This is a new one. The military has to ban gays so that its soldiers can indulge in homoeroticism, The Daily Beast's Brendan Tapley writes. In every other social setting, men are straight-jacketed in their relationships with each other, unable to form the bonds that only 100 years ago were proudly celebrated as love. "Paradoxical though it may sound," Tapley writes, Don't Ask Don't Tell "actually ensures is that men still have a place to experience male-male intimacy without being called gay."
When homosexuality became more open, "it became masculinity's foil, its antithesis," and "fraternization was now equated with gayness," Tapley writes. Men fear being labeled effeminate if they get too close to other men.
If nothing else, enlisting as a soldier makes one's credentials as a man irrefutable. And those credentials offer a powerful alibi, or cover, for strong male connection. Soldiers can act on correcting the modern vacuum of male intimacy without paranoia or self-consciousness, without arousing prejudice or suspicion. They can pursue it with carefree gesture and intent and still be, in a word, men. Whether that pursuit occurs in the group shower, on the battlefield, or in more banal circumstances, hardly matters. What matters is that, in finally being available, this rarest of outlets isn't taken away from men.
Ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell threatens this because in bringing even a hint of homosexuality into this community, a man must once more lead that paranoid, self-conscious existence. He must worry--whether he tells another guy he loves him or snaps a towel at him--that either could break the code of 21st-century maleness, which says a man can't make such gestures or have such intentions. The prospect of losing a fortress as happily time-warped as the military is terrifying to men because it means the hunger strike for real male bonding, not its sitcom version, must go on.
(Note: Your humble aggregator would like to express her puzzlement at the seeming obsession with "group showers" on both sides of the argument over gays in the military, as soldiers are now generally afforded the luxury of shower stalls, even in Iraq and Afghanistan.)
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.