Fall Out

The military turned Ron Falcon into an officer, a gentleman, and a doctor. When the brass discovered he was gay, they kicked him out and sent him the bill.

By the time he took leave from the military to return to school in 1990, he'd developed the self-discipline to "bust his ass" and complete an undergraduate degree in two years with a 3.96 GPA. Recalling the fun he'd had riding with the local volunteer ambulance corps in high school, and that his favorite courses at boot camp had centered on trauma treatment, Falcon settled on medicine as his vocation. "I think it was always in me," he says. "If you ask my mom, she'll tell you I couldn't wait to see the pediatrician as a kid." Thanks to the air force's generous scholarship program, he was able to enroll at Temple University in 1992.

Falcon says he didn't begin to grapple with his homosexuality until 1994--long after he'd signed up for the scholarship program. The University of Minnesota's Eli Coleman believes that Falcon, like many gays, avoided coming to terms with his sexuality not only because society tends to discourage same-sex attractions, but because his heterosexual experiences were not altogether unpleasant. Indeed, Falcon says, in high school in Pennsylvania he had dated girls, and during his first stint in the air force he often flirted with women and followed up with one-night stands. Still, he says, he often felt isolated from the other men at his base. "Most of the guys were into the bar scene, the ugliest girl contests," Falcon recounts. "You know what I mean: 'Let's go out, get drunk, and beat up the locals.' I was more of a loner."

He says he had his first homosexual encounter after a year at Temple. Though the relationship was brief, he describes the experiences as "the 'aha!' moment" when he realized he was gay. Over the ensuing year, the doctor-in-training began hanging around with a group of gay undergrads at Temple, played on a gay softball team, chatted with other men online, and eventually came out in a sexuality class.

Carolyn Swiszcz

"It's hard to explain," Falcon says, searching for a way to describe his feelings at the time. "Imagine it's wintertime and you're in bed with someone on a Sunday morning. The room is cold, really cold. Well, I could never find the motivation to stay in bed with a woman. It was as cold in the bed as it was in the room. I want an emotional experience and have only been able to find that with men."

Before his fourth and last year at Temple, Falcon was sent to an air base near San Francisco for a six-week stint of active duty as a family practitioner. On his way there, he convinced himself that it would be impossible for him to pretend he wasn't gay, and he began planning ways to out himself, perhaps before graduating. Once he'd arrived at the base, though, he quickly discovered that he wasn't the only homosexual in uniform. It was common knowledge, he recalls, that one major was a lesbian. In short order, he met other gay officers who told him of a general acceptance that some personnel were gay, while others were straight. "The bottom line is that there are tens of thousands of gays in the military, especially in the air force," Falcon insists. "If you're into uniforms, it would make the most sense to join the Navy. But most people don't want to be on a ship. So what you have is a lot of queers signing up for the air force, which has a reputation for being better educated and less prone to send you into combat."

By the time he returned to Temple, Falcon says, he'd decided to grit it out in the military, imagining that he could remain in the air force, continue to be cautious around straight officers, and stay true to himself at the same time. And if he hadn't logged onto AOL in the summer of 1997 and begun telling all of this to the man who called himself Jammer, there's a good chance he'd now be serving as a decorated captain and physician in the U.S. military.

 

"He would call me at all hours of the day and night," Falcon testified in Denver when asked about Jammer's state of mind by mid-July 1997. "I was getting e-mail messages from him, at least daily, several times a day. He would go from 'Oh, you're my best friend' to 'I hate you. I can't believe you would do this to me. I'm seeing a therapist. I'm overdosing on fen-phen to lose weight.' One day it would be a letter telling me how horrible I am with big, bold print. The next day it would be 'You're the only person I know and I can trust.'"

Falcon tried to pull the plug on the friendship, which had turned from a simple exchange of messages into a disturbing roller-coaster ride. He suspected that Jammer, who had at first seemed to be a fairly stable man in search of guidance, was volatile and unpredictable. "I know you are a decent guy who's scared to death on the inside," Falcon e-mailed him on July 30, 1997. "Scared of who he really is. Scared of what people really think. Scared his family will reject him. Scared he will never find love and have the life he really wants."

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