Out in the Bay: USAF veteran Lauren Hough: 'Leaving Isn't The Hardest Thing'

  • by Eric Jansen
  • Thursday November 10, 2022
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Lauren Hough, then 20, relaxes for a moment in U.S. Air Force tech school, Mississippi, 1997. Photo: Courtesy Lauren Hough
Lauren Hough, then 20, relaxes for a moment in U.S. Air Force tech school, Mississippi, 1997. Photo: Courtesy Lauren Hough

In a queer nod to Veterans Day, Out in the Bay Queer Radio + Podcast this week presents a re-airing of an interview with writer Lauren Hough. She grew up in the infamous Christian cult The Family, which her pacifist father had joined around 1970 to dodge the Vietnam War draft. When she turned 18, Hough fled to the Air Force, where she got anti-lesbian death threats and her car was set on fire.

The Air Force court-martialed Hough, accusing her of torching her own car. The military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, in place from 1994 to 2011, kept her from citing the homophobic death threats in her defense. Her book of essays, "Leaving Isn't The Hardest Thing" (2021), details this and other horrors, with scathing critiques on U.S. society tempered with sardonic humor.

Hough spent much of her childhood moving around the world at the cult's direction and navigating its ever-changing rules. Punishment for an angry outburst was to be silent for a full month; another time, when they decided she wore pants too much, she had to wear skirts for a month, even while playing.

"That annoyed the crap out of me, because you can't climb trees in a skirt," said Hough. "They were constantly on me for being a little dyke. They didn't call it that, but they prayed against my homosexual spirit a whole lot."

After five years in the Air Force, Hough had trouble finding work because of her "Homosexual Admission" discharge. She slept in her car in Washington, D.C., until she finally landed a job as a bouncer at a gay bar.

Hough reads from her work and talks about "life in the margins," where she says too many people in the U.S. dwell, on this week's Out in the Bay (first broadcast in 2021). After her USAF service, Hough was homeless for a while; was incarcerated briefly; and worked as a bouncer, a barista, a bartender and a "cable guy" before becoming a professional writer.

Some of her essays address society's "vile" treatment of poor people. Restaurants, she writes, pour bleach on garbage bags to discourage the hungry from rummaging through them for food. Cities outlaw homeless people camping.

"What are you supposed to do in this country if you don't have a home?" Hough asked. "It's in our anti-homeless architecture: park benches with spikes so you can't sit or lie on them. There's an entire industry behind making sure we don't see homeless people.

Hear Lauren Hough on this week's Out in the Bay — Queer Radio + Podcast. The program airs at 5 p.m. Veterans Day, Friday, November 11, on KALW, 91.7 FM SF Bay Area-wide, and again at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, November 12, on KSFP, 102.5 FM SF only. It is available anytime on Out in the Bay's website.

Eric Jansen is founding host of Out in the Bay — Queer Radio from San Francisco. Learn more and listen here.

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