BN.com Gift Guide

Major Conflict: One Gay Man's Life in the Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell Military [NOOK Book]

Overview

A book that will move hearts and open minds, Jeffrey McGowan’s memoir is the first personal account of a gay man’s silent struggle in the don’t-ask-don’t-tell military, from a cadet who rose to the rank of major, left as a decorated Persian Gulf hero, and whose same-sex marriage was the first on the East Coast.

Love of country and personal love combine in this groundbreaking memoir of one gay man’s life in the military—and beyond. In Major ...
See more details below
Major Conflict: One Gay Man's Life in the Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell Military

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 7.0
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 10.1
  • NOOK HD Tablet
  • NOOK HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK eReaders
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$14.99
BN.com price

Overview

A book that will move hearts and open minds, Jeffrey McGowan’s memoir is the first personal account of a gay man’s silent struggle in the don’t-ask-don’t-tell military, from a cadet who rose to the rank of major, left as a decorated Persian Gulf hero, and whose same-sex marriage was the first on the East Coast.

Love of country and personal love combine in this groundbreaking memoir of one gay man’s life in the military—and beyond. In Major Conflict, Queens-born Jeffrey McGowan tells how he enlisted in the army in the late 1980s and served with distinction for ten years. But McGowan had a secret: he was gay. In the don’t-ask-don’t-tell world of the Clinton-era army, being gay meant automatic expulsion. So, at the expense of his personal life and dignity, he hid his sexual identity and continued to serve the army well.
Major Conflict is a moving account of his years in the military, the homophobia he encountered there, and his life afterward. McGowan presents a vivid portrait of his experience as a soldier in the Persian Gulf, where he commanded U.S. troops in Operation Desert Storm, eventually rising to the rank of major. Ultimately, however, he realized that the army held no future for gay men—even closeted ones. Desiring more of a personal life and tired of hiding his true identity, McGowan resigned from the Army he loved in 1998. In February 2004, he married his partner of six years in New Paltz, New York, making front-page news in the New York Times.
Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A Desert Storm veteran looks back on the years he sacrificed his identity to his career. Growing up in Queens, McGowan always wanted to be a soldier, but he "couldn't be gay because soldiers aren't gay." That rationale tortured him as he enrolled in Fordham University's ROTC program and felt agonizing longing for Greg, a co-worker at a bookstore. When McGowan joined the army in the late 1980s, "the military was like a college football player, pumped up and ripped on steroids, " and he had "somehow managed to stuff the genie that Greg had nearly succeeded in freeing forcefully back into the proverbial bottle of my own denial." (This genie should get overtime for all its play in this memoir.) McGowan served first in Germany; during Desert Storm, he tried to sublimate his crush on a gorgeous fellow officer. But the "don't ask don't tell" policy created an inadvertent pogrom, he says, as sexual conservatives in the service played dirty to smoke out the hidden "perverts." Though McGowan was not implicated, the double-dealing and cowardice of others sickened him, and he retired in 1998. McGowan is not always a graceful writer ("the only anecdote [sic]," he tells us, "for this strain of senseless tragedy that so often infects the world, is love, family"), but his style is familiar and easy, as if he's confiding his experiences to a trusted friend. Agent, Ian Kleinert at the Literary Group. (Mar.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Rip-sawn memoir by a gay man who "always wanted to be a soldier." Though newcomer McGowan had long understood that the military was his calling, he wasn't so sure about his sexuality. In a bruising, egalitarian voice, he digs hard to understand his sexual preferences, recounting how his heterosexual encounters in college didn't have the quantifiable, vital charge of his fleeting homosexual liaisons. But his self-image as a soldier, a mighty masculine force, clashed with the feelings stirred by a certain male friend, so he stayed deep in the back of the closet. He haltingly explored his sexuality while endeavoring to fit squarely into military life, which eventually led him into an officer's role in Operation Desert Storm. Forced to confront some major issues about the military mindset (and not just questions of homosexuality), McGowan was appalled that soldiers received so little pay that their families sometimes had to go on welfare, shocked by the treatment of women in the armed forces, and ambivalent about the stationing of American troops in Europe during peacetime. Here, he approaches all these issues with a simple strain of decency and common sense that finds a host of military practices antithetical to basic notions of equality and dignity, not the least of which was the Clinton administration's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, though McGowan also gives credit that the question was examined at all. Ultimately, a foul frame-up of a man in his outfit tipped McGowan over and out of a career he never thought would end. When the author measures his own fraudulence against the venality of an ages-old military practice, it's an incandescent moment. "If I have done anything to advance thejust cause of equality for gay people, it was by accident," McGowan writes modestly, "a result of simply finally making the decision to act." His ringing text shows him acting with vigor. Agent: Ian Kleinert/The Literary Group International
From the Publisher
Advance Praise for MAJOR CONFLICT:

“Jeffrey McGowan is a decorated Army officer, a valued leader of men in combat. For those in our society who see gay men only through the eyes of media stereotypes, McGowan’s successful military career may well be a revelation. But the power of this book lies not in the politics of Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell, but rather in the poignant recognition of McGowan’s humanity.”
— Rear Admiral Alan M. Steinman, MD, USPHS (USCG) (Ret.)

