After 18 long years, Don't Ask, Don't Tell has finally fallen, but there's still an anxiety that makes us treat gay relationships differently
Last week, the 18-year embarrassment of Don't Ask, Don't Tell came to an end. Throughout the United States Armed Forces, lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members were finally allowed to disclose the truth about their identities and relationships to those that they've served alongside in silence for years. Many took the opportunity to introduce colleagues to partners they had kept secret since enlisting.
As far as large swaths of America are concerned, LGB people are only acceptable when we pass for straight in public.
Unsurprisingly, there was no rush on recruitment centers on the morning of Tuesday, September 20, the day the military began accepting applications to enlist from openly lesbian, gay, and bisexual people. (LGB; I'm leaving out the T because the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell is not a victory for the trans community. Being transsexual or transgendered is still grounds for dishonorable discharge.) That enlistment did not increase suggests that most of the LGB Americans who want to be in the military already are. Neither Don't Ask, Don't Tell nor the outright ban on homosexuals prior to 1992 were actually keeping people from serving for reasons of sexuality. Anyone who cared deeply enough about serving his or her country -- or anyone who wanted the job for other reasons -- would omit any mention of non-standard orientation, or, in earlier years, simply lie.
Sadly, many in the LGB community are used to keeping this sort of information to themselves when they believe it can threaten their livelihoods. As far as large swaths of American society are concerned, LGB people are only acceptable when we hide that facet of our lives and pass for straight in public. I won't go so far as to say that we are required to lie about who we are -- my sexual preference and romantic relationship are an important part of my identity, but they are not the whole of it -- but downplaying our deviation from the norm is expected and consistently enforced. Many of us refrain from so much as holding hands in front of others, and have learned to perform the most convoluted syntactical acrobatics so as to avoid mentioning the gender of our partners in conversation. So, if forced to choose between pursuing a career we want and being honest about our sexual preference, it's not surprising that many of us have opted to get comfortable in the closet.
Since Don't Ask, Don't Tell never kept LGB Americans out of the military, but only caused them and their partners stress and heartache, why are social conservatives calling for its reinstatement? Why have Republican presidential candidates Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty declared that if elected, they would attempt to bring DADT back from the dead? The policy didn't prevent homosexuals from serving -- hardly a laudable goal in the first place, but if gay and lesbian service members were an actual threat to unit cohesion, the armed forces would have felt the ill effects long before now. If gay men were unable to restrain themselves from sexually assaulting their straight colleagues (a central component of anti-gays-in-the-military rhetoric), they would already be doing so. They would have been doing so this whole time. Given that there always have been, and always will be, LGB individuals serving in the armed forces, what do the proponents of this now-defunct policy actually hope to achieve?