on December 27, 1990, for being gay, just weeks before our last war in Iraq began. They had a hard time proving that I was gay, as I wasn't really sure myself. I even had a boyfriend at the time. But someone saw me kissing a girl, and that was that. In the end, even before I knew it, it was the military that labeled me homosexual.

I never thought that it would turn out like this. My grandfather was a marine during the Korean War; my Uncle Jim had been in the Air Force; my brother Michael was in the Navy. I joined up at 18 with hopes of making my family proud, continuing our military tradition, and serving our country as a patriotic American. I thought the military would help me to grow up and see the world. Chicago was a great place to be a kid, but I wanted diversity and experience.

From my first day in the Air Force, I excelled. I was promoted to squad leader during basic training and had a group of 25 girls under me. I qualified for a top-secret clearance to enable me to work as a controller at the command post, the nerve center for all military operations. I made friends easily and fit well within the structure of the military. I loved it.

Then one day everything crumbled around me. My boss told me I needed to talk to some men with the Office of Special Investigations. They looked like gangsters. Worse, they treated me like they were gangsters. The questioning went on and on: How long have you been gay? Who else do you know that is gay? Have you ever committed sodomy?

I answered no to all the questions. I didn't think I was gay. What do you know when you are 19? I'd had boyfriends my entire life; I had one then. I had recently been with a woman, but did that make me gay?

My lawyer urged me to waive my right to a discharge board so I would not face five years of prison time. My top-secret clearance made me a threat to national security; I could be blackmailed. They took away my clearance and reduced me to cleaning toilets with the other "criminals." It was winter in Spokane, Wash., and I had to shovel snow every day until my hands bled. Sometimes the tears would freeze on my eyelids from crying all day in the cold, snowy weather. I developed ulcers and eventually started throwing up blood.

I was considered guilty until proved heterosexual. I endured interrogation and harassment each and every day. I lost all of my friends; no one wanted to be seen around me. Each night I would go home and cry myself to sleep. I began to think that suicide was the only option.

To my good fortune, my commander believed the Air Force was losing a good airman due to its policy and told me I was a fine example to service people everywhere. I had an outstanding record, and she gave me an honorable discharge.

Now I am a lesbian comedian. I do my routine partly about my military experience: "I was kicked out of the Air Force for a 'homosexual act.' It's not like I joined the gay circus or anything: 'Ladies and gentleman, now presenting Vicki Wagner and her amazing homosexual act ...' Can't you just see the clowns twirling around? Now they have this 'don't ask, don't tell' policy. They say it's OK to be gay in the military as long as you are not a 'practicing homosexual.' Of course, you never hear the words 'practicing heterosexual,' but I think they could use some practice. Have you seen the divorce rate?"

Every day of my life is affected by my getting kicked out of the Air Force. But humor has a way of transforming things. I've found a way to turn tragedy into a positive experience by educating people through comedy. After each show, I talk about the importance of legislating change and how the military's antigay policy is ruining individual lives every day.

It is amazing to me that the very people who are fighting for others' freedoms are not awarded their own freedom by the country they serve. As you read this, young gay and lesbian people are in Iraq, working to liberate a people, and they themselves are not liberated. Our government asks them to deny every day the very essence of who they are--and yet they continue to risk their lives in service of America.

That is my definition of a hero.
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Title Annotation:author tells story of being kicked out of Air Force for being lesbian
Author:Wagner, Vicki
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 27, 2003
Previous Article:Lesbian mystique. (reader forum).
Next Article:Rants & raves.

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