Sweet Land of Libertines? Fearmongering over Gays in the Military

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Fearmongering Over Gays in the Military

. . . Then a soldier, Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard, Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel, Seeking the bubble reputation Even in the cannon's mount. --William Shakespeare

When the president of the United States and commander-in-chief of all the military forces declares homosexuals may serve their country in uniform and his own Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously threaten to resign over it, one begins to better understand Groucho Marx's assertion that "military intelligence" is a contradiction in terms.

My perspective is, admittedly, from the straight side. But while I've never been intimate with another man, I did spend three educational years in the U.S. Army (1965 to 1968) as a volunteer. This experience leads me to certain views on the subject that do not reflect those of the Joint Chiefs. (Well, we disagreed over the Vietnam War, too, so this is nothing new.)

Statistics say that I probably lived and worked with at least a dozen or so homosexuals during those three years of barracks life. I wouldn't know. No one in those days ever "came out" of their wall locker (what passes for a closet in a barracks). The fact that I was unaware of their presence demonstrates to me that there should be no intrinsic problems with President Clinton's desire to lift the ban on gays in uniform; all anyone should care about i's getting the job done.

Yet, some otherwise well-spoken, supposedly level-headed men of rank, power, and influence have practically gone into screaming hysterics about it, raising issues of such monumental national importance as, well, dating, dancing, kissing, tent, sharing, and showering with little or no privacy. You know, all the stuff that soldiers are routinely trained for.

To be sure, the inclusion of openly gay soldiers in the ranks will force some people to alter their prejudices and jettison some stereotypes, but this is rarely ever a bad thing, even in a general or admiral.

Standard of Social Etiquette

Soldiers and sailors don't like to take showers with those who like to take showers with soldiers and sailors. --Admiral Thomas H. Moorer

Senator Sam Nunn publicly touched on some trivial socializing points when he protested the president's plan at the end of january. He brought up the subject of formal military social events such as dances. He was serious about this. (Really.) Apparently the concept of same-sex couples tripping the light fantastic at some general's soiree sent a shiver down his spine. Perhaps he envisioned generals Grant and Lee slow-dancing together at Appomatox beneath a disco ball.

Nunn was also clearly shaken by the possibility of public "displays of affection" out of uniform--presumably because things like hand-holding, hugging, kissing, exchanging Valentine's Day cards, or using silly pet names for each other would somehow give the military services a bad image. Apparently, real men don't call each other "sweetie" in ice-cream parlors.

But if the image presented by soldiers out of uniform poses a problem, one must ask: do drunken brawls in bordellos or heterosexual rampages like Tailhook give the military a good image? Or is that something we've just gotten used to?

While I was unaware of the gays around me in the army, the same cannot be said for some of the other "life-style choices" and "orientations" of my fellow freedom fighters. I lived and worked with a wide assortment of men--ranging from gung-ho, jingoistic right-wingers to liberal-minded, well-read, thoughtful professionals. I also served with drunks, deadbeats, dullards, religious zealots, and wife-beaters. Not exactly great tent mates.

Check the military police reports for any given weekend and you'll soon learn that men in uniform are not all saintly choirboys who need to be protected from the unexpected shocks that flesh is heir to. …