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Nobody Asked, But Somebody Told

01 Dec Posted by in • Guest Writers | 3 comments
Nobody Asked, But Somebody Told

When Milton resident Jane Lee Watton, known as Lee, watched television coverage of the repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy late last year, she and her partner, Sherry Jamarik, a retired Army captain, simply shook their heads in amazement.

Lee, a retired journalist, and Sherry, shared a boatload of mixed emotions – including relief and residual anger – about the news. Lee had just finished penning her memoir about a time, nearly a half-century before, when she was mustered out of the military after only six months, losing her budding Navy WAVE career for having suspected “homosexual tendencies.”

“I am so pleased that the military is finally getting rid of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy that kept gay people from serving openly,” Lee says, “It feels like a weight has been lifted off all of us.”

In an amazing stroke of timing, the DADT ban was lifted Sept. 2011, just as Lee Watton’s book Out of Step was published.

For Lee Watton, entering the military was a way to get away after high school from messy family dynamics at home. Leaving behind a New Jersey boyfriend who wanted to marry her, teenage Lee Watton joined the WAVES in 1965 to assert her independence.

Following basic training, Lee soon met new pals Kate and Tracey at the U.S. Naval Training Center in Bainbridge, Md. Lee had earlier spied Kate in the drill hall during boot camp. Her heart did an unexpected handstand at that moment, sparking emotions Lee had never experienced before.

As she and Kate got to know one another, it was clear that this was becoming a very special friendship and possibly more, which frightened Lee and gave rise to angst-filled internal conversations. For as much as she and Kate enjoyed being together, and although they had yet to share more than a kiss, they were at risk of grave consequences.

The Navy made certain that all female recruits received a lecture on the “signs of homosexuality,” about inappropriate gifts and attention from women, and they were to report such incidents at once.  The Navy was super vigilant in ferreting out lesbians.

And this made life terribly dangerous for Lee and her friends. Lee and Kate were a fledgling, naive young couple. Their friend Tracey was seeing a woman at another military installation, and two other gals – Moose and Cindy – had admitted to Lee, Kate and Tracey that they were also gay. Having their sexuality and fears in common, the five became fast friends, even dubbing themselves “The Family.”

Though they took camping trips and spent occasional weekends together in Washington, D.C. – even venturing into a seedy lesbian bar there – they remained cautious and professional on the base, avoiding any infractions. Their lives seemed to be going along well despite their concerns that, if found out, they would be booted from their cherished Navy careers.

Just kids, really, these five had no idea that their leisure time activities were being reported to their superiors, who had begun to investigate The Family. One afternoon, they were called from class, transported to the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) and interviewed separately.

“It was awful,” recalls Lee. “We were treated like suspected Russian spies or serial killers.”

With no advocate or lawyer present to represent her, Lee panicked. She knew that a dishonorable discharge would follow her and the others for the rest of their lives, making it difficult to get civilian employment and creating a terrible stigma for them.

“What proof does the ONI have that any of us are actually homosexual?” Lee asked the investigator.

“We have numerous ways of determining the validity of allegations,” he replied. “Our office has been smoking out homosexuals for a long time, but not until ‘strong’ suspicions are formally presented. Your group just wasn’t smart enough not to flaunt your ways, that’s all.”

The five women were offered honorable discharges if they would sign statements admitting to “possible homosexual tendencies.”

The five women signed, said goodbye to their friends, turned in their uniforms and headed to Washington, sharing an apartment and getting on with the rest of their lives – sad, scared and humiliated as societal outcasts.

“It was a wonderful, yet terrible time,” recalls Lee. “While we enjoyed our household and camaraderie, we had trouble making ends meet and we had no role models for gay relationships. We had it all, but we didn’t have it all together.”

Still just 19, Lee returned to her family home in New Jersey, afraid for her future and feeling that her only choice was to go back into the closet and be a heterosexual again.

It wasn’t until the early 1990s, with Lee now in her 40s, that things changed again. With the end of a second 10-year heterosexual relationship, Lee met a woman named Sharon, which reawakened her true nature.  They had a grand time, traveled, met other gay women, talked a lot about Lee’s sad dismissal from the Navy and how the course of her life might have been different.

Lee has Sharon to thank for suggesting that she pen her memoir about those days in Bainbridge and the terrible witch hunt The Family endured.

So Lee began to write and to remember.

“It has been a long journey for many of us, whether in uniform or not. One lesson learned on my own path is that I would rather be out of step with the truth, than in step with lies.”  Lee writes.

Out of Step by J.Lee Watton  “This book could not be more timely. (It’s) a tender, fragile love story about a “family” of young women growing up in the military, to the beat of a different drummer, and making decisions with lifelong consequences.” Colonel Grethe Cammermeyer, USA (Ret.)

For more information on this book, http://www.aandmbooks.com

 

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3 comments

  • Wanda Jackson says:

    It is because of women like Lee that young women can now go in and serve our country proudly, openly, and without fear of reprisal because of who they love. Much Respect to her and all the others like her!!

  • Fay Jacobs says:

    Thanks, Wanda, let people know about her book…we want to preserve this history. Thanks again!
    Fay Jacobs

  • Betty Miller says:

    I just got “Out of Step” from A&M Books and can’t wait to read it. I was in the Waves around the time the author was and I do remember the “witch hunts” very well. Just my flipping through the book and browsing through the pages reminded me of many of my own memories while I served.