“This is essential reading for anyone interested in promoting full access to American society for its gay, lesbian, and bisexual citizens. It is also an absorbing personal account of the life of a gay soldier. All Americans lose when good and talented people like Jeffrey McGowan leave the service they love.”
—Keith H. Kerr, Brigadier General, CSMR (Ret.)

“Jeff McGowan’s story is one we all need to read, and more stories like his are desperately needed. I hope his book is found by gay and lesbian youth feeling isolated and alone so that they know there are other people who’ve gone through what they’re feeling. I hope his book is read by straight America, so that we can better understand what it means for people to have to choose between how they were born and how they want to live, knowing that both are part of who they are.”
—Jason West, mayor, New Paltz, New York
Jeffrey McGowan's courageous personal account of his experience as a gay man serving in the U.S. Army connects two important issues that are front and center in the minds of many Americans. With the political landscape in our country dominated by such issues as war and gay rights, Major Conflict clearly and cogently examines the impact that the confluence of these issues has on an individual's psyche and sense of self. This story of personal conflict, service, and patriotism will help to enlighten the American public and its policy makers.

—U.S. Representative Maurice Hinchey (D-NY)

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307419118
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/18/2007
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 1,151,206
  • File size: 472 KB

Meet the Author

JEFFREY McGOWAN joined the army in the late 1980s and served for ten years. Since leaving the service, McGowan has developed a successful sales career in the pharmaceutical industry. In February 2004, he and his partner, Billiam van Roestenberg, were the first same-sex couple to be married on the East Coast. They live in New Paltz, New York.
Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

Toy Soldiers and Saris

I've always wanted to be a soldier. In fact, I can't remember a time when I could imagine being anything else. It was, I think, my destiny; my path was preordained. I guess I was lucky since this tunnel vision made life easier for me. While friends flailed around in their late teens and twenties, changing majors, jobs, cities, I stayed the course. There was never any question in my mind. And I knew this at a very young age. It just always felt like some fundamental part of my being. Becoming a soldier seemed as necessary to me as fulfilling the most basic of needs. There was hunger, thirst, sleep, and then there was soldiering. Later on there would also be sex and love, but I don't want to get ahead of myself.

I don't come from a military family. In fact, though the men in my family served in the armed forces, they served only when drafted, and when their term of enlistment was up, they hurried back to civilian life. A man had a duty to his country, I was told, but once that duty was fulfilled there were far better things to do with your time than playing with guns and bombs, especially if you lived in the greatest city in the world.

That city was New York, of course, where my family had lived since the turn of the last century. I've traveled all over the world as a soldier, and I still believe that New York City is hands down the most amazing place on the planet. To grow up in New York is like being born with a special talent, like being given something extra. Rich, poor, white, black, Asian, Latin, Arab, Jew, gay, straight, and all points in between, nowhere on earth does such diversity exist side by side in such relative harmony.

And nowhere is the mix more pronounced than in Queens, particularly in Jackson Heights, where I grew up. Ironically, the area was originally developed in 1908 as a white, middle-class "restricted residential community" by a group of real estate men in anticipation of the opening of the Queensboro Bridge in 1909. It was meant to be a suburban escape from the increasing ethnic mix of Manhattan. The only diversity in this early Jackson Heights, before restrictions against Jews were lifted after World War II, was, oddly enough, a thriving community of gay vaudevillians who began moving in after the number 7 train was built in 1917, connecting the neighborhood directly to Times Square. Since the forties the neighborhood has morphed into one of the most ethnically diverse areas in the country. When you walk down Thirty-seventh Avenue, it's like being in Shanghai, Moscow, Calcutta, and Bogota all at once. Walk a block down any main drag in the neighborhood and you'll likely hear a half-dozen languages being spoken and pass a half-dozen restaurants, each serving totally different ethnic cuisines. Though the whole world is represented, the newer residents are now primarily South Asian and Latino, and you'll have a better chance of seeing a woman in a bright sari passing an Ecuadorian restaurant serving roast guinea pig than coming across, say, a Carrie Bradshaw wannabe in her favorite Manolo Blahniks on her way to cocktails. I feel lucky to have grown up in this colorful, vibrant neighborhood. Like many neighborhoods in New York, especially those in the outer boroughs, Jackson Heights feels like a small town, a little village tucked in the great metropolis, a place where people know one another and take the time to say hello.

