Pat Tillman Foundation Scholars 2021 Essays

Last year I applied to Pat Tillman Scholars program. It was the last time I would apply since I am no longer eligible. It’s not the first scholarship I applied to (and certainly not the last) that I’d be rejected from. However, I think it is important to recognize that rejection happens and it happens constantly. And some – especially when intertwined with an identity can be hurtful. I have qualms about what to share and what to leverage in these applications. It often sounds like trauma porn – or a bad RuPaul episode where a queen makes herself vulnerable only to lip sync for her life and sashay away. I also have qualms about contributing to military exceptionalism – but this is a military/veteran scholarships so that moot point.

I think these were/are great essays and speak to who I am as a veteran committed to service, my research, and others. So I want to share them. They got me passed the first round so they’re somewhat successful. But what’s important is that you are and I am still successful. The essays – from my knowledge – are the same each year. So keep in mind if you’re applying again to keep your mental health in an ok place. There’s only so many times you can repeat a vulnerable memory for leverage just to sashay.

I think posting my application might be my new thing – maybe it can be called “failure porn” if that hasn’t already been done.

Discuss your motivation and decision to serve, in the military or otherwise. Explain how your unique life experience has influenced your life and your ambitions. What is the most important lesson you have learned? (400 max)

When I joined the Navy, I did not know what service meant. Like many other Americans of color, I saw the military as a way out. I saw it for the opportunities it could provide me. However, I did not realize how much harder it would be for me to reach those opportunities as a queer, Asian and Filipino American during Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

I went to the Naval Academy Preparatory School first. There, I felt the most alone. The cadre during indoctrination suspected I was gay. They singled me out, and the harassment continued into the academic year. One day, someone even wrote faggot on my back during class. Only one person showed me kindness and helped me. That one person’s act held me together.

My true call to service came after I arrived at the Academy the next year. There, I found a cohort of queer midshipmen. For the first time I saw people like me. Working with them, I realized I could and wanted to serve in the Navy.  Best of all, I knew that we had to help each other navigate the precarious waters of secrecy and advocacy. Our presence was a statement that we belonged.

They remained my anchor and only source of help during DADT, but that was not enough. In the fleet, I was sexually harassed by a sailor while deployed. Of course, I turned to those queer midshipmen for help. But what would have empowered me during that time, instead of just staying resilient and staying the course, is a leader who looked like me.

I could not be that leader. Cancer drove me out of the Navy. Still wanting to serve, I recalled those who helped me along the way. In their spirit, I went from serving the country to serving others by volunteering for other cancer patients, mentoring foster children, and helping neighbors. Service is a value that I want reflected in all aspects of my life. Today, that value is reflected in my research about veterans transitioning to college and my work advising veterans applying to college. My ambition is to continue service through scholarship, scholarship that provides veterans the tools and resources to be empowered and to empower others.

Share your academic and career goals. How will you incorporate your experiences into these goals? How will you make a positive impact? (400 max)

Pursuing a master’s degree and then a PhD in Linguistics has allowed me to raise awareness about how language mediated the adversity I experienced during Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and bring about positive change. Accordingly, my academic goal is to expose through research how discriminatory and oppressive ideologies are engrained in the language we use. My career goal is to have a platform to use my research to advocate for and to empower those of marginalized communities. Being a Tillman Scholar and hearing how Tillman Scholars talk about their experiences will enrich my scholarship and provide a network of likeminded leaders for greater positive impact.

Since starting my academic journey, I have already had an impact. For example, motivated by my research on queer naval officers, I founded a coalition of queer and ally student organizations called Spectra Alliance. (Like my experience at the Academy, I knew we would be stronger together.) Our first event, which brought my research to life, provided a platform for transgender service members to share their lived experiences with our community and three other universities. Our next event is “OUT in Research,” a conference which will elevate the research and needs of queer students at Georgetown and plant the seed for a dedicated queer research program.

In 2020, I started my dissertation. I examine how veterans talk about their transition into student life. Findings from my study have already impacted veteran programming at Georgetown. For example, I initiated a community of mentors called Veterans Helping Veterans (VHV) to help other veterans transitioning to the rigors of academia. From VHV, a women-veterans special interest group emerged. And, in collaboration with the LGBTQ Resource Center, VHV will hold a queer military career panel. This panel and the veteran women’s group highlight VHV’s mission and the spirit of Georgetown: commitment to service, veterans for others, and the celebration and inclusion of diversity. It is through my commitment to service that my academic and professional goals collide. My academic goals center on developing the scholarship needed for improving those of marginalized communities. My career goals are bringing that research to life through positive social change. My research has had a positive impact in my local community already at Georgetown. As a Tillman Scholar, I can have a greater and broader positive impact in the military and in higher education.

In what unique ways has the COVID 19 pandemic affected you and your candidacy to become a Tillman Scholar? (optional, 250 words)

In 2016 I was diagnosed with Leukemia for the second time and had to receive a bone marrow transplant. While the general population has a 95-99% survival rate, I have a 68% survival rate as a transplant recipient. 

