Gays in the Military: Texts and Subtexts
Female Caller: "The biggest tragedy would be having two men in dress [unintelligible] dancing in, you know, in the Marine Corps Ball. I'm serious, to see two men dancing at the Marine Corps Ball. I mean which one is gonna wear the dress?"1
In his presidential campaign, Bill Clinton announced that if elected to office, he would issue an executive order lifting the ban on gays in the military. He was, he did, and all hell broke loose. This intense resistance to acknowledging the historical and contemporary reality of gays in the military is often criticized as a homophobic response. 2 Surely this is part of the story, but the military nonetheless has always had many homosexual soldiers. 3 Many assume that allowing homosexuals in the military is a recent, radical departure from standard practice, but in fact it is the prohibition of homosexuals in the military that is a recent event: The U.S. armed forces have had policies prohibiting homosexuals from serving only since the beginning of World War II.
Prior to World War II, the military considered sodomy a criminal act (sodomy defined as anal, and sometimes oral, sex between men), and any man convicted of it, whether heterosexual or homosexual, could be imprisoned. But the military never officially screened, excluded, or discharged homosexuals as a class of people until the mobilization for World War II. That exclusion policy was a product of the expansion of the psychiatric profession's authority in the military.
At that time, the rationale was that the psychiatric screening of recruits for mental disorders [of which homosexual orientation was only one among many] would enhance the psychiatric profession's prestige, as well as be less costly to