I grew up on Eighty-second Street, right across the street from St. Joan of Arc, the Catholic church where I went to grade school every day and to Mass every Sunday. My family was Protestant, but since the Catholic school was the best in the neighborhood, I was duly baptized and then spent the next sixteen years of my life as a student in the Catholic educational system. I have fond memories of getting up every day and putting on my uniform: the gray polyester trousers, the green jacket, the white shirt with the green clip-on tie, and then walking out the front door of my apartment building and simply crossing the street to school. The nuns still wore habits in those days and didn't think twice about smacking you one good if you got out of line.

It was in the school yard of St. Joan of Arc when it first became clear just how much I wanted to be a soldier. Like most young boys I got pretty rambunctious in the school yard, wrestling, fighting, chasing this boy or that girl, but what I loved most of all was playing war games--staging epic battles, killing spies, chasing down the enemy. On one occasion I got so involved in being a dive-bomber that I ripped my jacket straight up the back and was sent home by one of the nuns with a note reading, "Please take a moment to explain to young Jeffrey that he is not, in fact, a Stuka dive-bomber, but rather a student who needs to learn how to behave like the fine young gentleman we at St. Joan of Arc know him to be."

Once a week I was allowed to go out for lunch with my friends. I was given $1.25, which bought me a slice of pizza, a Coke, and some penny candy. My friends and I were pretty much free to explore the neighborhood after school and on weekends as long as we returned home in time for dinner. The neighborhood was tight-knit, everyone knew everyone else, so nobody really worried. How things have changed! When I think of the paranoia today, of the stress parents seem to be under, worrying about the safety of their children even when they're just down the block, I can't help thinking that I grew up in a kind of golden age. It sounds funny, since the truth is that my childhood coincided precisely with the city's fiscal crisis of the 1970s, when the crime rate skyrocketed, the city's reputation plummeted, and everyone else in the United States became convinced that New York City was one of the most dangerous places on the planet. But believe it or not, growing up in Jackson Heights in the 1970s, long before things turned around under Rudy Giuliani, I never once was threatened or felt unsafe. Who knows, maybe I was just plain lucky. Then again, I think Jackson Heights was, and is, a pretty special place.

My parents were quite young when they had me, so it was decided that I would be raised by my maternal grandparents. They raised me as if I were their own son. My grandmother was from Ohio, the daughter of Scottish immigrants. My grandfather was English, first generation. For forty years he took the subway to Twenty-third Street to go to work at the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. One of my most vivid memories is of him walking down Eighty-second Street, on his way home from work. My grandmother and I made a habit of waiting for him every day on the stoop of our building. Around five-thirty he'd come into view, striding toward us, always wearing a hat and puffing on a big cigar, looking very much the gentleman, circa 1950. He had a great sense of style and a kind of old-world outlook that allowed for a healthy joie de vivre and professional success at the same time.

As a little boy I was in awe of him. He was the most generous, kindest, smartest man in the world as far as I was concerned. Two or three times a week, sitting on the stoop with Grandmother, I'd notice a brown paper bag at his side as he approached, and I'd stand up and rush to meet him, knowing that the bag held a gift for me, usually a toy soldier or tank, a toy gun or knife, or later, a Matchbox car or one of the Hardy Boys books. It didn't take long for me to amass a huge collection of soldiers and tanks and artillery with which to stage epic battles alone in my room.

My grandfather read voraciously, four or five books a week. I owe my love of books to him. He made time every week to sit down and read with me. He'd bring me books from the Hardy Boys series but also books about history and war, books about monarchies, flags, baseball, dinosaurs. I loved adventure stories the best and truly believed that one day I would have adventures of my own, that one day I'd be just like one of the brave, heroic figures I was always reading about.

My grandparents came of age during the Depression and, like many of their contemporaries, they remained cautious about money for the rest of their lives. But they were never too frugal to help out a man down on his luck, to do the Christian thing when called upon, and in one particular case, literally to give a man the coat off their backs.

One day in January the three of us were on our way home when we passed a homeless man lying on top of a small stack of cardboard in front of the delivery entrance to the neighborhood Genovese drugstore. It was bitter cold, and he was poorly clothed for the weather. His legs were exposed, and the skin on them looked thick and dried and cracked, like the hide of an elephant. What's more, his legs were covered with sores and scabs. He'd fashioned himself a pair of shoes out of old newspapers, cardboard, and rags. He just lay there, unmoving, but awake, I think, lost in his own despair, I assumed. It was the middle of a weekend afternoon, and the street was busy with shoppers. People rushed by without even looking at the man, not an uncommon reaction even now in New York, but more so then since the fiscal crisis and the resulting cutbacks in social services had exacerbated the homeless problem to the point where regular New Yorkers had little choice but to become immune to such a ubiquitous sight.