While concerned about my health, my dissertation research was immediately impacted by COVID-19. My original dissertation plan was an ethnographic study of the socialization process into the US Naval Academy during the Summer of 2020. It took me two years to design the project, collect the relevant scholarship, gain access to the Academy, and raise personal funds to support the project. However, prior to meeting with the Commandant, the nationwide shutdowns took place. Two years of work disappeared.

I was still determined to start my dissertation that Fall of 2020. In July, with a new idea, I designed a new project, collected the relevant scholarship, and passed the institutional review board in two weeks. Because of my supportive faculty, I immediately began collecting data before passing my dissertation prospectus defense in November.

While COVID-19 has made doing research more difficult and canceled all my public speaking opportunities, it has elevated the inequities in marginalized communities. Examples of these inequities emerge in my own research. Now more than ever, my research can benefit from a platform like the Pat Tillman Foundation and raise awareness for positive social change in these communities.

Special Skills or Expertise (optional)

Three skills I want to bring attention to are my skills in illustration and photography, conducting and facilitating meaningful conversations, and community-building.

Before applying to the US Naval Academy, I wanted to go to art school. I had taken art classes in high school, specifically a class in graphic design where I found I like illustrating and photography. Throughout my time at the academy, I designed logos for sports teams and organized my own photography shows. While serving on my first ship, I used my photography abilities as the collateral duty public affairs officer and to document my deployments and travels. More recently, I have returned to my love of illustrating and have illustrated large murals for friends and their homes. This skill also came in handy during my graduate assistantship in the Georgetown Veterans Office where I redesigned all the flyers and information pamphlets, as well as the illustrations and logos for our newsletters, website, and online material.

A second skill I have is facilitating productive and meaningful conversations. This is because most of my research has consisted of interview data, or what we as linguists call “semi-structured conversations.” While I always have a set of questions prepared, I allow the conversation to flow on its own. And not only do I practice this skill during research projects, but I also have to later transcribe and analyze my interview data. This allows me to reflect on my own conversational mannerisms, catch things I could have asked about, and make myself a better listener. This skill has transferred to my personal life as it has overall improved how I make interpersonal connections with people.

My last skill is community-building. While in the Navy, especially overseas, I tried to connect people and help others build community with like-minded people. When a sailor needed help, I liked being able to connect them to the resources they needed. As a PhD candidate, I like to connect individuals who may share the same research interests so that they can potentially collaborate. In my department, I initiated a mentor program that matched incoming graduate students with seasoned graduate students. I also like to connect groups to create stronger communities and coalitions. I did this last year when I initiated Spectra Alliance. It started out as GradPride and OUT@MSB, two queer organizations at Georgetown and then it became five organizations.

Queering the military: Thank you for your service (abstract)

I’m excited to present my research again at the Linguistics Society of America’s 94th Annual Meeting. The title of my paper is “Queering the military: Thank you for your service.” The extended abstract is below.

Abstract: In the United States, national identity and military identity are inextricably linked. And, the U.S. military is arguably an arbiter of American masculinity (Disler, 2008). Following the terrorist attacks of September 11th, President George W. Bush delivered his address to the U.S. Congress in which he constructed a national identity centered on victimhood and unified Americans in support of the military (Podvornaia, 2013). One manifestation of this support is the phrase “Thank you for your service” (henceforth, TYFYS) (Moore, 2017). In this study, I take a Queer Linguistics turn (Motschenbacher, 2011) to examine through discourse analysis how a “multiplicity of masculinities” (Milani, 2014) are invoked in TYFYS. To do so, I define TYFYS as a speech act (Austin, 1975), and examine how the illocutionary act (i.e. the speaker’s intention) (mis)aligns with the perlocutionary effect (i.e. effect on the recipient) of veterans through their discursive construction of affect and military identity(ies). The data for this study come from interviews, or semi-structured conversations, with seven self-identified veterans who recently discharged from the military and are transitioning into civilian-life at a U.S. college. Copland and Creese (2015) point out that interviews provide an emic, or insider, perspective from the participant’s point of view. But more importantly for my study, the interviews allow the participants to demonstrate diverse text types (e.g., narratives, chronicles, explanations, and questions) where discourse strategies emerge to convey affect and to construct identities. To deduce affect and identity, I draw Martin and White’s (2005) definition of affect and on Bucholtz and Hall’s (2005) sociocultural framework. Specifically, I draw on Bucholtz and Hall’s principle of “adequation and distinction” to analyze the construction of military identity at both the micro- and macro-levels. At the micro-level, I analyze specific discursive strategies such as details (e.g., imagery of combat), and negation (e.g. I never deployed) that index a participant’s military identity. At the macro-level, I draw on Kristeva’s (1986) notion of “intertextuality” to connect the micro-level discourse with the public imagery of military identity (i.e. the archetypical masculine soldier and “wounded warrior”) that index “military masculinity” (Belkin, 2012). Intertextuality, which Kristeva introduced in her discussions of Bakhtin’s (1986) theorizing, describes how discourses are reverberations of past discourses and contribute to current and future discourses. In other words, it is a means of exploring connections between discourses. The findings reveal that the veterans in this study discursively construe negative affect (e.g., “I hate it” and “It makes me feel uncomfortable) towards TYFYS, and rely on resources of military masculinity (e.g., fighting in war, risking limbs) to construct military identities separate from their own experiences. The findings suggest a disconnect between the public imagery of military veterans, and how veterans see themselves through the lens of a masculine-gendered military identity. By examining constructions of masculinity through TYFYS, this study connects Queer Linguistics (Motschenbacher, 2011), through discourse analysis, to the interdisciplinary enterprise of Critical Military Studies (Basham et al., 2015) which questions power relations in the military, and the negotiation of military identity through social practice and political contestation. Lastly, as Messerschmidth (2019) points out, hegemonic masculinity (Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005) can be examined at different levels of abstraction, specifically local, regional, and global. This study demonstrates how hegemonic masculinity of a masculine gendered institution is contested through veteran constructions of military identity and the public imagery of military identity.

De/re-contextualization on twitter – spreading mis/disinformation

Earlier this semester, I wrote this brief analysis about Senator Blumenthal trending on Twitter. In the analysis, I draw on intertextuality (Kristeva, 1986) and Bauman’s (2004) notion of entextualization which captures intertextuality as a dynamic process. Through these frameworks, I was demonstrating to the class how misinformation (and disinformation – i.e. the intentional spread of false information) occurs on Twitter.

In September, I came across this tweet by Eric Morrow (@morroweric) from Buzzfeed News. The tweet (screen captured below) includes a video of a hearing conducted by the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The specific hearing is entitled Protecting Kids Online: Facebook, Instagram and Mental Health Harms and was held Thursday (September 30, 2021). Broadly, purpose of a hearing is “to obtain information and opinions on proposed legislation, conduct an investigation, or evaluate/oversee the activities of a government department or the implementation of a Federal law.” Congressional hearings are conducted by the house, senate, joint, or special committee. They’re open to the public so anyone can watch.

In the tweeted video, we have Sen. Blumenthal asking Facebook’s global head of security, Antigone Davis, if Facebook will commit to ending Finsta. For those unaware – finsta means “fake instagram” and usually consists of the user’s more candid life. This is akin to Goffman’s (1959) concept of back stage expression of self. In contrast, user’s can also have a front stage instagram account known as a rinsta meaning “real instagram.” These are often curated and created for parents, family, etc.

Screenshot 2021-10-01 094134.png

While skimming through the responses (most of which disparaged the Senator for being uninformed), I came across this tweet (see below) from “Cody the Copy Editor (@SirGramarye). Here, Cody challenges the accuracy of the original tweet and presents a video clip (via a quote tweet) that shows Blumenthal defining what Finsta is.

Screenshot 2021-10-01 103611.png

To elucidate what’s going on here, I draw on Kristeva’s (1986) notion of intertextuality and Bakhtin’s (1986) notion of dialogicality. Kristeva’s conceptualization of intertextuality draws on Bakhtin’s notion of dialogicality where “any concrete utterance is a link in a chain of speech communications” (p. 91). Kristeva expands on this notion in her concept of intertextuality which infers that “any text is constructed as a mosaic of quotations; any text is the absorption and transformation of another” (p. 37). Indeed, and Bauman (2004) captures this process of intertextuality in his notion of “entextualization” where every utterance or text has the potential to be “decontextualized.” Put simply – when text (i.e. an utterance, tweet, or even a video) is captured (entextualized), it is “decontextualized” (taken out of context) and often made to be “recontextualized” for some purpose. This recontextualization point is important because it is often all that we see when doom scrolling twitter.

In the original tweet above, that purpose emerges through the shortened clip which frames Blumenthal as an “uninformed boomer” that evinces why we need term limits. Watching the video, we can observe how Davis navigates responding to Blumenthal, suggesting the strong disconnect between his understanding of Finsta and how Finstas are used by younger generations.

In contrast, the second tweet presents more context to the question by Blumenthal. In the second video, Blumenthal provides (arguably) an accurate definition of Finsta with the presupposition that Facebook has embraced Finstas as a serendipitous social phenomenon into their business model. This, I would argue, is what Blumenthal negatively evaluates/criticizes Facebook for. I think watching a full version of Blumenthal’s question and response, we would see that maybe the final question was worded sloppily. Or, that Davis strategically avoided responding to the presupposition in Blumenthal’s inquiry which reinforced the “strong boomer vibes.”

If I were super interested in examining how this question was “taken up” elsewhere – I might l also explore how different news outlets discuss the hearing. Outside of this example, I think that the notion of entextualization is a useful theoretical framework in identifying how misinformation is spread – or even how disinformation is created and spread on platforms like Twitter.


Bakhtin, M. (1986). Speech genres and other late essays (C. Emerson & M. Holquist, Eds.; V. McGee, Trans.). University of Texas Press.

Bauman, R. (2004). A world of others’ words: Cross-cultural perspectives on intertextuality. Blackwell.

Goffman, E. (1959). The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Anchor Books.

Kristeva, J. (1986). The Kristeva reader (T. Moi, Ed.). Basil Blackwell.

Queering the military: Doing “being a heterosexual” during Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

This post was originally published on the Linguistic Society of America’s COZIL ( Committee on LGBTQ+ [Z]) blog for Pride Month 2021.

This year, service members in the United States Armed Forces celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the implementation of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) repeal act of 2010, the discriminatory policy that prohibited lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members from serving openly.

When I applied to the U.S. Naval Academy, I did not know (and could not have known) what I was getting into. I knew I was gay. However, I did not know how doing “being gay” could lead me to getting kicked out or discharged from the Navy. And, apparently among the endless paperwork, I signed a form (USMEPCOM FORM 601-23-4-E 1, FEB 1998) agreeing that I did not have a “propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts” or to marry “a person known to be of the same biological sex.” Today, I still wonder how I could have known what being gay meant as a 17-year-old graduating from high school, and how I would have to perform “being a heterosexual” under DADT.

It was 2002 when I joined the Navy, and DADT was still the law. While policies affecting LGBT service members have changed, the U.S. military is still very much a masculine gendered institution and arguably the arbiter of American masculinity (Disler, 2008). Historically, the ranks of the U.S. military have consisted of “able-bodied” (10 U.S. Code § 505) men; and social practices and cultures continue to systematically exclude women as well as individuals who identify as LGBT from serving. However, the U.S. military is still one of the most diverse institutions and workplaces in the U.S., with 1.3 million active-duty service members (Kamarck, 2019). Of these, an estimated 6%, or 78,000, identify as either gay, lesbian, or bisexual, and 0.6%, or 7800, identify as transgender (Meadows et al., 2015).

It might not be a surprise that the military conflates the experiences of all those who identify as LGBT. However, I want to briefly disentangle their histories in the military. For LGB service members, the U.S. military began actively discriminating against them during WWII when homosexuality was pathologized as a mental illness (see Berube, [2010]). During the gay rights movement of the 1970s, activists brought attention to supporting LGB service members (Hall, 2010). However, the U.S. Department of Defense came down with a heavy hand in 1982, declaring that homosexuality was “incompatible with military service” (DOD Directive 1332.14, January 28, 1982, Part 1, Section H). A “compromise” was met in 1993 when President Clinton enacted DADT. This meant that LGB service members could serve, just not openly. Then, in 2010, President Obama repealed DADT, allowing LGB service members to finally serve as their true selves.

For our transgender brothers, sisters, and siblings in arms, much of their history has been ignored or erased under the LGBT umbrella. While women were known to disguise themselves as men to serve in the military since the American Revolution, transgender service members were actively discriminated against alongside LGB service members. Then, in 2014, Attorney General Eric Holder extended gender identity protection under TITLE VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include transgender statuses. However, while this did apply to DoD civilians, it did not apply to service members (Kamarck, 2019). In 2015, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, under the Obama administration, announced that transgender service members can serve openly. This was short lived, as President Trump reversed the decision and prohibited transgender individuals from joining and serving in the military. Trump’s trans ban was then overturned by President Biden in 2021.

When I joined the Navy during DADT, I did not know the consequences of what Rich (1980) calls compulsory heterosexuality. Like the other 1.3 million service members, I swore an oath to defend the constitution (and also claimed to be straight). For example, when I was a plebe (1st year student/midshipman at the Naval Academy), I was told to bring a (female) date to lunch. As midshipmen, we ate breakfast and lunch with our squads. Our squads were led by squad leaders (4th year students/midshipmen) who were also responsible for training us as plebes. One day, my squad leader told me I had to bring a date to lunch. So that morning, I asked a female midshipman if she would join me for lunch. Doing so also required me to “request permission” from the female midshipman’s squad leader, thereby forcing me to perform “being heterosexual” by participating in heterosexual courtship, or what Eckert (2000) calls the heterosexual marketplace.

Let’s not ignore how problematic this was for the female midshipman. From her perspective, we can see clearly how compulsory heterosexuality ingrained in the masculine gendered military has misogynistic implications on her military identity. By being asked to join me for lunch, she performed “being a commodity” or object of desire, thereby reducing/erasing her identity as a midshipman. Further, her agency as a woman and individual was diminished by drawing on patriarchal requirements (a man asking her squad leader for permission to bring her as his date).

I have to note – the woman I asked was and is a friend. At the time, she did not know I was gay. However, we both understood these rituals were “normal” and on some level a form of hazing. We could have easily said no. But, by not participating in these rituals, our student rankings would suffer given that upper-level students ranked everyone below them. These student rankings then contributed to our overall order of merit which informed what jobs in the Navy/Marine Corps we would hold after graduation/commissioning.

As I recall this one instance of compulsory heterosexuality (there are many), I am relieved to know that midshipmen at the Naval Academy (and service members writ large) are in a better place. However, policy changes do not equate to changes in social and cultural practices. The U.S. military is still a masculine gendered institution and compulsory heterosexuality still exists. Today, I might have had the option to bring a male midshipman to lunch – however it would still entail the same ritual of heteronormative courtship. Another example: while the term “military wife’ has been replaced with “military spouse,” it still draws on the same heterosexual and patriarchal construct. All spouses are still assumed under the umbrella term “military dependents.” This umbrella term also includes children of service members. In this way, the term “military spouse” still draws on the patriarchal construct where the service member (usually a heterosexual man) is the protector, or “breadwinner,” of the family. And so, these are just two examples where, from a queer theory and queer linguistics lens (Motschenbacher & Stegu, 2013), we can examine not only how LGBT service members “do” (military) heterosexuality, but also how straight-identifying individuals do a heterosexuality that might not be their own.

