Thursday, February 4, 2010

Don't Ask Me

Did you know the "don't ask, don't tell" policy of the United States Armed Services is actually the "don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue, don't harass" policy? Yeah! I didn't either. By any other name, it smells as stale.

Here is the thing about repealing da/dt: it's a little like waiting to have kids until one can afford it - if you do that, you'll never become a parent. And the question, regarding repeal, isn't "do we want kids", but "when". The Brass themselves have made this clear (for a while). So.

How long are we supposed to worry about disapproval/discomfort regarding the honest humanity of men (and women, but we'll get to this point too) who choose to serve? Why should THIS discomfort outrank - har har - the discomfort of people who are asked to deny their humanity? I hear the predicament stated often enough, but it's impossible to accept the objectivity of the people who're most concerned vocal about it. I also think the people complaining aren't those in the actual position they're so eager to preserve.

Why should presumptions favor bigotry? When senior leadership in the Armed Services now clearly states that repeal is *possible* and *necessary* ... why on earth do people *outside* the context argue? Why do they think it's their voices which should be heard, even?

The presumed value or superiority of coddling the fears of the bigoted over the trusting of people to behave in a certain way, when we trust them with such overpowering responsibility, is baffling. To rate the ... qualms ... of one set of people over the *humanity* of others cannot be justified morally. Especially morally.

Questions regarding "The Gays" ability to contribute as soldiers tend to be framed by a certain segment of the population who (a) do not currently, and perhaps never have nor will, participate in the armed services, and who (b) have ulterior motives which have little to do with the real practicalities at hand, though they like that cloak an awful lot to justify repression.

Human beings continue to exist in all walks of life - certain types (regardless of closets) aren't handily boxed up between bouts with your personal political, or otherwise freighted, outlook upon them - but if you walk in any locker room, there sure isn't a third (or fourth, for that matter) option for segregating us beyond by two commonly accepted genders. Life inside the military isn't a separate universe: but da/dt operates somewhat as if it were, or would be if honesty were sanctioned.

Additionally, it's interesting (and telling) that the only protest here really seems to be related to male personnel - what the straight men will have to "deal with", as if it's some sort of terrifying imposition to accept other human beings on their terms. Though this is often paired with trumped-up concern for those who are so threating to them, we all know where the weight sits on that particular scale. I haven't heard word one about the danger these two groups of WOMEN pose to one another, nor any squeamishness on that analagous front. This damns the whole outrage as gay panic, pure and simple. It's hysterical, to choose an intentionally gender-implications-loaded word for it. Ahem.

Most cultures around the world have long since given up the perception that women who are not subjected to the strictest controls are necessarily a gang of rapacious, innocent-man-luring sexual traps. Likewise, there's no reason to imagine a gay man, who by the time he hits military service, will have had to deal with high school gyms and chauvinists and generally existing in the world, is any more of a hazard to the men around him.

For that matter, gay men (and women too!) don't spring up fully formed at the age of eighteen. They go to sleepovers and shower in gyms just like the rest of us, and I'd venture so far as to say they occasionally develop several clues about "behavior" well before that age, too.

The issue here is less "dearie me, dreary old sex" than it is the denial of a person's very being. It isn't "what if a gay man comes to be interested in a soldier who isn't (or, for that matter, who is)". It's what the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said this week: there is no valid reason to expect anyone in the military to deny who they are. Morally, repression of identity is at the heart of da/dt, not the supposed-ramifications of acknowledging that identity.

To presume that soldiers who are willing to die for their countries re less willing to avoid taking their lives in their own hands acting inappropriately with the "wrong" comrade (or to avoid just being jerkweeds to their comrades in arms) is an irrelevant game of pearl-clutchery more centered on fear than it is on practicalities.

Another way to frame it is to pose the question of who generally make better solders - homosexuals or bigots. The territorial aspect of who gets precedence, who has more right to concession, whose rights or comfort outrank the others? The liberal in me says "no way it's the narrowminded idiot", of course. But even the more conservative thinking I am capable of has to wonder, why should there be any presumption that the guy who's insecure and scared gets the consideration *in the armed services* of all ironic contexts? "They were there first" doesn't compel me as an answer and conclusion.

Just because making this change would be HARD doesn't mean it shouldn't be done. And the guys who're going to do it don't deny it's difficult. But they're in the doing-difficult-things business. They do what most of us never will.

The services are not the same entities they were even just twenty years ago. Military figures of the stature of Colin Powell and two Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (one past - four-star General John Shalikashvili, and one present - Admiral Mike Mullen) are behind this issue now. Two Secretaries of Defense, William Cohen AND Robert Gates, are pro-repeal. Retired and current military personnel alike, from all branches, have demonstrated continued support, always increasing in the years since da/dt. A 2006 poll stated that SEVENTY-THREE percent of military respondents indicated they were comfortable in the presence of gay or lesbian personnel, and in the intervening several years that number may well have gone even higher. This stat represents *military* respondents, those people to whom this question is actually perhaps relevant, insofar as the sexual orientation of ANY person must be judged as "relevant" to total strangers.

Today, as then (1993), the real question is not whether sexual minorities can be successfully integrated into the military. The social science data answered this question in the affirmative then, and do so even more clearly now. Rather, the issue is whether the United States is willing to repudiate its current practice of antigay discrimination and address the challenges associated with a new policy."
Gregory M. Herek, PhD, research psychologist

It's this man's job to find problems, and his consistent finding for these seventeen years has been that "there is no evidence of disruption or loss of mission effectiveness", a phrase the clarity of which is irreproachable, and which he repeats in context after context regarding the policy. Research touching this subject goes back fifty-six years at least. And research informs our senior military personnel: Would it be hard? Maybe. But can it be *done*? YES. Even public opinion polling never indicates a majority determined against repeal.

At the end of the day, we give these people massive weaponry and entrust to them the very wellbeing of our country. That we can't trust them not to behave in other ways seems, if not outright ugly, at least a little quaint at this point.

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