On this particular day we, too, simply walked on by. No one spoke about it, and soon we were back in the warmth of our apartment. While pulling off my coat, I rushed to the kitchen to find something to eat. "Where you going?" my grandfather asked. "I'm hungry," I said. "Hold on," he said. "What do you say we go back out and get a slice of pizza?" As much as I knew I'd prefer a slice of pizza to almost anything my grandmother had in the kitchen, I hesitated because it was almost time for the latest episode of Lost in Space, and I really didn't want to miss it. "Come on," my grandfather said, as my grandmother handed him the winter coat he hardly ever wore anymore. He was still wearing his regular coat, so I was a little confused. Maybe he was getting it dry-cleaned, I thought. I guess the end of the story is obvious. On our way to the pizza parlor we passed the homeless man again, and my grandfather stopped and said, "Here you go, pal," then set the coat down next to him. "God bless you," the man said, quickly laying the old overcoat across his body like a blanket. My grandfather didn't say a word, just kept walking, but he must've seen me looking at him because after a few minutes he turned to me and said, matter-of-factly, "If you can do something good for someone, Jeff, do it. Chances are it will come back to you."

Not long after this incident my grandfather died, leaving a big hole in the lives of my grandmother and me. He suffered a stroke while he and Grandma were in the Catskills. He lingered in the hospital for several weeks. When I went to see him, he appeared thin and drawn, the light in his eyes dimmed, though he seemed to make an effort to be cheerful and upbeat for my benefit.

I was twelve years old when he died, and even at that age I sensed, in the vague way that children know things, that our family was different, though nothing was ever explained to me. His absence made this difference suddenly seem more pronounced. My grandmother took impeccable care of me, but I felt deeply lonely with my grandfather gone. To this day, even though I had him so briefly, my grandfather's warmth and personal philosophy has been the most profound influence on my life.

Twenty families lived in the six-story apartment building in which I grew up. Everyone knew everyone else. I was often enlisted to help an older resident move a bureau or a sofa or to help someone bring laundry up from the basement. The other residents in turn kept tabs on me, gave me advice, asked about my grades, encouraged me in every way. In the evenings the hallways were always filled with smells of cooking: pot roast, curry, pasta sauce--a melange of ethnic cuisines prepared in an effort to keep the bond alive with the home country. In the winters the radiators would hiss and knock, and the aroma of food at dinnertime would be even stronger. Coming out of the cold into the overheated hallway filled with the smell of home cooking was the best welcome in the world.

After St. Joan of Arc I went on to Archbishop Molloy High School, which I hated. I don't think it was the school itself, it was just the idea of school, period. An indifferent student, uninterested in extracurricular activities, I cruised along in neutral, unsure what I wanted, unsure of myself. I hung around the neighborhood a lot, and went to an occasional school dance to meet girls from our sister school. But I felt awkward and clumsy at these and began to feel different from other people for the first time in my life. A chasm was beginning to open up, though I didn't know it at the time, separating me from the rest of the world. So much has happened in the last thirty-five years, and in the last ten years alone, that it's easy to forget just how difficult things were back in the seventies for young gay men and for gay boys. That's not to say, of course, that life is a cakewalk for young gay people today, but I'm not sure I even knew the word gay in 1979, when I was fifteen.

Like most teenage boys I did, however, know the words queer and faggot. When I was about thirteen, I got into the habit of hanging out in front of the building with a group of neighborhood boys, most of them older than me. I wanted to be cool. One summer afternoon we were out in the street playing stickball when a guy from the neighborhood went by on roller skates. He was in his early twenties, I guess, and seemed to go everywhere on his skates, usually in tight cutoffs and often shirtless. He had a perfect body. Looking back now, I feel pretty sure he was gay, though who knows? What mattered was that he was perceived that way by the super's kid from my building, who felt compelled to spit on the ground as he rolled by and yell, "Queer!" with so much disgust in his voice that I jumped a little.

From the Hardcover edition.

Read More Show Less

First Chapter

Major Conflict


By Jeffrey McGowan, MAJ, USA (Ret.)

