While touring the decommissioned military installation on Governor's Island (in the East River, New York) last weekend, I kept seeing the ghosts of the soldiers who once lived and worked there. I found myself thinking about our nieces and nephews whom we've known since birth and who enlisted soon after high school. They'd go in as typical, slightly out-of-shape kids, and they'd reappear a year later whipped into terrific condition, full of energy and mentally alert. We'd all rejoice in the transformation and conclude that the military can be a good experience for some aimless youth.
This led me to think about what the military experience can be for an aimless gay youth who, aside from needing the discipline that military life affords, must acquire self-confidence and a positive self-perception. Under the current Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, that growth is not really possible. What if there were an all-gay branch of the military? Wouldn't that be a good thing? I began to mumble about this to my husband while taking photos of empty barracks and officers' homes slated for demolition.
He reminded me of the ancient Band of Thebes/Army of Lovers which had been filed in my head under "erotic fantasy" rather than "useful communal structure".
With this in mind, I'd like to suggest that an all-gay branch of the military might not be such a bad thing. There is a difference between clustering the like-minded and sequestering/quarantining a minority group. If gay men and women were given the choice between joining an all-gay regiment or unit or battalion or joining one that did not differentiate by sexual preference, a large number would certainly opt for the gay one. This is not so different from joining a fraternity on a college campus that has as its focus sports, music or math or some other common emphasis. I am not talking about forced segregation, as was the case for African American soldiers and baseball players before those barriers were dismantled. I am talking about the mutual support and strength derived from natural clustering. For many of us, there is comfort and enjoyment derived from living in a gayborhood or gay ghetto, going to a gay church or a gay gym. It's not that we need those things. It's just that we like the dynamic of those places.
I can't even begin to consider the entirely pornographic possibilities of a group of men in the prime of their lives working, training, fighting, sleeping and showering together without entirely wrecking my train of thought, but that vision is not without merit or precedent, if Plutarch is to be given any credence when he describes the soldiers of that ancient society. The prurient aspect of this military model is where even the gay community splits itself into two groups: the one that wants the yoke of traditional marriage with its purported restrictions of sex as exclusively coupled, and the other that is comfortable with a communal sexuality that allows for romantic couplings and allegiances that are not offended by casual sex beyond the boundaries of those liaisons.
The Band of Thebes seemed to be based on the premise of lovers supporting each other but we do not read about monogamy as emblematic of the success of that group. I think a modern day all-gay military unit would probably allow for a good amount of communal but safe sex as well as strong romantic allegiances and friendships both sexual and non-sexually expressed, both exclusive and open.
As we left Governor's Island on the ferry back to Manhattan, I concluded that the mere mention of this concept is almost always met with derision, so bent are we on becoming mainstreamed and white-washed and straightened and entirely PC. But, as you can see, I have mentioned it, and you are all free to unsheathe your knives and have at it.
Before you trash the concept, try to imagine a generation of energized, healthy, productive, disciplined gay citizens who would exit the military fortified by their all-gay tours of duties and ready to become civilian leaders not tied down to hetero-regulatory structures and prescriptions and dialects that are not, and never will be, a natural fit for the gay community. If a gay general came back from a foreign war having led an all-gay unit with valor and courage and wisdom, wouldn't our gay communities and organizations benefit exceedingly from the civic leadership of such a one?
Someday, I suspect we'll see the common sense in this, but unfortunately, I will be (and already am) too old to enlist when that day comes along. Meanwhile, an army of lovers is just a hot midsummer night's dream.