People get remembered for the great things they do. We call some of them heroes, some of them geniuses, some entrepreneurs, inventors and leaders. Take, for example, Thomas Edison, who invented the light bulb. Electric light is extremely important to our civilization, thus Edison was all of those things.
It's upsetting to think that at the end of this deployment, I'll most likely be remembered by many solely for my last name. Not for the stories I write, but for the byline that precedes them.
When we're young, life is so simple. Everyone gets along with everyone else. Regardless of whether you're white, Hispanic, poor, rich, what you look like or how you dress, as long as you have someone who will catch frogs with you or play tag, you have a lifelong friend. Until you develop a sense of judgment, that is.
People have made fun of my last name since long before I even understood why. I recall the first few days of each school year being the worst ones. Calling attendance for the first time each year was always quite an episode, but it's a lot worse now that my name is literally stuck to my chest.
I've heard it all. I've experienced unrelenting and contemptuous puns and even been beaten up. I've been called "Lord of the gays," "Gaylord Focker" and everything else under the sun. If you can think it up, it's likely been said to me a time or two, or two-thousand.
At the young age of five, I never would have imagined the ridicule to which I'd be exposed. I now realize that I'll always know the feeling of laughter at my expense. That feeling will always follow me wherever I go.
When I joined the Army, I joined a group of responsible, well-trained, morally and ethically strong professionals, yet Soldiers ranging from private to captain have disrespectfully taken a stab at my name which, as you can see above, happens to contain the word "gay." I certainly never expected that kind of immaturity from such professionals, but nonetheless I have received it, and undeservingly.
I've even had an E-6 take a picture of the back of my patrol cap, simply because she couldn't believe my last name. I take pictures for a living, so I know it's one thing being at the other end of the camera, but it's quite another to have pictures taken of you in jest.
The name Gaylord, meaning "high-spirited," likely has more rich history behind it than most other family names, though it sounds funny to many. I have a lot of pride in the name and, despite the ridicule, wouldn't change it for anything.
For another Soldier to laugh at and mock the very thing you take pride in is disrespect in its purest form, and yet we're supposed to be an organization of disciplined professionals. I ask that you might put yourself in my position for a second.
For the longest time, we've wondered why morale is so low. Perhaps a large part of it is due to Soldiers not acting as the adults they'd prefer to be treated like.
I didn't choose my name, but I'll still hold it high with honor. After all, that's one of our seven Army values. If you have no honor; no pride in who you are, what do you have' I ask that you let me hold onto mine, just as you do your own.
If you're among the many and you're reading this, I just hope the laughter was worth it for you. I'll bet you just replied with "It was." But if you could experience a lifetime of mockery as I have, maybe you'd think again.