Random House

Jeffrey McGowan, MAJ, USA (Ret.)
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0767918991


Chapter One



Toy Soldiers and Saris


I've always wanted to be a soldier. In fact, I can't remember a time when I could imagine being anything else. It was, I think, my destiny; my path was preordained. I guess I was lucky since this tunnel vision made life easier for me. While friends flailed around in their late teens and twenties, changing majors, jobs, cities, I stayed the course. There was never any question in my mind. And I knew this at a very young age. It just always felt like some fundamental part of my being. Becoming a soldier seemed as necessary to me as fulfilling the most basic of needs. There was hunger, thirst, sleep, and then there was soldiering. Later on there would also be sex and love, but I don't want to get ahead of myself.

I don't come from a military family. In fact, though the men in my family served in the armed forces, they served only when drafted, and when their term of enlistment was up, they hurried back to civilian life. A man had a duty to his country, I was told, but once that duty was fulfilled there were far better things to do with your time than playing with guns and bombs, especially if you lived in the greatest city in the world.

That city was New York, of course, where my family had lived since the turn of the last century. I've traveled all over the world as a soldier, and I still believe that New York City is hands down the most amazing place on the planet. To grow up in New York is like being born with a special talent, like being given something extra. Rich, poor, white, black, Asian, Latin, Arab, Jew, gay, straight, and all points in between, nowhere on earth does such diversity exist side by side in such relative harmony.

And nowhere is the mix more pronounced than in Queens, particularly in Jackson Heights, where I grew up. Ironically, the area was originally developed in 1908 as a white, middle-class "restricted residential community" by a group of real estate men in anticipation of the opening of the Queensboro Bridge in 1909. It was meant to be a suburban escape from the increasing ethnic mix of Manhattan. The only diversity in this early Jackson Heights, before restrictions against Jews were lifted after World War II, was, oddly enough, a thriving community of gay vaudevillians who began moving in after the number 7 train was built in 1917, connecting the neighborhood directly to Times Square. Since the forties the neighborhood has morphed into one of the most ethnically diverse areas in the country. When you walk down Thirty-seventh Avenue, it's like being in Shanghai, Moscow, Calcutta, and Bogota all at once. Walk a block down any main drag in the neighborhood and you'll likely hear a half-dozen languages being spoken and pass a half-dozen restaurants, each serving totally different ethnic cuisines. Though the whole world is represented, the newer residents are now primarily South Asian and Latino, and you'll have a better chance of seeing a woman in a bright sari passing an Ecuadorian restaurant serving roast guinea pig than coming across, say, a Carrie Bradshaw wannabe in her favorite Manolo Blahniks on her way to cocktails. I feel lucky to have grown up in this colorful, vibrant neighborhood. Like many neighborhoods in New York, especially those in the outer boroughs, Jackson Heights feels like a small town, a little village tucked in the great metropolis, a place where people know one another and take the time to say hello.

I grew up on Eighty-second Street, right across the street from St. Joan of Arc, the Catholic church where I went to grade school every day and to Mass every Sunday. My family was Protestant, but since the Catholic school was the best in the neighborhood, I was duly baptized and then spent the next sixteen years of my life as a student in the Catholic educational system. I have fond memories of getting up every day and putting on my uniform: the gray polyester trousers, the green jacket, the white shirt with the green clip-on tie, and then walking out the front door of my apartment building and simply crossing the street to school. The nuns still wore habits in those days and didn't think twice about smacking you one good if you got out of line.

It was in the school yard of St. Joan of Arc when it first became clear just how much I wanted to be a soldier. Like most young boys I got pretty rambunctious in the school yard, wrestling, fighting, chasing this boy or that girl, but what I loved most of all was playing war games-staging epic battles, killing spies, chasing down the enemy. On one occasion I got so involved in being a dive-bomber that I ripped my jacket straight up the back and was sent home by one of the nuns with a note reading, "Please take a moment to explain to young Jeffrey that he is not, in fact, a Stuka dive-bomber, but rather a student who needs to learn how to behave like the fine young gentleman we at St. Joan of Arc know him to be."

Once a week I was allowed to go out for lunch with my friends. I was given $1.25, which bought me a slice of pizza, a Coke, and some penny candy. My friends and I were pretty much free to explore the neighborhood after school and on weekends as long as we returned home in time for dinner. The neighborhood was tight-knit, everyone knew everyone else, so nobody really worried. How things have changed! When I think of the paranoia today, of the stress parents seem to be under, worrying about the safety of their children even when they're just down the block, I can't help thinking that I grew up in a kind of golden age. It sounds funny, since the truth is that my childhood coincided precisely with the city's fiscal crisis of the 1970s, when the crime rate skyrocketed, the city's reputation plummeted, and everyone else in the United States became convinced that New York City was one of the most dangerous places on the planet. But believe it or not, growing up in Jackson Heights in the 1970s, long before things turned around under Rudy Giuliani, I never once was threatened or felt unsafe. Who knows, maybe I was just plain lucky. Then again, I think Jackson Heights was, and is, a pretty special place.

