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Retired Air Force captain recalls closeted career in new memoir

Posted: 31 Mar 2018 12:16 PM PDT

Mark David Gibson, gay news, Washington Blade

Mark David Gibson is releasing his memoir this weekend. The retired U.S. Air Force captain says a career spent in the closet took unexpected tolls. (Photo courtesy Gibson)

Retired U.S. Air Force Captain Mark David Gibson releases his memoir "Served in Silence" this weekend looking at his personal journey before, during, and after the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy.

Gibson says he knew it was the right time to tell his story when he finally overcame the obstacles and hazards of living a life that was not authentic. A launch party is planned for Saturday, March 31 in Atlanta.

"I had won the battle over PTSD, alcoholism and found my way out of the darkness of shame and secrecy," he says. "I intended on my memoir being able to help others identify the hazards of not living authentically and using my book as a roadmap to avoid these hazards. I wanted the book to build a bridge to other projects focusing on developing authentic lifestyles."

A small-town boy from upstate New York, Gibson entered the military because he didn't see a lot of options after high school. He was bullied in school and accelerated his education to graduate at 16 and join the Air Force at 17. He remembers clearly the recruiting sergeant placing a special emphasis on the last item of the enlistment documents that specifically stated homosexuals were not permitted. 

"Looking back now that might as well have been the grim reaper stealing my soul," Gibson says. "It did strike me as odd that while agreeing to sacrifice civilian freedoms that the end of the document was about sex or sexuality. When President Clinton signed the DADT policy into law, I felt a sense of hope that quickly diminished to false hope. I had no idea how dehumanizing the policy actually was and how it would push me further into the shadows of shame and secrecy."

As within life, Gibson believes there were some who suspected, but that was the problem.

"I don't believe anyone wakes up and enters the day to have others be suspicious of them as if they were less than, wrong or dirty," he says. "From a professional point of view, I simply could not imagine ever a time it would be acceptable to discuss sex or sexuality in uniform. They were not asking and I was not telling. I seldom lived in the same community where I was stationed and, at a great peril, would drive long distances to escape to a somewhat normal life. Ironically, at home it was the reverse, where I rarely shared details about my military work life with my gay friends or partners."

Writing the book, he found, was not easy. He had a collection of sticky notes, bar napkins and rough drafts that he had collected through the years, but it was not until Gibson was accepted into the Publish Your Purpose Author's Academy in May, 2017 that started to turn things around for him and this project.

"The goal of the 14-week academy is not to teach you how to write, but it teaches you all of the steps and process in publishing your works when you're done," he says. "After about the first couple of weeks, I woke up at 3 a.m. and had a clear vision that I would commit to finishing my manuscript. I have found in my life that when I am committed to something, nothing will get in the way, and I did in fact finish both, and in fall of 2017 we went right into the publishing process."

The book, he says, was a good exercise to reconstruct the past and identify and pin point when the hazards occurred with his struggle to live authentically. 

"The filters I laid over my life and personality over a lifetime pushed me into the shadows to believe I was less-than and never good enough to bring my true self to the day," Gibson says. "The most challenging part of the DADT policy was the fact that my team never got to experience me as a whole person. As a highly decorated officer, I can only imagine the other greatness I could have achieved if I were allowed to bring my full 100 percent authentic self to the day."

Gibson dedicated his book to his fellow military members who "served in silence," and those who struggle the way he once did.

"My hope is that people can learn from the hazards of living in the shadows of darkness as 'less-than' and see how productive and unimaginable joy comes from a life lived authentically," he says. "Regardless of your situation, if you are blocked from living authentically, you block your potential in both your personal and professional life. I hope our country can learn from DADT and continue a path of inclusion for all citizens who want to serve their country proudly and openly."