Returning to my question in the first paragraph – how could I have known the implications of being gay in the military during DADT? I still don’t know. However, I do know why I joined the military. I grew up in a military family. My dad served in the Army and I saw the opportunities it afforded him as a Filipino immigrant. And then September 11th happened when I was a junior in high school, and I followed the “call to serve.” For other service members, reasons may also include occupational benefits such as opportunities to travel, access to educational and healthcare benefits, as well as job stability (Helmus et al., 2018). Today, my military experience informs my research and my desire to continue serving in some capacity. I envision my new capacity for service as I conduct research surrounding queering military discourse and deconstructing (toxic) masculinities and heteronormativity seen in the military, aiming to make it a safer place for everyone to serve as their true selves.

To read more about LGBTQ+ linguistics from LGBTQ+ linguists, check out all of the COZIL Blog posts here.


Bérubé, A. (2010). Coming out under fire: The history of gay men and women in World War II. Univ of North Carolina Press.

Disler, E. (2008). Language and gender in the military: Honorifics, narrative, and ideology in Air Force talk. Cambria Press.

Eckert, P. (2000). Linguistic variation as social practice: The linguistic construction of identity in Belten High. Blackwell Pub.

Hall, S. (2010). The American gay rights movement and patriotic protest. Journal of the History of Sexuality, 19(3), 536–562.

Helmus, T. C., Zimmerman, S. R., Posard, M. N., Wheeler, J. L., Ogletree, C., Stroud, Q., & Harrell, M. C. (2018). Life as a private: A study of the motivations and experiences of junior enlisted personnel in the US Army (RR-2252-A; Research Reports). Rand Corporation.

Kamarck, K. (2019). Diversity, inclusion, and equal opportunity in the Armed Services: Background and issues for Congress (No. R44321). Congressional Research Service.

Meadows, S. O., Engel, C. C., Collins, R. L., Beckman, R. L., Cefalu, M., Hawes-Dawson, J., Waymouth, M., Kress, A. M., Sontag-Padilla, L., Ramchand, R., & et al. (2015). 2015 Health related behaviors survey: Sexual orientation, transgender identity, and health among U.S. active-duty service members (RB-9955/6-OSD; Research Briefs). RAND Corporation.

Motschenbacher, H., & Stegu, M. (2013). Queer Linguistic approaches to discourse. Discourse & Society, 24(5), 519–535.

Rich, A. (1980). Compulsory heterosexuality and lesbian existence. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 5(4), 631–660.

On being the “model minority”

The last few weeks have been challenging for many Asian-Americans as we witness the rise in violent anti-Asian American hate crimes throughout the United States. It’s been nearly three weeks since the shootings in Atlanta that killed Yong Ae Yue, Suncha Kim, Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Daoyou Feng, Xiaojie Tan, Paul Andrew Michels, Elcias Hernandez-Ortiz, and Delaina Ashley Yaun. And then, not even two weeks later, Vilma Kari was attacked on her way to church. The video of the security guard casually closing the door outrages me. To me, it serves as a metaphor that frames American apathy towards Asian-Americans.

So There are so many different things to be frustrated about. I’ve been talking to other Asian-American friends who experience similar anxieties and frustrations, as well as Black American friends who have reached out to check in on me. I think a common frustration centers on the repetitive conversations of racism and misogyny. And again, we are seeing folks (1) doubling down on their racism, (2) denouncing the murders but not recognizing it as connected to a series of events related to a history of racism, and (3) (our white allies) not really understanding how these events affect us as individuals of marginalized communities.

Also, part of this conversation is the stereotype “model minority” and why it is (and always has been) problematic. It is the ultimate backhanded compliment and micro-aggression that sustains white supremacy. First, it erases any sort of nuance among Asian-Americans, a vastly diverse population of the US. In this diverse population, it also erases the socioeconomic nuance/disparities that exists among Asian-Americans. Second, it creates a divide among marginalized communities that results in these communities pitting against each other. Lastly, it creates this mythical status predicated on being White adjacent (which further pits Asian-Americans against other marginalized communities).

So what can I do? Or, what can we do right now? I think starting off with our friends and families is a good first step. I reached out to my parents during Easter to talk with them. I want to not only make sure they are safe, but that they feel safe as well. I have also reached out to other Asian-American friends (and have been reached out to). During these conversations we shared resources to help channel our frustrations and anxieties into productive conversations. The next step could be reaching out in our communities. If teaching a class, I think it helps to acknowledge that students may be experiencing similar anxieties and frustrations. And I think it’s appropriate to direct them to available resources. It’s important in academia to be cognizant of our mental health because it affects our relationship with others, the quality of our work, and our overall well-being.

