Bad Lieutenant, Dan Choi

What the networks don't ask the poster boy of the movement against "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," he's happy to tell.

When the Texas Tech kids wouldn't play ball by his rules, he says, "I didn't have time for it."

Money is a touchy subject for Choi, who says that, regardless of the amount he charges, "there are those who even question, 'Who are you to charge anything?' " It's no one's business, he says, but "those plane tickets don't buy themselves." Over the past couple of years, he has gone from earning $62,000 a year down to about $700 a month (from a monthly disability check for his Iraq service, which has left him 50 percent disabled with a lung condition that, he says, won't prevent him from re-enlisting).

For all his fame and his presence on Grindr, Dan Choi does seem to have a rather lonely existence. "I am homeless," he tells people. Since being honorably discharged from the 69th Infantry of New York's Army National Guard, he has had no home to go to. He is registered to vote in New York City (and, when he endorsed Mike Bloomberg last year, found himself smack in the middle of a war between lesbian activist lawyer Yetta Kurland, lesbian City Council speaker Christine Quinn, and the city's term-limit supporters).

Choi jokes with the Secret Service about whether he'll be chaining himself to the White House fence yet again.
C.S. Muncy
Choi jokes with the Secret Service about whether he'll be chaining himself to the White House fence yet again.
Speaking to the media after attempting to re-enlist in Times Square
C.S. Muncy
Speaking to the media after attempting to re-enlist in Times Square

Choi has broken up with the boyfriend he used to stay with in Chelsea, and he is estranged from his parents in California. He says he has few, if any, friends from "before."

Instead, he's a couch-surfing activist, staying with other movement folk around the country wherever he needs to speak or organize. When he first spoke to the Voice, he was crashing in San Diego with "a lesbian with five kids. I've practically gotten pregnant just staying here!"

The friend—a veteran named Lisa Kove, who is president of an organization for openly gay military contractors—says that "being discharged under the best of circumstances can be disorienting. And Dan's were hardly the best of circumstances." Kove says she feels maternal toward Choi and was glad to have him stay in her home and play video games with her son. "He needs to have time when no one is wanting anything from him," she says. "It's not fair that all this pressure to come out is placed on his shoulders. Everyone should come out."

Choi says he lives out of a couple of bags and, being used to "falling asleep wherever you have to" in the military, he doesn't seem to mind the nomadic life. "I'm in a relationship with the movement," he says. "And in any relationship, sometimes you have to sleep on the couch. And sometimes, even with the movement, the couch is literally a couch."

Going home isn't an option. He says he won't speak to his first-generation Korean-American parents because he thinks "they are imposing their own 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' " In other words, they would see him, he says, but only while refusing to acknowledge his sexuality.

In recalling how he came out to his parents—shortly before going on Maddow last year—Choi typically disregards political correctness and throws in several dollops of humor to play both parts of his conversation with his mom. She had been pestering him about who he was going to marry when he sat her down and told her: "I'm not going to marry a Korean girl."

"Oh, no! " he says, mimicking his mother's voice with a high-pitched, heavy Korean accent and broken English. "Don't marry white girl!" (It was a sin his brother had recently committed.)

Choi (assuming the stentorian tones of a professional broadcaster): "No. I'm not going to marry a white girl." He says he made his mom promise that she would love him, no matter what he was about to tell her.

"Why you not marry Korean girl?!" his mom cried. "What kind of girl you going to marry?"

"I'm not going to marry a girl at all. I'm gay. God made me this way."

"I love you," his mother replied. "But gay don't exist. It's not in the Bible. It's fake. Did you pray about it?"

"Yes," Choi said. "I prayed all the time! I prayed in the fourth grade, at the church retreat! I prayed, 'Jesus, Lord, make me pop a boner for Michelle Pfeiffer.' It doesn't work!"

"Pray more!" she barked. "Just have sex with any Korean girl! Pray for boner for Korean girl!"

Turning serious, Choi says he knew the hardest work was over, despite the fact that he was still in the military as a gay soldier. "After I came out to my parents," he says, "I realized I wasn't afraid of anything."

But his coming out to his parents has not had a storybook ending—no PFLAG rallies for Mom and Pop. They can't accept the news, he says, so he has cut them out of his life until they can. He calls it "an act of love," adding, "Asian parents are happy to repress and repress and repress and to drag things on for years. I am forcing them to deal with it now. It's less painful that way."

On his latest trip to California, Choi did plan to visit them. But when his sister picked him up at the airport and told him their minister father was plotting an ambush "exorcism," he says, he thought better of it.

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