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First Person Biography of a Bisexual US Army Veteran

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By GLAAD |
September 23, 2009
CLIFF OFFICAL ARMY PHOTO-2

Official U.S. Army photo of Pvt. Clifton Francis Arnesen, Jr. at Fort Dix, New Jersey: (Age 17) December 1965

As part of GLAAD's ongoing series of posts dedicated to Celebrate Bisexuality Day, the following is an edited excerpt from Cliff Arnesen's First Person Biography of a Bisexual US Army Veteran.

Please click here for the original piece.

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"As a bisexual in the military, there is no distinction in terms of punishment, no refuge in being bisexual. You get the same consequences; you don't get half a discharge."

--Cliff Arnesen, Lesbian News, October 2001

At seventeen, I dropped out of high school in the tenth grade and talked my mother into signing a waiver for me to join the US Army--in an attempt to escape fr0m a life of poverty, filled with despair and devoid of hope.

However, several weeks into basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey, I realized that although I had managed to escape fr0m the oppressive environment in Brooklyn, I had also painted myself into a corner. I agonized over the painful necessity of having to conceal my sexual orientation.

Also, fear was a constant reality, as I was well aware that I could be discharged or court-martialed for perjury -- having lied on the entrance questionnaire which read:

"Are you a homosexual; and have you ever engaged in sexual activities with a member of the same sex?"

Thus, I held my fears in check and completed basic training, went on to Advanced Infantry Training School (AIT), earned a military high school diploma, and finally, based upon my performance evaluation, was selected by my superiors to attend Trainee Leadership School. But, I never made it to the school.

Instead, I went AWOL because I felt psychologically trapped in the military due to the tremendous stress and fear of trying to hide my sexual orientation and also because I found out that my Mother's life was in danger. The danger was fr0m another alcoholic man she'd met who physically assaulted her. I kept a close eye on her during the three weeks I was AWOL.

Finally, after feeling assured that my Mother was as safe as could be, and knowing that I could be tried for "Desertion in time of War" after thirty days, I surrendered to the Military Police at Times Square.   They handcuffed and arrested me and drove me back to Fort Dix.

Upon my arrival, I finally told my Company Commander that I was gay. Thereafter, I was put under house arrest for several days, then transferred to the stockade on a “holding status,” where I was interrogated by agents fr0m the Army Central Intelligence Division. (CID)

It was during the interrogation that the two agents told me that they thought I was a coward who made up the story of being gay in order to avoid combat duty in Vietnam. To my utter dismay, the agents told me that they needed explicit "proof" in order for me to satisfy their thinking that I was not lying. Needless to say I was shocked and bewildered that the Federal agents would blackmail me because they did not believe the admission of my sexual orientation.

Therefore, due to the ultimatum by the agents--and against my will --I committed what they defined as an "illegal act of sodomy” with another soldier. Afterwards, the other soldier and I were forced to sign a joint "confession." Then, I was ordered to seek the council of a Roman Catholic Chaplain and a psychiatrist.

The next day, I had a brief session with the Chaplain, who simply told me that:

“God still loves you despite your sin.”

The Chaplain's words stung my heart, as I know to the core of my soul that all love had to be okay with God because God did not make mistakes! Thus, I was not a mistake!

However, it was during the interview with the psychiatrist that I felt a sense of relief and a glimpse of understanding when the officer asked,

"Private Arnesen, do you like both boys and girls?

In response, I simply answered, “Yes.”

After my affirmative reply he asked, "To whom are you most attracted, boys or girls?"

Without hesitation, I told him my feelings were equal. I was physically and emotionally attracted to both genders. Then, he looked into my eyes and warned that I could be discharged as a "homosexual" because the military made no distinction between a person who was "homosexual or bisexual."

Leaving his office under armed escort, I felt confused and lost, as I thought of myself as gay due to the rigid codes of sexual behavior within both the straight and gay communities. I thought I had to identify as gay because I didn't know any bisexual people and would not be accepted in the gay community if I told anyone I liked girls, too.

Then, one morning shortly after the interrogations and meetings, a young soldier with a loaded .45 caliber pistol entered my 8 x10 cement cell, handcuffed me, and ordered me at gunpoint to march several miles through Fort Dix to a courthouse -- all the while taunting that he would "shoot to kill" if I tried to escape.

Arriving at the courthouse, I was court court-martialed and sentenced to a year at hard labor in the stockade--of which I served four months in segregated confinement because other prisoners had threatened to rape and kill me. After completing the sentence, I was sent back to my AIT unit to face further threats of death and psychological intimidation by my superiors and fellow soldiers.

Finally, on Wednesday, January 25, 1967, I was given an “Undesirable Discharge,” which effectively precluded my receiving any and all future VA medical and educational benefits. I was escorted outside the gates of Fort Dix by two armed military policemen. I took a lighter out of my pocket, set fire to the "Undesirable Discharge," and threw it on the ground. Then I hitched a ride back to Brooklyn with nothing but a subway token in my pocket.

May 16, 1990: Second day of Cliff Arnesen's Congressional Testimony Before the U.S. House Committee on Veterans' Affairs: Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations

May 16, 1990: Second day of Cliff Arnesen's Congressional Testimony Before the U.S. House Committee on Veterans' Affairs: Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations

On May 3rd 1989, Cliff Arnesen became the first openly bisexual Veteran to testify before members of the United States Congress during formal hearings held before the U.S. House Committee on Veterans Affairs: Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations -- addressing health care issues relating to LGBT veterans who suffered fr0m AIDS, homelessness, Agent Orange, drug and alcohol abuse, and less-than-honorable gay and bisexual related discharges. He continues to advocate for the rights of LGBT veterans as president of  New England Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Veterans, Inc.

Issues: