A Navy officer's gravestone with a poly infinity heart. The story behind it.
On this beautiful Memorial Day weekend, you may be visiting a cemetery. And if you happen to be visiting the Historic Congressional Cemetery by the Anacostia River in Washington DC, two spots of color on a certain headstone may catch your poly eye.
The stone is that of US Navy Commander Alyce Grillet. She died last year at age 47 of colon cancer, at her home in Alexandria, Virginia, after a nearly 20-year military career.
There is a story.
Her obituary noted the details of record: Her career included a variety of roles in naval aviation support, including 19 months aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson during the Iraq War. "She was promoted to the rank of Commander in 2016 and reported to the Commander Fleet Readiness Center at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, where she served as Personnel Military Director. Her last assignment was as Officer in Charge and Maintenance Officer at the Fleet Readiness Center Mid-Atlantic Detachment Washington at Joint Base Andrews."
And there was some more: "She leaves behind a jaw-dropping collection of personal artwork, focusing in her later years on the medium of permanent marker on canvas. She was a prolific reader of non-fiction, specifically “geeking out” on relationship psychology as game theory, and spiritually identifying as a Chaos-magic Buddhist. She was a community organizer in Memphis and Norfolk and taught classes in Relationship Dynamics and Non-Violent Communication. She helped lead Naval Air Systems Command’s Patuxent River LGBTQIA+ Advisory Team.
"In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to OutServe-SLDN ['advancing fairness and equality for the LGBTQ military and veteran community'] and the Semper Fi Fund ['to assist wounded veterans in all branches of the US Armed Forces'], or to your local LGBTQIA charitable organization."
Her grave is located in the Historic Congressional Cemetery's noted "Gay Corner," at the intersection of its Ingles Street and Henderson Street. According to the cemetery's LGBT walking-tour brochure, the Congressional Cemetery "is believed to be the world’s only cemetery with a Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender section. Although earlier LGBT burials are located in the Cemetery, the 'Gay Corner' began in 1988 with Leonard Matlovich." (Matlovich was the Air Force Technical Sergeant who outed himself in 1975 to challenge the military’s ban on gay service, the first US service member to do so.)
Grillet "was an energizing whirl of charisma, intellect and passion for life," wrote a co-worker at the Patuxent Naval Air Station in Maryland.
Another naval air colleague wrote, "Please know that your contributions have been significant and will appreciated well into the future by people who will never have had the pleasure of meeting or even knowing about you. You made a difference."
I know about this because, as it happens, my wife Sparkle Moose is old friends with a friend of Grillet's. He writes:
We met at a spiritual gathering, talked for a bit, exchanged email addresses, and hugged twice. That’s it. I left home the next week, on my way to Afghanistan. Corresponding began before I left the country. Images, thoughts, questions and answers — some trite, others touching on what “queer” meant to her. Communication progressed for the next three to four months. Then things changed. She had just started an important transition career course when she got a diagnosis of advanced stage cancer.
I returned on leave from Afghanistan days after she died but in time to attend her memorial service. When her headstone was installed on Memorial Day weekend 2019, I was still in the hospital recovering from a bicycle crash. I finally got in to see it in September, and knew of the words — but the symbols made it all the more powerful.
The military is now on board with gay rights. But polyamory, no matter how ethically and honorably carried out, is still grounds for court-martial and dismissal from the services, with loss of all benefits including retirement, if a superior finds out and has it in for you.1
But displaying it on your gravestone? Now, she is beyond their reach.
And under the Navy emblem she put, "All should be free to love."
When Brian Crabtree created the first infinity-heart symbol for polyamory back in the 1990s, he could not have known all the places where it might someday land.
|The Congressional Cemetery in spring|
1. Among the grounds for court-martialing someone for being in a group relationship are adultery, even if one's spouse is consenting, willing, and part of the relationship; or the catch-alls of "undermining good order and discipline" or "bringing discredit on the armed forces."
In practice, I'm told, if they want to keep you they'll ignore it unless you're too public about it. But if a superior doesn't like you, or is morally offended by the idea of multiple love, you have no defense and you are toast.
– A reader tells us, "Alyce was the founder of Norfolk Polyamory."
– From another: "I'm retiring from the Navy after twenty years of service this summer, and I can attest that what you said is true. Poly doctors in the Navy have told me polyamory is more common in the Navy than society as a whole, but it's always kept quiet for fear of having a bible-thumping boss who will kick you out."
– Does anyone know the exact meaning of the emblem on the stone's top left? I do not find this image anywhere on the web. The rainbow triangle of course is gay pride. I'm guessing that when presented on a white background in a sky-blue circle, it signifies LGBT aviation. Anybody know?