Thursday, February 11, 2010

Gaze in the Military

A friend sent me a link to this interesting article at MediaMatters.
WorldNetDaily columnist Mychal Massie advanced the dubious claim that if Don't Ask, Don't Tell were repealed, 25 percent of the military would decline to re-enlist, based on an unnamed poll of "military folks." But Massie's claim is refuted by the experiences of several other countries that lifted their bans on gays and lesbians serving but saw no such re-enlistment reductions, even when earlier polling had predicted such reductions.
Lots of useful information in the rest of the article. I was struck by this quotation from Massie's column:
Why is it so important to Obama to have homosexuals openly identified as such in the armed forces? Sexual orientation is a basic foundation of compatibility in battle. This is not a small issue. It will literally destroy the integrity of combat units, whether they be in the field, onboard ships, in airplane cockpits or in submarines.

A reader who is in a position to know told me that the "last survey among military folks [revealed] that 25 percent won't re-up if this happens. This means that to allow [the] 2 percent of those out there who choose this lifestyle into the military, we'd lose 25 percent of the experienced military folks who have morals."
Oh, really? "Military folks who have morals"? We're talking about an organization dedicated to perpetrating mass violence, or as Arlo Guthrie put it 40-odd years ago: "You wanna know if I'm moral enough to join the army, burn women, kids, houses and villages after being a litterbug." Or as Naomi Klein wrote more recently, about people who fretted that a photograph of an American Marine smoking a cigarette set a bad example to young children,
Yes, that's right: Letter-writers from across the nation are united in their outrage--not that the steely-eyed smoking soldier makes mass killing look cool but that the laudable act of mass killing makes the grave crime of smoking look cool. It reminds me of the joke about the Hasidic rabbi who says all sexual positions are acceptable except for one: standing up, "because that could lead to dancing."
But that's trivial. I was more interested in Massie's rhetorical question, familiar to me from decades of debating homophobes: "Why is it so important to Obama to have homosexuals openly identified as such in the armed forces?" The point of repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell and the prior ban on homosexuals serving in the American armed forces is not to have homosexuals openly identified as such. Many will surely choose not to come out. The important thing is that no one should be penalized when they do, that no one should have to sneak around for fear of being discharged or imprisoned. It also means, for those who care about American military effectiveness, that the US armed forces will not have to deprive themselves of qualified personnel because they turn out to be gay. (The ouster of gay translators expert in Arabic has been something of a scandal since the first Gulf War.)

This has nothing to do with Obama. The justice of the ban on gays in the military has been under attack for a long time. Allan Berube's important book Coming Out Under Fire, Arthur Dong's documentary based on it, and Randy Shilts's book Conduct Unbecoming were important in showing the participation of gay men and women in the US military throughout the 20th century. As the rest of the MediaMatters article shows, there is no reason to believe Massie's unsourced claim that lifting the ban will cause an exodus of "military folks with morals" (giggle snort), based on the experience of other countries that have permitted homosexuals to serve. And I agree that gay people should have the same right as heterosexuals to participate in aggression against the people of other nations -- burning women, kids, houses and cities after being sodomites and sapphists.

Gay visibility has been a sore point for bigots ever since I can remember. I came out, in various senses of the word, in 1971, and have often fielded questions from straights and gays alike who just couldn't understand why I couldn't be discreet about my sexuality, the way heterosexuals are. That modest request has always struck me funny, since heterosexuality is anything but invisible in American society, including the military. It's probably not surprising that straights are unconscious of their inability to shut up about their sex lives, but it still startles me that so many gay people can't see it. When I point it out to them, they commonly respond that we shouldn't sink to Their level, turning straights from Role Models to Bad Examples in the flap of a wrist. And while I have no objection myself to public orgies, by "gay visibility" I mean nothing more blatant or radical than declining to pass for straight. During a recent Facebook dust-up over Proposition 8, someone about my age wrote to me that he had no problem with gays as long as we don't "put it in the street", whatever that means. I suspect he meant nothing more or less than secretiveness, shame, and vulnerability to being outed by bigots at their pleasure. No, thanks. Whatever my objections to gay patriots, I don't want them to be subject to official homophobic repression. If anyone is going to pick on them, it should be me.

P.S. A reader pointed out that the first link led to the wrong article; fixed.