Explaining “contradictory” identities, joining the military, a sense of service, and military benefits

Last week while reviewing some of my dissertation data with the research assistants, we dove into some contradictory remarks.

My data consist of interviews, or “semi-structured conversations,” with veterans at a university during their first semester as undergraduates. During these conversations, I have a set of questions that guide my question-asking. I like this method because it seems to relax the participants. Although since this is all done via zoom, I’m not sure yet if that’s still true. When face-to-face, I’ve noticed only once that a participant oriented towards the recording device (i.e they looked at it while talking to me). If this sounds interesting, I’d check out my advisor’s work on the observer’s paradox.

Anyway, in my data, I talk with each of my participants about their decision to join the military. One participant first described their hometown of blue-collar workers (many who joined the military), and that they felt the collective call of 9/11. Later on in the same interview, while explaining their interest in sports and working out, they prefaced how they played sports throughout high school. And, that they had hoped to go to college and continue playing sports. However, one summer they experienced an injury that prevented that dream. They then explained joining the military as an opportunity. This “opportunity” aligns with my other participants’ explanations for joining the military. They saw the benefits (e.g. paying for school, career, work experience) of joining the military. This also parallels Martinez and Huerta’s (2020) findings in their study about Chicano/Latino males who enlist in the military. They found, among their participants, that joining the military was a pathway to upward social mobility and a career.

What I find interesting about this is the way the participants talk about their reasons for joining the military. It’s transactional. This contrasts with the 9/11 collective call narrative that is in the beginning of my participant’s interview, and contrasts with the narrative I hear so often by folks who joined when I did – around 9/11.

But how do I explain this? I don’t. I think identities are complex and how they emerge in interaction is complex (and messy at times). As a researcher, I think of my role is observing and describing what is going on. If there are contradictory and paradoxical behaviors manifested in the language, then I say “oh that’s interesting” .. and think about it more. What I think is happening is that the participant is drawing on sociably recognizable discourses – the collective call to service that was invoked by President Bush during 9/11 (See Podvornaia, 2013) and the military as a bunch of benefits (this is the stuff that recruiters talk about). All of which they are using to construct their identity.

What I think is interesting and will explore further is the development of a sense of service in my data. Each one of my participants talk about being proud of their service and how they want to continue doing something that benefits people around them.

Martinez Jr, E., & Huerta, A. H. (2020). Deferred enrollment: Chicano/Latino males, social mobility and military enlistment. Education and Urban Society, 52(1), 117–142.

Podvornaia, A. (2013). The discursive battlefield of the “War on Terror.” In A. Hodges (Ed.), Discourses of war and peace (pp. 69–91). Oxford University Press.

Queering leadership: leadership narratives as stories of self-commodification

Recently, I was invited to contribute my research about how Naval Officers who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender talk about their leadership performance through “sea-stories.” The book, which centers on Queer Linguistics as an approach, really forced me to re-examine my analysis through a Queer Theory and Queer Linguistics lens.

The chapter will draw on data from my master’s thesis which takes a social constructionist stance towards how identity is constructed. For my thesis, I interviewed 14 Naval Officers. Six identified as cis gender men, five identified as cis gender women, one identified as a trans man, and one identified as a transwoman. Of the seven total men, three identified as straight, two as bi, and two as gay. Of the five total woman, two identified as straight and three identified as lesbians.

In each of their interviews, each participant had a “sea-story” to tell. A sea-story is a common term in the Navy used to describe some interesting story that occurred while at sea. These sea-stories in particular were elicited, meaning I asked for a specific story. And in each story, the participants talk about standing watch as Officer of the Deck (OOD). While standing OOD, the Naval Officer is pretty much in charge of all operations occurring on the ship. They’re also in charge of navigating where the ship goes. In these sea-stories, the participants shared a story where they talked about a challenging experience while standing OOD. One participant talked about transiting the Straits of Malacca and experiencing a near collision, another participant described conflict between her and another officer while launching and landing helicopters on the flight deck, and one officer described a man-overboard. So what I was interested in examining here is how each participant talked themselves into “being” a leader in these stories.

While writing my master’s thesis I thought it was a first step towards examining how people who identify as queer do leadership. To my knowledge, it is and was the first of its kind.

As so as I mentioned above, I am excited to re-examine my data from a Queer Linguistics perspective and question “what is masculinity” in the context of the military. And I think more exciting – “what is heterosexuality” in the military? What’s fascinating to me about Queer Theory and Queer Linguistics is that even though I’ve always thought that individuals can express sexuality in different ways, I never actually thought about heterosexuality in this way.

So from this perspective, even individuals who identify as heterosexual (and cis gender) are performing a specific type of heterosexuality and masculinity. So quite literally, in the words or Ru Paul, we’re all born naked and the rest is drag.

Linguistic Landscapes on US Navy Ships

This week in Language and Society (a class I’m a teaching assistant), we’re talking about linguistic landscapes. I remember when I was a kid, I used to read signs and billboards out loud when driving around with my parents. I always thought it was cool when there were signs in other languages because it felt like I was traveling further away. These signs were (and are) different because they can say what a community is about, and if that community is welcoming or not.

