First Person History
By Cliff Arnesen
( Copyright 2007. The views expressed are strictly those of the writer and not necessarily those of BiNet USA or any of its other officers.
At around the age of four, my loving mother who, in an attempt to protect me from a violent, alcoholic father who physically abused both of us, reluctantly placed me in an orphanage. During my two years stay I was placed into a foster home, but was quickly returned to the orphanage because I was hyperactive.
At age six, I was discharged from the orphanage and sent back to live with my mother who lived on welfare in a one room apartment in Brooklyn, NY, as she had a heart condition which prevented her from working. During the last year of the four that we lived together, she took me out of school due to my hyperactivity and tried to school me at home because I could not read or write at age nine.
Realizing I needed special remedial attention, and understanding that she could not raise me alone on welfare in a cramped, one room apartment, at age ten, my mother sent me away to the predominately African American, Wiltwyck School for Boys. The same school which the late Claude Brown, author of the 1965 best selling book “Manchild In The Promised Land,” attended; as did former Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World, Mr. Floyd Patterson.
During the seven years I spent at Wiltwyck, I met and became friends with the late First Lady, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, who founded the Wiltwyck School, and who held annual summer picnics for all one hundred of us boys at her beautiful estate in Hyde Park, New York.
At age sixteen, I was discharged from Wiltwyck and sent back to live with my mother. At seventeen, I dropped out of high school in the tenth grade and talked my mother into signing a waiver for me to join the US Army–in an attempt to escape from a life of poverty, filled with despair and devoid of hope.
However, several weeks into basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey, I realized that although I had managed to escape from the negative environment in Brooklyn, I had also painted myself into a corner. I felt cornered because I agonized over the painful reality of having to conceal the “attraction and affection” I felt in my heart toward some of the other soldiers. Also, I was well aware that I could be discharged or court-martialed for perjury — having lied on the entrance questionnaire which asked: “Are you a homosexual?” And, “Have you ever engaged in sexual activities with a member of the same sex?”
Nonetheless, I held my fears in check and completed basic training, went on to Advanced Infantry Training School (AIT), earned a military high school diploma, and finally, based upon my performance evaluation, was selected by my superiors to attend Trainee Leadership School. But, I never made it to the school, as I told my Company Commander that I was gay/bisexual, because I could no longer live my life as a lie and conceal my “secret.”
Thereafter, I was put under house arrest for several days, then transferred to the stockade on a “holding status,” where I was interrogated by agents from the Central Intelligence Division. (CID)
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