Recruiting All Homos: One Small Step for Boxer Briefs, One Giant Leap for Butch Kind

Let me tell you all a little somthin’ somethin’ about my trip to MEPS (Military Processing Entrance Station). It all started with a two-hour ride in a stuffy white van that smelled too much like dirty cat box, en route to a hotel where about 90 recruits from all over parts of California and Nevada would be having a giant slumber party with cotton candy and Disney movies.

Not really.

It’s more like: where 90 recruits would be taking a nap before waking up at 4 a.m. to spend the day being poked, prodded, quizzed, and questioned.

We get to the hotel and check in; rooms are assigned, rules laid out, and awkward handshakes were had by all! Curfew is 10 p.m., dinner begins at 5 p.m. However, the litter box van fumes EXHAUSTED me and I took full advantage of lying on my bed watching HBO, while my roommate went off to do her thing. She’s shipping out the next morning to Missouri for chemical engineering stuff. As in, she’s smart. And her pajamas were jean shorts. Two thumbs up

4:58 p.m.: I am out the door for dinner (I obviously need those two minutes to adjust the tennis balls on my walker) and lasso some confused looking people to enjoy the all-you-can-eat buffet with me. All conversations in this place begin as such:

“Hey, I’m (your name).”

Handshake action while the other person says, “(their name)”

“Nice to meet you.”

“What branch are you going for?”

“(Army/Navy/Marines/Air Force)”

“Oh nice, I’m (Army/Navy/Marines/Air Force)”

It’s a little ice breaker. No one cares, really. But we’re all in the similar position of being surrounded by strangers who are going through this crazy thing, too. And it’s as if having this conversation makes it all normal. I sat with two guys going into the Army to be a medic and an infantryman, respectively, and a Navy girl going in to work on meteorology. It was nice to get to know these three, and comforting to hear that you’re not alone in having all of the feelings about what you’ve gotten yourself into.

After dinner: I went back to my room and talked on the phone with a friend until my phone died. Felt better about life, and set approximately twelve alarms for the next morning.

4:00 a.m.: Good news, the alarms worked! My immediate objectives are to chug water, shower, and pee so that the urinalysis I take later isn’t a bad sample. The recruiters will vehemently warn you to carefully moderate sugar and protein intake the night before and morning of the pee test, because it apparently may cause a bad sample. I figured that not smoking a trash bag full of weed or drinking until 3 a.m. the night before would be a good start… but now I have to watch my bacon intake too!?

*The consequence of not listening to your recruiter is having to travel back to this magical place, again, just to pee in a cup, again.

5:00 a.m.: Roommate and I pack up our bags and head to breakfast with our neighbor girls. Its G-D delish, except I am too paranoid to eat bacon, and we aren’t allowed to drink coffee. Which is a big problem. My eyelids weigh one-thousand pounds, and there is nothing I can do about it.

5:30 a.m.: We’re all put in line to wait for the bus that will take us to the Poke n’ Prod. Neighbor girl ships out to basic training today, like a lot of the recruits in line, and it’s just now hitting her. I’ve had ten glasses of water, and it is just now hitting my bladder. “Dog Days Are Over” is playing in the lobby, and it is hard not to clap along and sing about running fast for everything and bubbles in sinks or something.

literally just watched this video for the first time. there are no words.

literally just watched this video for the first time. there are no words.

6:00 a.m.: We unload from the bus and are put into several single-file lines based on whether we’re coming for the full-monty, the “mini” physical, or a return trip to amend anything that came up on the first trip. A National Guard Officer is out giving us the what-for, which includes “yes sir/no sir” or “yes ma’am/no ma’am” answers to any and all staff, some logistics, and a “don’t fall asleep or we will scream at your head” warning. Lovely.

6:30 a.m.: We enter the building. There is an airport security-esque setup that we all file through. Everything but the clothes on our back and our social security cards must be put in a storage room that stays locked until we leave. The first round of questions and biometric signatures (fingerprints) happen right after.

8 a.m.: Eyeball testing. Basically, you read a line, with letters. Easy, right? Earhole testing is next. Somewhere, clouds part, and a not familiar at all, but totally familiar face comes and sits on the stool next to mine. An equally cold and nervous baby butch! It was like seeing a relative you used to hang out with all the time but haven’t seen in years. We chat about how weird this all is, and about her girlfriend, and eating pizza, we laugh at the assholery of two other girls in a line with us when one said to the other: “They don’t look like girls to me!” because no one has ever heard THAT one before…

9 a.m.: We’re led into a classroom, where the health director and an officer come in, hand out scantrons, a pencil, and a laminated sheet, then tell us not to fill any of it out. Wait, fill it all out. Wait, don’t fill it out. Wait, put your name on it. Then they leave. Are you confused? Me too.