Language can also have a very specific function as well. For this class, I shared the linguistic landscapes of the inside of a US warship. These aren’t my photos – I friendsourced via facebook, found some on DVIS (defense Visual Information Service), and found one on On a US Navy ship you’ll find pretty much everything labeled. Every door is labeled, every bulkhead (wall) is labeled, and every kind of pipe you can find is labeled. These first three pictures demonstrate that.

In the first photo, the officer is in their living quarters playing guitar hero. You can tell they’re likely an officer because of the khaki colored belt. (US Navy Chiefs, or E-7s and above, also where khaki belts.) Above the television is a pipe that says “SPLY Vent.” It’s probably part of the HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) system, and supplying air for that purpose. In the second (center) photo is a ladder well that leads to a vertical hatch to the outside. It has a Z (super small sorry) on it. All doors (hatches) leading to the outside will have a letter code on it (X for X-ray, Y for Yoke, and Z for Zebra). These refer to material conditions of readiness. X-ray is the least secure and Zebra is the most secure. During certain events on a ship (from entering port to general quarters), a material condition is set. If Zebra is set, then anything marked with a X, Y, or Z are secured (i.e. closed). In the third photo, there is a fire hose on the left and fire extinguishers marked with AFFF ( read A triple F), which means Aqueous Film Forming Foam). These are obviously to fight fires – but the type of fire will determine how to fight it. AFFF is used for flammable liquids, e.g. if fuel catches on fire.

These three photos are a small sample of the types of identification systems you’ll find on a ship. And, they convey the highly technical nature of the linguistic landscape that’s predicated on safety and awareness – a responsibility of all sailors.

It’s important to note that each section of the ship is “owned” by a specific department of the ship. So engineering spaces (i.e. where the engines are located), will be “owned” by the engineering department. Sailors who work in that department are responsible for keeping it clean and making sure everything throughout it is labeled correctly. So what about living quarters? Or the mess decks (where sailors eat)? Those spaces are owned by the supply department. As we see in the first photo, there is a supply vent going through the officer’s room. Nearby there’s likely a bunch of fire fighting equipment as well. While these are equipment owned by engineers, they run through supply department spaces. Sailors in supply department must be aware of what these things do in cases of emergency.

These next two photos demonstrate how intertwined the systems are and how important this linguistic landscape serves the sailors on a ship in regard to safety and awareness.

The photo on the left with the sailor in red has several things going on in the background. The space is likely an engineering space (specifically a passage way) and is below the main deck. The door has a yellow sign with noise protection ear muffs. That’s likely an engine room that requires double hearing protection (ear muffs and ear plugs). Above the sailor are a bunch of pipes. The white wipes are probably air. The purple pipe is likely fuel. And then there’s a small pipe labeled AFFF. In cases of collision or fire, it’s probably important to know that there’s fuel running through that space in a pipe. It’s also really helpful to know there’s an AFFF source there to fight a liquid fire.

The photo on the right has a sailor cleaning in a passageway. This kinda looks like an Operations Department space. The door in the back leads to the outside so it’s definitely on or above the main deck. On right right-side of the photo we have a bunch of pipes again. Since these are blue they’re likely water. There’s also a fire hose for fighting fires. On the left side of the photo there is a poster that says OPSEC which means Operational Security. It’s a reminder to sailors to not share sensitive information about the ship or their jobs.

In these two photos, we again see how safety and awareness is present throughout the linguistic landscape. The sailor on the left (who is likely a boatswain because he’s wrapping rope around a bar) has a bunch of things going on behind him that he might want to be aware of if there was a fire. If it’s a liquid fire, he knows he has an AFFF source nearby. If he wanted to enter that door, he knows he needs to have ear protection. The sailor on the right who is cleaning, is reminded that he shouldn’t share sensitive information about the ship with people who don’t need to know.

The last photo I want to share is one of the most fundamental elements of shipboard knowledge that conveys a sense of awareness in a ship’s linguistic landscape. It is the compartment identification system. The photo is a door to “Female Officer Country” and I borrowed it from It was taken in 1994 on board the USS Eisenhower when women were first able to serve on US warships. Today for officers, the women’s living spaces are integrated in with the men’s living spaces. But women are assigned to rooms with the same gender. I want to point to the “FR 44” and the “02-44-3” on the door.

On every door (likely above it), you’ll find the compartment identification number. In this photo, you have 02-44-33. It’s crucial that all sailors are able to read and understand what this means. These numbers represent (from left to right) deck number, frame number, centerline, and usage. I further explain them here:

Deck Number: The main deck is 1. Anything above it is labeled 01, 02, 03 etc. Anything below is 2, 3, ,4, 5 etc. So 5 would be 5 decks below 1 and 05 would be 5 decks above the main deck.
Frame Number: This is the foremost bulkhead. It indicates where the compartment is in relation to the front of the ship.
Centerline: Where the compartment is in relation to the centerline. If it’s an even number it’s on the port side (i.e. left side), if it’s an odd number it’s on the starboard side (i.e. starboard side). So a 1 would be on the starboard side but close to the centerline while a 7 would be further away from the centerline.
Usage: These are usually letters. An E is for Engineering spaces. An L would indicate a living quarter.