My parents were quite young when they had me, so it was decided that I would be raised by my maternal grandparents. They raised me as if I were their own son. My grandmother was from Ohio, the daughter of Scottish immigrants. My grandfather was English, first generation. For forty years he took the subway to Twenty-third Street to go to work at the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. One of my most vivid memories is of him walking down Eighty-second Street, on his way home from work. My grandmother and I made a habit of waiting for him every day on the stoop of our building. Around five-thirty he'd come into view, striding toward us, always wearing a hat and puffing on a big cigar, looking very much the gentleman, circa 1950. He had a great sense of style and a kind of old-world outlook that allowed for a healthy joie de vivre and professional success at the same time.

As a little boy I was in awe of him. He was the most generous, kindest, smartest man in the world as far as I was concerned. Two or three times a week, sitting on the stoop with Grandmother, I'd notice a brown paper bag at his side as he approached, and I'd stand up and rush to meet him, knowing that the bag held a gift for me, usually a toy soldier or tank, a toy gun or knife, or later, a Matchbox car or one of the Hardy Boys books. It didn't take long for me to amass a huge collection of soldiers and tanks and artillery with which to stage epic battles alone in my room.

My grandfather read voraciously, four or five books a week. I owe my love of books to him. He made time every week to sit down and read with me. He'd bring me books from the Hardy Boys series but also books about history and war, books about monarchies, flags, baseball, dinosaurs. I loved adventure stories the best and truly believed that one day I would have adventures of my own, that one day I'd be just like one of the brave, heroic figures I was always reading about.

My grandparents came of age during the Depression and, like many of their contemporaries, they remained cautious about money for the rest of their lives. But they were never too frugal to help out a man down on his luck, to do the Christian thing when called upon, and in one particular case, literally to give a man the coat off their backs.

One day in January the three of us were on our way home when we passed a homeless man lying on top of a small stack of cardboard in front of the delivery entrance to the neighborhood Genovese drugstore. It was bitter cold, and he was poorly clothed for the weather. His legs were exposed, and the skin on them looked thick and dried and cracked, like the hide of an elephant. What's more, his legs were covered with sores and scabs. He'd fashioned himself a pair of shoes out of old newspapers, cardboard, and rags. He just lay there, unmoving, but awake, I think, lost in his own despair, I assumed. It was the middle of a weekend afternoon, and the street was busy with shoppers. People rushed by without even looking at the man, not an uncommon reaction even now in New York, but more so then since the fiscal crisis and the resulting cutbacks in social services had exacerbated the homeless problem to the point where regular New Yorkers had little choice but to become immune to such a ubiquitous sight.

On this particular day we, too, simply walked on by. No one spoke about it, and soon we were back in the warmth of our apartment. While pulling off my coat, I rushed to the kitchen to find something to eat. "Where you going?" my grandfather asked. "I'm hungry," I said. "Hold on," he said. "What do you say we go back out and get a slice of pizza?" As much as I knew I'd prefer a slice of pizza to almost anything my grandmother had in the kitchen, I hesitated because it was almost time for the latest episode of Lost in Space, and I really didn't want to miss it. "Come on," my grandfather said, as my grandmother handed him the winter coat he hardly ever wore anymore. He was still wearing his regular coat, so I was a little confused. Maybe he was getting it dry-cleaned, I thought. I guess the end of the story is obvious. On our way to the pizza parlor we passed the homeless man again, and my grandfather stopped and said, "Here you go, pal," then set the coat down next to him. "God bless you," the man said, quickly laying the old overcoat across his body like a blanket. My grandfather didn't say a word, just kept walking, but he must've seen me looking at him because after a few minutes he turned to me and said, matter-of-factly, "If you can do something good for someone, Jeff, do it. Chances are it will come back to you."

Not long after this incident my grandfather died, leaving a big hole in the lives of my grandmother and me. He suffered a stroke while he and Grandma were in the Catskills. He lingered in the hospital for several weeks. When I went to see him, he appeared thin and drawn, the light in his eyes dimmed, though he seemed to make an effort to be cheerful and upbeat for my benefit.

I was twelve years old when he died, and even at that age I sensed, in the vague way that children know things, that our family was different, though nothing was ever explained to me. His absence made this difference suddenly seem more pronounced. My grandmother took impeccable care of me, but I felt deeply lonely with my grandfather gone. To this day, even though I had him so briefly, my grandfather's warmth and personal philosophy has been the most profound influence on my life.