(At this point, time will be referred to with P.P. (pre-pee) and A.P. (after pee). You’re not allowed to wear watches in the facility, and there is one wall clock in the place. It is also fifty degrees and there are no windows. Just in case anyone was wondering…)

P.P.: Two nurses come into the classroom and introduce themselves while prepping a power point, they forewarn that the form we are about to fill out is to cover our lives from birth until this very moment, and if we fail to correctly answer any of them, we go to jail, directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200. No pressure. One of them distracts us by talking about how wild and crazy going to San Francisco for Pride weekend is: “There were topless ladies just walking around selling weed brownies!” Then she goes over undergarment policy. No sports bras. No thongs (no problem there). No boy shorts. And, NO BOXER BRIEFS. They ask if anyone has an issue with that, and I say nothing. If my fate here is to change out of my underoos, it would be by force! Bah humbug underwear misers!

One nurse calls up all of us kids taking the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) gives us a breathalyzer test and send us off. I pee-pee dance through the halls, resolved in my mission to hold it, because I refuse to come back to this place over pee.

P.P.: The Test. First off, if you ever have to take it, don’t worry. It’s not as bad as you’re going to make it out to be. In my case, I rushed through that shit because bladder. However, and I didn’t know this, after finishing the ASVAB, Army recruits are required to take the TAPAS (Tailored Adaptive Personality Assessment System), aka, a personality test. It’s 160 questions that literally have no good answer.

Example:

Which are you more like?

a) I often lash out at my friends and family

b) I am generally disorganized because it’s not important to me.

Even if you are a color-coordinated folder to pencil type person, and the sweetest honey bee in the hive, one of those HAS to be your answer. Fuuuuuuuun-not at all enjoyable.

P.P.: I’m sent back take to medical, and the officer there asks if anyone is available to take me to pee. I wish you all knew how exciting that moment felt, but maybe it was something like this:

rainbow-niagara-falls

A lady officer comes up, leads me to a stall, gives me instructions on how to pee since maybe I look like I don’t know how? And let me at it. To be frank, having someone watch you go isn’t weird at all. Maybe a few farts could dampen the situation, so don’t do that. She and I had a lovely chat about her babies, my tattoos, and how awesome she was for taking control of her career and having her husband stay at home to rear the babes. The Pee of 2013 lasted about as long as In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. Furthermore, I am not pregnant. So that’s good.

A.P.: From here, there is a whole lot of “hurry up and wait.” A phlebotomist with a southern accent and Hawaiian-print shirt stabs me a few times, gets some blood, and makes fun of boys for fainting. Then, waiting. Someone takes my blood pressure. Then more waiting.

A doctor calls me in to his office, and he re-asks all of the questions that were on the scantron. Tells me my ears look nice, makes fun of me for my speeding tickets, and tells me I can’t get any more tattoos in an endearing, fatherly way. It was weird. Really, really weird.

like what happens when you google image search "really weird"

like what happens when you google image search “really weird”

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Sara is a bay area hybrid, who currently resides in a tiny, sweltering desert town in Nevada. She studied Creative Writing at SF State with an emphasis on Feelings (poetry), and will be taking those skills to the US Army, where she will be working in Public Affairs. She loves: coffee, chocolate, avocados, books, whiskey, wine, and her cats (in no particular order). Some of her favorite down time activities include: watching workout videos and not working out, cooking (mostly the eating part at the end), reading, and marathoning TV shows on the internet. She also enjoys parenthetical remarks and muscle tees.

Sara has written 4 articles for us.

31 Comments

  1. Thumb up 1

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    Hah, I remember being nervous about the fact that I was wearing boxers to MEPS, too. No one cared/noticed. I went to basic in the winter, which meant we went home for Christmas, so I brought boxers back with me. Feelsgoodman.jpg.

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    Aah, my visit was pretty much the same, except the van was much nicer and the trip much shorter (only Dayton to Columbus), and I was just about dying during the physical because I had to pee so bad during the entire thing. Managed to make a friend, though! I commented that I was used to “shipping” having a different meaning and found out that she had a tumblr, too. Unfortunately, I had to go back again for an opto consult because my eyes are so bad, but my recruiter called three days ago to tell me I got approved, and there’s no more obstacles between me and swearing in! I go up the third week of September!

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    From someone who has not/will not ever be affiliated with a division of the US armed forces: this was both fascinating and hysterical. Also, it took me awhile to figure out there was a second page (I was all like, WHY DID IT END, CLIFF HANGER?!). And mad props for holding it that long.

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    Hooray for public affairs! It’s an awesome job. But if you think that random Marine was scary or intense, wait until you get to Ft. Meade. Nothing like a pack of new Marines who think they are on top of the world. They will literally stand outside of the DINFOS building and scream about blood making the grass grow every single morning. We are a strange breed. Good luck!

