80. Not allowed to wear a dress to any army functions.
81. May not bring a drag queen to the battalion formal dance.
Both of these events are part of the same story.
One day, a long time ago, when I was still in the Army a horrible thing happened. Someone, presumably a spouse of an Officer, or a high ranking NCO, had two unrelated thoughts collide in their head. The destruction wreaked by this collision was so great that it somehow launched itself out of the brain that spawned it, sailed across the post housing, and landed square in the middle of the Headquarters of the 6th Psychological Operations Battalion. Where it promptly became our problem.
For the first thought let us imagine it as if it was a high capacity passenger train, just crammed to the gills with innocent commuters going about their daily business. This thought was some variation of, “Say, I’m married to a guy who has rank in the military. That basically means that I have rank too, and I can make people in the Army do stuff. Anything I want to satisfy my own crushing insecurities.” While I don’t know if this is exactly how the thought went, I do know that it originated somewhere in the vicinity of the Family Support Group. And while I understand that organizations such as that are a tremendous asset in times of war, such as we have now, they were sort of nightmares for all of the single soldiers in the attached unit during the time that I served. Civilian wives would try to issue orders to soldiers. Civilian wives would try to issue orders to other civilian wives. One of my supervisors got punished because his wife wouldn’t attend a higher ranking wife’s party. I once narrowly avoided having to manhandle a Captain’s wife who would not accept that she was not allowed to be in a secure classified area, and use the computer, only because her husband returned to said office a few seconds before my life got really complicated. She wouldn’t accept that an E-4 was allowed to tell her to leave. See also: This Lady.
For the second thought, let’s pretend that it’s a semi hauling some kind of highly dangerous substance. Maybe some 2-4-5 Trioxin. Perhaps it’s nuclear waste. Maybe it’s even a new kind of self-replicating nano-machine, that disassembles organic compounds into their component atoms. In any event, it’s scary, it’s incredibly harmful, and it’s stalled right across the tracks. And this thought goes, “Say, I never did get to go to my prom…”
And it became my problem.
Now I don’t know why patient zero decided that we needed to have a formal dance. And I’m not sure why nobody with rank decided to put a halt to things. But people with a higher pay grade decided that Operation PSYOP Prom was a go, and the rest of us got to participate.
At the time, I was still a 25M, which is a multi-media illustrator. I worked with several other soldiers in what amounted to a medium sized graphic design firm, just without most of the quirkiness and whimsy that comes from being in a room full of artists. And since we worked in graphic design, we got to make things for the prom. Invitations. Place setting cards. RSVP notices. Custom labels for the wine bottles. Basically, imagine every stereotype from a bad romantic comedy movie. The kind where the good-hearted female lead rescues the male lead from the horrible woman he is going to marry. Specifically, the part where they show the horrible woman going all batshit over all of the non-essential trappings, just to show you how wicked and crazy she is. Now imagine that instead of a B List Hollywood actress, the person in the dress is your Sergeant Major.
That was my nightmare.
For about a month, my entire detachment did nothing but make products for this dance. Your tax money at work folks.
It gets worse, of course.
To pay for this festive abortion of military decorum, we held car washes. As in: more than one, because the first one didn’t raise enough money. As in: everybody got to spend a day being used as manual labor out on the local economy, so that our leadership’s wives could feel a little better about getting whatever stood up/knocked up/called fat/bucket of pigs blood/crippled their psyche in high school.
We got to make the signs for that too.
At one point it was determined that the Army really shouldn’t be making the soldiers work to raise money for a dance. Presumably the money was donated to some worthy cause or another; I wasn’t high enough of a pay grade to be privy to the details. All I knew is we went from raising money through the power of automotive hygiene, to never mind we’ll have to pay for this some other way.
So instead they decided to charge money for the tickets. And then they passed around the sign up sheet. Pretty much the officers, a few high ranking NCO’s and maybe three lower enlisted were all that were interested. And frankly the lower enlisted where only signing up because they were up for a promotion board soon.
And then the announcement came out. Not enough people had signed up, so now everybody had to go. And pay for their ticket. And there was a formal dress code. And no Class-A uniforms either, rent a tux, get a suit, or buy a dress. Oh yes. One hundred soldiers, broke and angry, and attending an event with an open bar. This was going to be a magical evening all right.
It was around that point my enthusiasm for this venture began to wane.