Twenty families lived in the six-story apartment building in which I grew up. Everyone knew everyone else. I was often enlisted to help an older resident move a bureau or a sofa or to help someone bring laundry up from the basement. The other residents in turn kept tabs on me, gave me advice, asked about my grades, encouraged me in every way. In the evenings the hallways were always filled with smells of cooking: pot roast, curry, pasta sauce-a melange of ethnic cuisines prepared in an effort to keep the bond alive with the home country. In the winters the radiators would hiss and knock, and the aroma of food at dinnertime would be even stronger. Coming out of the cold into the overheated hallway filled with the smell of home cooking was the best welcome in the world.

After St. Joan of Arc I went on to Archbishop Molloy High School, which I hated. I don't think it was the school itself, it was just the idea of school, period. An indifferent student, uninterested in extracurricular activities, I cruised along in neutral, unsure what I wanted, unsure of myself. I hung around the neighborhood a lot, and went to an occasional school dance to meet girls from our sister school. But I felt awkward and clumsy at these and began to feel different from other people for the first time in my life. A chasm was beginning to open up, though I didn't know it at the time, separating me from the rest of the world. So much has happened in the last thirty-five years, and in the last ten years alone, that it's easy to forget just how difficult things were back in the seventies for young gay men and for gay boys. That's not to say, of course, that life is a cakewalk for young gay people today, but I'm not sure I even knew the word gay in 1979, when I was fifteen.

Like most teenage boys I did, however, know the words queer and faggot. When I was about thirteen, I got into the habit of hanging out in front of the building with a group of neighborhood boys, most of them older than me. I wanted to be cool. One summer afternoon we were out in the street playing stickball when a guy from the neighborhood went by on roller skates. He was in his early twenties, I guess, and seemed to go everywhere on his skates, usually in tight cutoffs and often shirtless. He had a perfect body. Looking back now, I feel pretty sure he was gay, though who knows? What mattered was that he was perceived that way by the super's kid from my building, who felt compelled to spit on the ground as he rolled by and yell, "Queer!" with so much disgust in his voice that I jumped a little.



Excerpted from Major Conflict by Jeffrey McGowan, MAJ, USA (Ret.) Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 6 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(4)

4 Star

(2)

3 Star

(0)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(0)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2013

    Great book. A must read for all Americans. Really points out th

    Great book. A must read for all Americans. Really points out that Gays are among us, even if we are unaware of it. It is interesting how our society want their contributions, but too often treats gays as second class citizens.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 4, 2012

    After slowly coming to terms with his homosexuality, and with th

    After slowly coming to terms with his homosexuality, and with the prohibition of gays serving in the military still in effect, Major McGowan finally had to confront the issue and ask himself, "How was I a threat to my unit? . . . How was I a threat to the very institution I'd devoted my whole life to preserving and protecting? . . . What threat did I . . . Jeffrey McGowan, pose to the integrity of the U.S. military?" And he came to the conclusion that he posed no threat - a conclusion that is just flat out wrong. In fact, gays in the military represent a clear and present danger.

    In 2005, when taking part in an oral history study of gays who had or were serving in the armed forces, Assistant History Professor Steve Estes at Sonoma State University said, "In 1993, the `don't ask, don't tell' policy legislated the silence of gay and lesbian soldiers on active duty and in the reserves. This silence about gays in the military has led to a collective amnesia about the patriotic service and courageous sacrifices of homosexual troops. If we forget that gay and lesbian Americans have served their country, then we as a nation are much less likely to view them as full citizens, deserving of civil rights and equal protection of the law."

    Civil rights and equal protection of the law? The only way to evaluate that claim, I suggest, would be to first examine what homosexuality actually is. In the 1990s, Dr. Dean H. Hamer, the chief of the Gene Structure and Regulation Section at the National Cancer Institute's Laboratory of Biochemistry, conducted extensive studies examining the possible deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) similarities between homosexuals as compared to the rest of the male population. What he discovered was that homosexuals had a specific genetic code, probably associated with the X chromosome, and probably maternally inherited.

    Just as compelling, in 1996, neuroscientist Simon LeVay, a researcher and lecturer in human sexuality at Stanford University, published his seminal neuroendocrinological study of male and female sexual orientations. Distinguishing the biological differences between the brains of men and women attributable to hormone production, Dr. LeVay concluded that sexual orientation must be determined by the hypothalamus as that organ governed sexuality. Dr. LeVay identified an area in the hypothalamus that was smaller in women than in men. He also discovered that the same area was smaller in homosexual men, in other words more similar to women, as compared to heterosexual men. It followed, therefore, that women and homosexual men experienced the same sexual attractions probably caused by the biological similarities of their brains.

