According to recent studies, most soldiers are OK with the idea of gay comrades in arms, but the generals would have us believe that straight military personnel are trembling with fear at the thought of the elimination of DADT. I am not the only one who has occasionally asked a homophobe "What on earth are you afraid of?" I usually frame this heartfelt question with the explanation that homophobia is irrational. Gay marriage won't destroy straight "traditional" marriage. It won't destroy the "family". Letting gay men and women become ordained priests will not dilute the leadership of churches, nor would it pollute the pristine waters of heaven to affirm the presence of gay post-mortem angelic souls (for them that find comfort in fairy tale endings.) Openly gay military personnel won't cause weak links to form in the chain of command and within the ranks of those who have each other's backs.
Last week, I finally got an answer to my wondering about the basis of fear in the hearts of military brass. The rarely uttered truth is that some generals think that ditching DADT will mean that gay male soldiers will boldly creep into the beds of snoring straight soldiers and fellate them in their sleep.
There you have it. I knew that if we pushed hard enough, we'd eventually get the homophobes to blurt out the ridiculous fear that is at the root of their anxiety about the functioning of the military post-DADT.
Obviously, the real homophobic fear is not that a sleeping soldier will orgasm in the mouth of a gay soldier but that the straight soldier will enjoy gay sex, awake or otherwise. In the minds of homophobes, anti-gay rules constitute a dam that keeps their own guilty desires in check just as much as it keeps gay people in check. Homophobes tremble with fear at what is in their hearts. Let's help them out of their fear by suggesting some new rules for the barracks.
When I first heard the news that the military brass felt the need to study the impact of the repeal of DADT in order to prepare itself for a change more frightening to them than anything they faced in any war, I knew we'd be heading down a laughable road of absurd duplicity. Because we are getting closer to beginning our trip down that terrifically yellow brick road to bunks and showers shared by openly gay and straight warriors, I thought perhaps we ought to help the generals help themselves to an anxiety-free future.
No stranger to shared facilities, I feel qualified and compelled to help our generals assure the safety of our straight soldiers, because really, they are the ones over whom the generals are fretting. They are not really concerned about the wellbeing of the gay soldiers whom they assume will be giddy over the possibility of dropping soap with their comrades. They are worried about the damage to the frail masculinity of straight soldiers who will now be forced to navigate a minefield of polite behavior more treacherous than anything underfoot in Iraq. How will those poor boys manage?
I've got some new rules for the barracks. What do you think?
1) Custody Of The Eyes. Straight soldiers should be reminded that their gay comrades have already seen "it", and it has not yet driven any of them to distracted madness. There is an unspoken suspicion that once DADT is eliminated, straight soldiers won't be able to freely swing their junk about in the privacy of the barracks. Oddly, when the YMCA switched from men-only to co-ed, forcing its members to wear bathing suits while swimming, the heterosexual male members were the loudest objectors. Let's call this the "uneasy intimacy of naked admiration" and let's not deny that this attitude is not universal but common in straight men. Openly gay soldiers will need to be mindful of this uneasiness until, over time (centuries?), it evaporates.
2) Soft-pedaling Sexual Identity. What is often unspoken in the homophobic mind is that there will need to be a wholesale turning to the wall while changing undergear or showering as a result of the repeal of DADT. You can always spot the homophobes at the gym. They are the ones who drop their gym bags in the corner of the weight room rather than enter the dreaded locker room, or, they are the ones who shield themselves from view and glare at the wall tiles while mouthing silent homophobic slurs to the showerhead. These men, civilian or military are to be pitied. The angry and unresolved battles being waged inside their heads will not desist even if gay men continue to masquerade as straight. The repeal of DADT should not be seen as a hunting license for flushing out homophobes with serious sexual identity problems. The repeal of DADT will focus on behavior over mindset.
3) Military Life Demands Superior Behavior. We cannot use the argument that straight men and gay men sharing health club facilities have resolved these shared-facility issues and that the military should simply follow suit. There are significant differences between the two cultures. My gym buddies are not committed to protecting me from a life-threatening enemy. We are not teammates who pledge to support each other to the death. The peaceful coexistence of gay and straight men at a health club is uneasy and with frequent disruptions. Soldiers will have to dig deeper within themselves to find the higher aspects of human nature that will be needed to effect an integration that is efficient rather than begrudged.
4) The Mix Is Never Easy. Although we are often told not to compare the struggle for marriage equality with the struggle for racial integration, I think we can and should look to how the military racially integrated its ranks as we prepare for the integration of openly gay soldiers. There were missteps. Racist soldiers had to set aside some very strong prejudices against racial minorities. The current challenge won't be as difficult given that precedent, but we need to have reasonable expectations for post-DADT barracksular harmony. It will not be a bunk of roses.
5) Learning The Difference Between Private Homophobia and Manifested Homophobia. Phobic behavior will erupt because it is a part of human nature that has not yet been rooted out of us. We distrust strangers. We shoot at the flying saucer before we greet the alien. There will always be friction between straight and openly gay soldiers, just as there will always be friction between the races and between the sexes. The repeal of DADT does not presume the altering of human nature in order for it to achieve success. Homophobic soldiers must be allowed to continue to harbor any misgivings they may have about homosexuality, just as racist soldiers must be allowed to harbor their racist opinions, and Christians their god-fearing opinions, but in all these cases, their behavior and words cannot give evidence of their prejudices. Homophobes will be required to stifle it. When you consider how difficult it is for any civilian to keep his or her mouth shut in common public congress, and how feverishly our culture encourages the open trotting out of our pet demons, I think soldierly heroism post-DADT will consist of knowing how to keep mouths shut in order to build the bonds needed between soldiers. The military should cast a new medal for "Excellence in Toleration".
6) Binding Ourselves To A Higher Standard. Gay soldiers are and will be called upon to go beyond and above ordinary restraint given their comingling with naked men, but this is nothing new. One of the benefits of spending a night in a gay sex club is the revelation that gay men are quite capable of self-control. We have countless verbal and non-verbal indicators governing access to our bodies when we are naked and horny together. Some straight men assume that any dick will attract us and that we will jump anything that can't run faster and that when we see something we really like, we grab it without regard for the feelings of the object of our desires. The straight men who feel this way understand only the notion of the fox in the henhouse. Straight soldiers will learn much from gay soldiers about sexual navigation that will assist them in their approach to straight sex in the post-DADT world. Civilian women in every port will eventually thank gay male soldiers for what straight male soldiers will have learned from them. No, this good side-effect of the post-DADT world will not happen overnight.