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    I will never forget that moment when it really hit me that I was giving the army 6 years of my life and what I was giving up because of it. It may or may not be a good thing that it hit me AFTER I swore in, haha. I think I was sitting with my family eating lunch and randomly blurted out “What have I done?!?”

    It all worked out for the best though. I owe a lot of my self confidence, pride, and general awesomeness to my experiences in the army. He’ll, I wouldn’t even know about Autostraddle!

    Anyway, welcome to the army! I look forward to hearing more about your experiences.

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    That pretty much sounds like how I remember it. Except after the entire thing was over I changed my mind, having had serious issues with the whole thing to begin with, and finally realized the college money wasn’t worth it for me personally. Fortunately they messed one of my tests up so all I had to do was refuse to retake it and sign some discharge papers. Course this was years ago. Anyway, enjoy your last month or so of freedom and then have fun at basic. Don’t hit a drill sergeant (I think that would have been one of my issues, I HATE being screamed at, it ticks me off).

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    … no sports bras? Really? I would have thought if anything that they would want everyone to wear sports bras considering the physical training involved. Rules, what do I know. Anyway, I’m glad it’s going well for you! I love your description of that moment of butch companionship. And being a puppy running through the tall grass. And all of it! I know nothing about the military world and I love hearing about things I don’t know anything about, so thank you! And good luck!

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    Oh, how this brought back so many feeling and memories, even though it’s been 14 years since I went to MEPS (though you’re making me feel my age because I took the ASVAB on paper and my fingerprints were done with ink…).

    Hope all goes well in Basic, my brother is going through Fort Jackson right now and it looks like it’s changed a lot since my time there. Good luck.

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    This is giving me so many mixed feelings. I can’t join the armed forces anyway cus of asthma but I am so conflicted about wanting to join as something I’ve been interested in since childhood vs being politically and philosophically opposed to or sceptical about the purpose of armies, imperialism, national borders, unquestioning obedience, the sanction and celebration of aggressive and destructive masculinity…..I could probably go on.

    In the end I think I’m pretty lucky the decision was taken out of my hands. This is really interesting to read though, I had to google public affairs and it sounds kind of ok but also a lot like a propaganda machine. Sorry to be negative, I know its not about the individuals involved per se, I just hope you keep an independent mind about it all.

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      In regards to unquestioning obedience, that is only necessary in training environments and war fighting. Additionally, there is a lot of humanitarian aid done by the US Armed Forces.

      In regards to Public Affairs, it isn’t a propaganda machine. Think of it more as the military’s internal news service and liaison with the non-military population. Just like you needed to google Public Affairs, the military Public Affairs personnel are there to bridge that gap and provide information to non military folks in an intelligible manner. Not to mention, most large corporations have public relations offices for the same reason.

      As to the decision, well, the modern military is very different from what most people have inflated it to being. Now a days there are so few who have served recently that the experience is very foreign to the general public, unlike the post WWII era through the Vietnam era when every family held at least one Veteran.

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    Maybe a weird question, but did you get teary during the oath? I’m not in the military, but I did have to take a very similar oath for my job and whenever I had to say it, or hear others say it, it makes me cry – every. single. time.

    Thank you for an amazing article!

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    Thank you for writing this, Sara. That certainly is the borderline-universal MEPS experience in a nutshell. So it’s seven months later — I would venture to guess you’re probably about halfway through AIT, rapidly ascending Maslow’s Hierarchy as your individual freedoms are restored to you on at a time and always precariously, and generally trying to decide how you feel about life?

    I hope the experience has treated you well so far. My own four-year term is drawing to a close. It has had ups and downs (frankly, more than a few downs), and not always of the stripe I’d anticipated. To judge from your writing, you may face challenges similar to mine. Progressive liberal intellectualism is one of my favorite things about civilization, but it is more a liability than an asset in a lot of parts of the army. Having a uterus tends not to help. I hope you’re doing alright out there. I’m sure that many friends, family members, and battle buddies have offered you all the support they can. For whatever it’s worth, I understand what it is to suddenly and completely be alienated for the values you hold closest. Good luck to you, take care of yourself, keep your head down and your powder dry.

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      I so appreciate your comment. It feels like it has been a millennia since I’ve been able to sit down for a few minutes and write anything at all.

      That being said, foot powder and I have solidified a very special relationship. And the muscles in my neck have become robust from attempting to keep upright and awake with a kevlar helmet on.

      Thank you for your service, mystery commenter on AS. I hope your four years coming to a close has been able to provide a decently comfortable future for you to stroll into.

      You are right though, about seven months…maybe its about time I update?

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    This is literally perfect. As a future navy sailor I have found no information from LGBTQ members of the military. Your experiences in these posts have really helped me gain confidence in going through with my desire to join the navy. These posts really mean a lot to me and I hope you continue to post more of them as you progress in you military career. Thank You!

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