    And if that was the case, the reasoning goes, homosexuality was immutable and any discrimination a violation of one's civil rights. There is one problem with that logic though: no one has a civil right to serve in the military. One of my best friends was a commander at a Military Entrance Processing Center (MEPS) and on one occasion, we had an opportunity to discuss rejection statistics. The armed forces have very high standards and many applicants are turned away for a variety of reasons including biological reasons. A person suffering from, for example, depression or anxiety will be disqualified even though such maladies are organic in nature and may even respond to medication. While depression may have a biological cause, it is nevertheless an aberration. It is outside the norm. Similarly, I would argue, homosexuality may be biological, but it is also outside the norm. The military, out of necessity, is looking for the "norm." It must move as one. Anything that interferes with organizational cohesion must be eliminated to ensure that the armed forces can accomplish its mission.

    When Major McGowan asked if he was a threat, he posed the question from the micro-level in the same sense that Air Force Staff Sergeant Leonard Matlovich did in the 1980s. Matlovich, a highly remarkable person in his own right, was decorated with the Bronze Star and Purple Heart during his service in Vietnam. On one occasion, at the risk of his own life, he had engaged elements of the North Vietnamese Army on his own initiative in order to save the lives of other service members. Throughout his life, he struggled with his homosexuality. The military only exacerbated his frustration as he constantly formed "crushes" on his fellow servicemen. Eventually, concealing his sexual orientation was too stressful and he reported his homosexuality to his commanding officer.

    At the time, the Air Force had a particularized policy, which was later repealed, allowing known homosexuals with exceptional records to remain in the service as long as they did not participate in homosexual conduct. Matlovich refused and was administratively separated. His discharge sparked one of the most celebrated and significant cases concerning gays serving in the military. Eventually, the federal courts ruled in his favor; however, he settled and did not return to the service. For those of us who were in the Air Force, Matlovich's case was extremely interesting. When he died in 1988, his marker provided the epitaph that he had been given a medal for killing men and a discharge for loving one. It was explosively thought provoking.

    But it was also beside the point. The armed forces are extremely large complex organizations and policies can only be viewed from the macro-level. While Major McGowan and Sergeant Matlovich may be exceptional people - and I believe that they are and were - neither was qualified for military service as both suffered from a biological abnormality. And if homosexuality is biologically rooted as the evidence certainly suggests, then it is a biological anomaly. There is no escaping that regardless of any political agenda to the contrary. Homosexuality is abnormal. Evolution did not fashion the human anus for penile penetration, an act that can result in injury. As a matter of fundamental evolution, men and women were designed to accommodate one another psychologically and physiologically and that inalterable truth is in opposition to homosexuality. Nothing is ever going to change that and it has nothing to do with one's religion or theology.

    In Major McGowan's autobiography, he observed that the U.S. Army was composed of a wide spectrum of people, including kids who had come from dysfunctional backgrounds and were trying to find themselves. That is absolutely true. And while I have no doubt that Major McGowan was a fine officer and is a good man, the fact remains that older gays attempt to cultivate younger people for the purpose of sexually exploiting them. I was in law enforcement for thirty years and can attest to that. Part of my career was spent with the Office of Federal Investigations conducting background investigations for top secret security clearances. I have interviewed many, many gay men who did just that. The last thing the military needs is officers and noncommissioned officers who are engaged in such conduct.

    Aside from predators - and I want to emphasize that I am in no way equating people like Major McGowan or Sergeant Matlovich, for that matter, with predators - homosexuality is deleterious to the military. In his book, the Major recalled being in Europe and seeing another officer, a man, who had completely blown him away: "I'd seen good-looking men before . . . but this was completely different . . . It was as if the room had narrowed to just this one person, this one face, this one body, as if the (room) had suddenly gone black and a spotlight had been turned on this one stunning individual . . . He was about my height (six feet three inches (parenthesis in the original)), with thick blond hair parted on the left and fairly short, two inches long, tops. He had a high, high forehead, and a very straight nose with a small indentation at the

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2006

    Compelling and absorbing

    Absolutely enthralling-Anyone who has been in the military can certainly relate to Jeff's story. The desires, the hidden feelings and emotions, I could not put this book down, in fact I read it in two nights. I certainly hope Jeff writes another book, I will be first in line to purchase it. You won't be dissapointed in his compelling life.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2005

    Thast is an excelent book

    Well readers you should really check out that book it is amazingly funny, trueful and wonderful. I loved it, if it was for me I would have given it a (10 stars). Good job McGowan.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 2, 2005

    A Wonderful Story

    This book is the sexiest book I have ever read. Like a part in the book where he's going to the bath room and 6 other men come in to use it as well. Let's just say he has a hard time holding his 'Happiness'...

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 10, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)