Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A guest post

A friend of ours, Nicole, wrote a really good essay about the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in the military. I asked if I could share it here and so, with her permission, here it is:


Don't Ask, Don't Tell 
I get nervous on stairs; my heart races dangerously when I feel
someone walking too closely behind me; I'm out of shape and
prone more to dialogue than action. I am no soldier.

I don't have the resolve to put on armor to face not only an 
enemy's bullet, but a citizen's disdain. If that citizen is the 
one on foreign soil, I imagine it's frustrating and confusing; 
if that citizen is one of your countrymen, I imagine it's 
enraging and heart wrenching. My deepest hope is that 
the latter is infrequent because though I may be your 
ideological opposite, I am grateful for your ability and 
willingness to act on behalf of those who will not and cannot.

Just as I am no soldier, I cannot envision a soldier's life. Intense 
training against imaginary opponents leading to life-threatening deployment against real threats. Pepper that with a lot of down 
time where your military company becomes family and your 
ability to get along with and trust your colleagues could mean 
the difference between life and death. When times are quiet, 
you're left to prepare and live in conditions that are, at best, 
not like home and, at worst, hostile and primitive. I imagine 
the lag time is when you build bonds and seek out soldiers 
whose personalities, ideologies and training you trust most 
to keep close and watch your back.

However, there are those in the company, just as with any 
situation, whose behaviors and skills you don't respect as much. 
But, barring anything truly egregious, you move forward because 
you put trust into the training you were given and a soldier's ability 
to put aside differences in times of war. As bullets fly, I assume 
you will fight with and for that soldier as wholeheartedly as your 
best buddy. And then, once that battle is won and your nerves 
restore, you align yourself again with your closest allies to heal 
and de-stress but, possibly, look to that other soldier and his ability 
to serve and survive with more respect.

Again, I'm no soldier and I will never fully understand the 
bonds created and the necessity for company cohesion that 
exists when lives are at stake. But I think civilians look to 
soldiers to uphold a certain sense of decorum and dignity 
just as we would a civil servant like a police officer or 
firefighter. And maybe that's unfair; maybe we should 
acknowledge that soldiers are often young and venturing 
beyond their parent's doorstep for the first time. Maybe we 
should forgive their brashness as a mere symptom of the 
toughness it takes to be in combat. And I get that, I do; I think 
that it takes a certain machismo (both in men and women) 
to risk your own life for such an intangible thing as 'freedom'. 
I think it would take someone or something pushing me to my 
limits for me to take up arms against another person, but even 
with my beliefs I do believe war is sometimes necessary. But 
these men and women enter the service with free will and, 
mostly, under conditions of stateside peace. I respect them 
for that.

I respect each and every one of them for that; black and white, 
male and female, younger and older, Christian and Muslim, 
gay and straight. Each and every one of them has left their 
homes and their families in search of careers, stability, honor, 
service and love of country. But, we are currently at a crossroads 
within our military with Obama's promise to repeal Don't Ask, 
Don't Tell and there are those that fear this decision will change 
the entire makeup of the U.S. military. To them I want to ask...
and explain...so very much.

I want to understand how they think a person's sexuality affects 
their pride in their country; if anything, a gay citizen might be 
forgiven by many for having lost respect in the U.S. as a beacon 
of freedom and hope. But the gay soldier is still willing to 
serve a country that does not always serve him.

I want to understand how they believe a person's sexual 
orientation itself could cause commotion in the barracks; if 
anything, it is the miseducation and fear-mongering surrounding homosexuality that would lead to incidents rather than the 
gay soldier's actions. I've read today comparisons between
homosexuality and pedophilia; I've read today that the 
straight soldiers should fear gay men in the shower; I've read 
today that if gay men are allowed to share quarters with 
straight men then they should just mix the genders because 
it'd be like having a woman in there anyway.

When you read such things, it's so disturbing and deflating to 
all the supposed progress our community has made in the 
past few decades. In 2010, we're still comparing two adults 
engaging in consensual sex or enjoying loving relationships 
to an adult preying on children. In 2010, there is still a 
pervasive idea that gay men are attracted to each and every
man or that lesbian women will be after you merely because 
you're a woman. There is no furthered understanding that our
preferences are not tied to gender, but that gender is tied to 
our preferences.

And in 2010, there is an undercurrent of belief that homosexuals 
are hedonistic and immoral people who have no self-control 
over their sexual impulses. As if any soldier, gay or straight, 
trained to use high- powered weaponry to defend his country 
couldn't keep control over his hard-on. Every soldier faces 
the most extreme factions on foreign soil; they are our defenders, 
but also our diplomats and I expect them to act with a sense of 
understanding that they are the symbol of our nation to people 
that have potentially heard nothing good. I expect that of our
soldiers and if, under those circumstances they can remain 
calm and rational, I definitely expect the same should a gay 
soldier offer to take them out for dinner.

When women were finally allowed to serve in combat, some 
of these same arguments were given. The male soldiers wouldn't 
be able to stay focused if female pheromones were in the air; 
that the masculine bonding that occurs when women aren't present 
would be disrupted and lives would be lost; that the women 
wouldn't be safe on long deployments and how could the men 
be expected to control their impulses.

And, granted, there have been too many instances of sexual 
assault in the military and gender biases are still prevalent but, 
overall, the integration has been successful for one reason: 
there are bigger issues at hand than libido and your own 
personal ideology. I think, implemented carefully, the repeal 
of DADT will be a positive change for our military for the
same reason. And should any soldier not hold themselves to 
that expected sense of decorum and dignity, gay or straight, 
may they incur the legal and civil punishment given by a 
court of law. When you're called to serve, you are chosen 
for your ability to complete a mission. You are called because 
you have the appropriate weapons training or linguistic education 
or science background and, should the world work how it is 
supposed to, the most talented in these areas will be chosen 
for those skills alone.

But, of course, the process will be slow. Soldiers acknowledge, 
and take pride, that military foundations are built on tradition 
and conservative values. There are codes of conduct that 
exist in the books and ones that remain unspoken but adhered 
to as if written in blood. It will take brave soldiers to step 
forward and lead the way for the gay and lesbian soldiers
that wait for calmer seas; it will take top Brass, , both active 
and retired, stepping forward and claiming their sexuality; it 
will take strong straight allies who educate and advocate on 
behalf of their gay brothers and sisters in arms. It will take years.

For those that feel the 'gay agenda' is being pushed down their 
throats, I ask you to step outside your own beliefs for a short 
period and look up heterosexual privilege. Just like white 
privilege or male privilege, it explores the unspoken advantages 
that a majority enjoys without even considering them to be 
advantages. You've heard so many in other civil rights discussions; 
the ability to walk down the street at night without being fearful 
(male privilege), the ability to walk through a department store 
without being watched more closely (white privilege) and the
ability to talk about your partner in your workplace (heterosexual
privilege).

I'm far from the most P.C. person you'll ever meet; I have my 
biases and discriminations that I feed and I fight but when 
pushed I always come back to the thought "even if that person 
really wasn't being discriminated against, they 'felt' they were 
and that has to have a huge impact on their psyche". That's just 
my way of keeping myself in check when I want to rail against 
someone's call of misogyny or racism or homophobia (yes, I
get mad about this one too). But, step outside yourself and try 
to feel, truly feel, what it would feel like to be judged for 
something over which you have no control (and I'm not getting 
into 'choice' discussions here re: homosexuality).

Now, try to imagine what that would feel like with bullets 
whizzing by and 'freedom' on the line.

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