02/12/2013 08:55 pm ET Updated Apr 14, 2013

Divorcing the Marine Corps

I made a commitment: I would be faithful, loyal, and heterosexual for six years. I made the decision when I was 16, enlisted when I was 17, and became a Marine at 18. My relationship was with the Marine Corps. My family voiced their disapproval. My mother went back to the recruiter and tore up the consent form she had signed. I reminded my family that this was my life, that they had no right to interfere with my future. I wanted to be in a place where self-discipline and strength were rewarded. The rewards came: Incentive Dress Blues (for recruiting three males); I was a Squad Leader and, finally, was promoted Meritoriously to Lance Corporal out of bootcamp.

Upon entering the Fleet Marine Force, my relationship with the USMC changed dramatically. I was no longer an outstanding Marine; I was just another face in the crowd, another BAM (broad ass Marine). This term is used to derogatorily differentiate male Marines from female Marines. I had not realized that upon completion of bootcamp, my power and personal character had to be suppressed. I was to comply with all aspects of military life, including gracefully accepting comments about my body and understanding that male Marines had more freedom than I did. I had studied every aspect of Marine Corps prior to enlisting. I had spoken to many male Marines, been to several bootcamp graduations, had seen all the movies involving the Marine Corps. What I did not investigate was the perspective of a women Marine. I did not know there would be a difference.

Before joining the Marines, my femaleness had never been presented to me so vividly-- nor had I ever felt so "female" in my life. Women and men have different privileges. Women must be able to fight and provide support during a conflict, all the while maintaining a feminine demeanor.

Though I had refused to participate in society as a soft, feminine child and adolescent, that choice was no longer mine to make. I was taught how to be feminine; this role was my reality. I had entered into an institution just as many enter into the institution of marriage. One may assume to be marrying an individual, unaware that the new partnership is embedded in tradition -- patriarchy and roles that have existed for generations. (Remember, I was 17.)

I was in and out of the Marine Corps in less than a year. "Irreconcilable Differences?" If that is that you want to call it. I am sure I could have told them I was a lesbian -- that would have been the easy way out. If I had said that, however, the real issue would have remained unaddressed. The problem was --is -- that a Marine is male-defined. The tradition of the Marine Corps embodies the ideals and roles of patriarchy. Tradition reminds us, "Boys will be boys," and we accept it. What if I refuse to accept that maxim, ideology and license for aggression? The attention I received from male Marines was inappropriate, and very quickly took on an aggressive tone. Their faces began to look more and more the same. They wore the same uniform, had a "High and Tight" haircut, and their language toward women -- toward me -- was violent and violating. The Marine Corps ideology worked: Break them down. Annihilate individuality. Make them Marines.

I feared these men.

At the age of 18, I did not own the words to describe the injustices and violations I had seen and experienced. I was simply trying to save myself. I fought the Marine Corps and won, but it all happened behind closed doors. It was a "private" matter. Haven't you heard that one before? My partnership with the Marines was reduced to fear. I became afraid of the world. I was silenced, weakened, and raped within a nine-month period.

On March 17, 1989 I was granted an Honorable Discharge. Nothing was wrong with me. I was an outstanding Marine. The Marine Corps was the adulterer and the perpetrator. Who would assume responsibility for the dissolution of this relationship? People still say to me: "Only a year, what happened? Couldn't you hack it?" I can't imagine asking such an tactless question to a divorced person. We divorced. We separated in order to save ourselves. The struggle to regain strength and dissolve guilt is a long process. I often remind myself that extrinsic rewards do not compare to the gift of recognizing personal power.