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June 9, 2006
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Volume 34
Issue 23
 
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GAY HISTORY - A boy named Dawn (circa.1953) 'You're in the Army now, sucker'
GAY HISTORY - A boy named Dawn (circa.1953) 'You're in the Army now, sucker'
Why would any caring father give his son a girls name? It might as well have been Sue. The answer is, sabotage, or was it a pathetic attempt to be artistic? I will never know why he disliked me while my more masculine brother got all the attention.

My father was like a stranger in the house, we never spoke. Maybe he was jealous of my early artistic talent while his classical singing career was going downhill. I tried to please him so he'd like me, but I soon gave up knowing It would never happen. Family pressures and alcohol drowned his dreams of a singing career.

Finally, in an alcoholic stupor, he wandered off into the wilds of Alaska and vanished. The family waited for the next 40 years, but he never returned. I now feel sorry for him, he should never have married but that's what people did in 1930; lest they become a bachelor, an old maid, a homosexual or all the above.

I didn't get a father, but I did get the Rose Garden in the form of his artistic talent. So I became 'an artist' at an early age. I was always the 'school artist' and was told how good I was. I felt good about myself, I was 'somebody.' The spelling of my name was a curse attached to a blessing. Because I was an artist and artists in the 1950s were expected to be different, comments never went negative. They excused or added to my 'artistic nature.'

In 1953, I was drafted into the army at age nineteen as cannon fodder in a bogus war that killed two million people, including 54,000 of America's finest. But drag queen 'Lady Luck' smiled at me because the "police action" ended the day I got my orders to make my grand debut on the frozen, bloody, battlefields of Korea. Even with extensive military training, I had no sense of Army maneuvers and would have been killed the first day.

That's why I became a cook. It was the thing I could do well and the troops would profit, especially during our mock military battles that tested our physical indurance. Once our Mess truck driver fell asleep at the wheel and I had to grab it before six of us sailed off a cliff. Between cooking I did artwork for the Regimental Archives and I had my first one man show of paintings in Alaska. So, once again, I was the kooky artist (and also the cook that no one wants to annoy, but I would never short ration anyone).

In 1953, I was with my Mother at S.L. Savage's Seattle showroom for a preview of the new Plymouth automobile. The dealer had a drawing where a woman could win a $3,000 Mink coat and a man could win a new car. My mother entered my name and I won the Mink coat, they though Dawn must be a woman. I did not identify myself, so they drew an alternate name.

I went back to the barracks at Fort Lewis wondering what to do. My army buddies suggested I get into women's clothes and collect my prize, but I could never pull that off so I told the truth and collected a $100 consolation prize. Here I was, prime meat to be devoured by the war machine and denied a measly Mink coat by a stupid rule (not to mention the poor Mink).

They could easily have coughed up another car or coat for a poor soldier boy and shown how generous they were. I could have given the coat to my mother for raising us kids mostly alone. Or, maybe, I could have taken the coat for myself and worn it proudly around the Army base. But, I decided it might have given the wrong impression, or - in my case - the right one.

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