In the example above, the FR 44 refers to the frame of the bulkhead (wall). On the door, the compartment label is 02-44-3-Female Officer Country. So it’s on the 02 deck meaning it’s 2 decks above the main deck. It’s frame 44 (i.e. where it is in relation to the front of the ship). And it’s the 3rd compartment, starboard from the centerline at that frame. Instead of “Female Officer Country” it could also be L for living quarters.

This has a lot of practical implications. It means anyone who’s familiar with this system can go on board any ship and independently find a space. One of the most crucial implications is fighting fires and floods, or other emergencies. With this system, a ship can direct the appropriate fire/flooding teams to the emergency.

It’s fun using my experiences in the Navy to demonstrate to the class how a linguistic landscape is more than just signs on the street. It can also be signs in an office building, a school, or a navy warship. The examples I used here convey the technical nature of a warship’s linguistic landscape that serves to inform sailors of their surroundings (situational awareness) and ensure their safety, the safety of others, and the safety of the ship.

Create (your own) back up (and check your Document System) in MAXQDA!

My dissertation project has seven participants who I interviewed three times over the course of their first semester. I then transcribed each interview during the same semester to start my analysis mid-January. (It’s going ok, not as fast as I’d like it to). To facilitate my analysis, I am using MAXQDA. It’s been really helpful for organizing my data into “categories” and then coding it for specific themes. To help conceptualize this process, I recommend checking out Johnny Saldaña’s book The Coding Manual for Qualitative Researchers.

So in MAXQDA, the project itself creates back up files automatically. You can set this up for everyday or every 12 days. I do every day and I’m glad. The program also automatically saves your project because it’s a database program. It’s like working on a google doc. It just saves your file automatically.

This morning (however) as I’m coding a transcript, I notice one of my participant’s files has zero coded segments. I then went back ~3 weeks to a (automatic back up) and found the coded transcript. I also opened the back up I created yesterday but the transcript wasn’t coded.

So you’re probably wondering why I would title this post “Create (your own back up).” I still think it’s important but what I should have done was checked my document system that all my transcripts had codes in them before creating my own back up. Because I had to go back nearly 3 weeks to find the project with the transcript coded means I didn’t notice it for some time.

To resolve this issue, I opened up the older back up and exported the transcript with the coded segments as if I were a team member working separately. I then imported the transcript with all the codes into my current project file.

If you’re unfamiliar with MAXQDA I created this working document to teach my research assistants how to use the program.

First dissertation post

Last semester I defended by dissertation prospectus which is a major milestone in finishing my PhD. To add some context because only 4.5% of the U.S. population has a PhD, I’ll explain what the process looked like.

In 2017 I entered my linguistics program as a master’s student at Georgetown University. The requirements for my master’s degree was 36 credit hours and a master’s thesis. It took me two years to complete. In my second year, I decided I wanted to stay in school and pursue a PhD in sociolinguistics in the same department at Georgetown. So I reapplied to the program as a PhD student. My reasons for doing so is I thought there was much more I wanted to do. There is a dearth of research on doing language in the military and in my experience there are only a handful of veterans doing it.

So after getting accepted, my credits from my master’s degree transferred over to my PhD requirements. I had to do two more semesters of coursework to meet the 54 credit hour requirement. In addition to the credit hours, I had to do two qualifying papers. These papers should represent your overall research and work quality. I submitted my master’s thesis as my first qualifying paper. In my sixth semester (spring of my 3rd year), I submitted my second qualifying paper. This was the final requirement I needed before being able to prepare for my dissertation.

So during Spring 2020, if you’ve already forgotten – the United States (and really the world) was coping with the collective shock of COVID-19. My original plans for conducting my dissertation research disappeared because of the nationwide shutdowns. Then the Summer of 2020, it was exceptionally difficult to work because I shared the collective outrage about the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Tayler, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless other Black Americans. My thoughts were on contributing to social change in some way.

Montage forward to August and I revisit the idea of military socialization. Since I couldn’t go to bootcamp or basic training (I’m immunocompromised and getting permission would likely take months), I decided to see if I can explore how military indoctrination lingers after a service member leaves the military. So that’s how I arrived at my now dissertation project which is “Constructing institutional identities: How veterans talk about their transition to college.”

Participants in my study are veterans or currently serving from the Navy, Army, and National Guard. I have a total of 7 participants who I interviewed 3 times over the course of their first semester (beginning, middle, and end). Doing so, I hope I’m able to examine some change in how they talk about their experience. In total, I have about 35 hours of interview data and 450 pages of transcript. To help organize and analyze the data, I’m using MAXQDA. Since this is my first time using MAXQDA, I self taught myself and then I taught my two undergraduate research assistants how to use it. It makes collaborating nearly effortless and we’re able to share our work. I created a google doc tutorial as well to document want works for me and other folks who do discourse analysis. It’s a working document as I continue to find out new things about MAXQDA.

So now my blog is caught up with where I am in my PhD.