And I examined my options carefully. I didn’t own a suit. I certainly wasn’t going to buy one. I wasn’t particularly interested in renting a tux. Well, technically I was allowed to wear a dress. A female interrogator in my unit offered to let me borrow a pretty green sequined number that she owned. The way I figured it, if my chain of command was going to spend an evening making me uncomfortable and awkward, the least I could do was return the favor. Besides green totally brings out my eyes.
My supervisor, a man who I will refer to as SSG Enabler, was surprisingly supportive of my fashion decision.
“The outfit you have procured meets all of the standards set forth for this assignment Specialist. Good work. Besides, you definitely have the legs for that dress.”
Unfortunately, about a week or so ahead of time someone went and told our 1SG that one of her male soldiers was considering wearing a dress to the dance. Which she thought was funny joke, right up until the moment that my name was attached to that plan.
“Yes First Sergent?”
“Is there a dress?”
“Well if you want to be technical-“
“Is. There. A. Dress?”
“May I see it?”
The pretty green sequined dress was produced.
“Good choice, the color really brings out your eyes. Now leave it at home. If I see you wearing that dress, I will bury you in it. The only way that dress is going to our formal is if you manage to get a date and stuff her inside it. Do you understand me soldier?”
And so with a heavy heart I went out to a local coffee shop that night, to meet some of my friends. As I approached the table, I see my room mate, his girlfriend, her room mate, and a third woman who I did not recognize who was evidently heading up to the front to the register to buy something.
This third woman looked good. She had curves, a scandalously tight dress, and she didn’t just walk across the coffee shop, she slinked across it.
I sat down at the table and casually asked about the new lady I had just seen.
And my friends enthusiastically started to talk up this woman, and how I was just her type, and she was single, and she’s coming back in a minute, and they should totally set the two of us up together, and really that should have clued me in. Because you see, my friends were all assholes.
So the vision of loveliness returns to our table, for the purpose of this writing let’s call her “Madame X”, which sounds neat and mysterious and is probably a copy-written superhero somewhere already. My friends enthusiastically introduce us, play me up for her benefit as a great guy that she would probably enjoy getting to know. Madam X was charming, and gracious, and seemed to have larger hands than me. And an Adam’s apple.
I grew suspicious that my friends might not have my best interests at heart in this endeavor.
“Ahhh….you’re in drag, aren’t you?”
My “friends” fall out of their chairs, peeing themselves with laughter.
“Yes I am sweetie. Sorry to disappoint you. You’re not mad are you?”
Well I was a little mad, but to be fair, I totally would have done that to one of my friends if I ever had the chance, so I couldn’t really hold a grudge.
I grew suspicious that my friends might not have my best interests at heart in this endeavor.
Everyone had a good laugh at my expense, including myself, and we did the typical drink coffee/complain about our jobs/solve all the problems in the world routine that just about every person in their mid-twenties does.
Suddenly, an idea thundered into my head like a blow to the skull from my own personal muse wielding a mallet of inspiration.
“Madame X. Would you be adverse to making a whole bunch of military officers reeaaally uncomfortable?”
“Not really. You want to set me up with your commander or something?”
“No, this is better. You see, I have this pretty green sequined dress….”
SSG Enabler was giddy with the thought that I was going to be attending the formal dance with a drag queen. Another NCO, who we will call SGT Killjoy, overheard our conversation and was not. SSG Enabler went to bat for me, insomuch as he informed Killjoy that they were not, under current military policy allowed to question my choice of dates, nor was I obligated to answer any such questions. And that my choice of dates in no way violated any current military policy. After all it’s fine if a soldier associates with gay people, as long as no actual homosexual conduct takes place. As he put it: “Specialist Schwarz is following his instructions to the letter. If the chain of command wants to re-state those instructions in some way that doesn’t violate any Equal Opportunity regulations, they’re welcome to try. But you and I both know that Schwarz is way better at this sort of thing than they are.”
Shortly thereafter mandatory dance attendance was canceled. It’s unclear that my actions had anything to do with this decision, as it turns out that the chain of command is really not supposed to tell the soldiers to spend money on a dance for their wives, nor can they order soldiers to appear in any uniform that was not issued to us.
But I did get to have another conversation with my 1SGT about following the “spirit of my orders”, as well as a lecture on being “a dumbass” but I didn’t get in any real trouble and I didn’t have to go to the dance, so I call that a win any day.