How do you come out when you are a Navy officer? When you are sailing on a frigate with 250 men whose biggest insult to swing at each other is, “Yo, homo.”?
But you also think: I don’t wanna hide who I am anymore, what I am about. If we go into battle, if we’re going to die, then let’s die for the right to be who we are, who I am. How can I expect my sailors to trust their Lieutenant when I am leading an untrue life? Let’s get real and stand tall.
By the way, we are speaking 1990 in The Netherlands, when even in liberal Holland there was no one to turn to for assistance. I didn’t know anyone else in the Armed Forces who was gay. It was like gays had been purged from existence.
So I devised a plan. I started taking people aside, asking them if I could tell them a very personal secret. Then reveal the real reason why I had recently broken up with my girlfriend. This had two effects. One, they felt “special and trusted” for me confiding in them, so they kept their mouths shut. Second, after a while, everyone who I regularly worked with knew but they just didn’t realize that everyone else knew too.
This made it possible for me to turn the tables and just be me. When word got out, nobody was surprised. Sure, the mates would still shout, “Yo, homo” to each other on the quarterdeck. That is not likely to change any time soon. What did change was when they did, and I was spotted, they would come up to me and say, “Sorry, Sir, didn’t mean it that way, nothing personal.” In fact, I earned huge respect from the crew for coming out, as everyone realized that on a crew of 250, there are bound to be gays. Standing up for who I am was the best bet I ever made.
Mike sent me a beautiful photo of the frigate he mentions in his story and wanted me to share, so here is Her Netherlands Majesty’s Ship (HNLMS) Abraham Crijnssen in all Her glory.