Posts Tagged ‘Military’

Last week, a veteran came to speak to my American studies class about his experience in the US military. This dude was young — I’d say about late 20s, early 30s — but also an experienced soldier, having served oversees for almost ten years. He told us he enlisted as soon as possible, has been stationed all over the world and plans on making a career out of being a soldier. For me, his talk stirred up some complicated emotions concerning masculinity, patriotism, sexuality and my own prejudices.

First of all, the guy was hot. He was dressed in khakis and a pale blue Oxford, with buzzed blond hair and blue eyes. Tall, bulging arms — everything you’d expect from an experienced soldier. His swagger and wide stance evoked images of basic training, firing ranges, football fields, gay porn locker room scenes. This guy was all muscle and coiled energy, and you could feel the class react when he walked into the room. We were impressed. He looked like G.I. Joe.

So already I’m feeling weird. Here’s this guy, the ideal American man with a perfect physique, masculine features, serving in the U.S. military — and then cut to me. Tall and lanky, pale and concave with long hair and concealer on my chin. True opposites. In our society’s opinion, this guy is the paradigm of man, and much cultural pressure works toward getting a guy like me to become a guy like him. He’s what Men’s Fitness wants me to look like.

In my case, there’s pressure coming from gay culture trying to convince me to want to sleep with him, and the pressure increases once he opens his mouth. The southern accent, something I still can’t disassociate from conservativism and homophobia, completes his persona. I see him as a walking, talking representation of every notion of red-blooded America: deeply patriotic, uneducated, blindly passionate about war. And this type of man has been excessively colonized and fetishized by various media. Just look at the Village People or gay porn or high fashion editorials for examples of the masculine muscle stud look. Gay or straight, he’s everywhere, and he’s often portrayed as or implied to be uneducated and of a low economic class. And he’s usually white.

Anyway, all that stuff is influencing my opinions about our guest speaker. I’m attracted to him on a physical level, yeah, but it’s a hollow attraction. I’m aware of my attraction as nothing more than a direct result of being told again and again that masculine men are the epitome of male hotness in America, and that you can’t get much better than the super-straight, strong-jawed southern stud. So my prepackaged attraction is one I try to challenge throughout this guy’s presentation, knowing that within its structure I’m again left out. I’m no muscle stud, so it hurts to think that my gay peers are told repeatedly to lust after the Brawny Man.

The stuff this guy talked about also inspired in me all kinds of different complicated feelings. He described raiding houses in Afghanistan, dodging bullets and explosives, killing “bad guys” (his words). He talked about his excitement to kill people, his aggression on the battlefield, his “hardness” and disconnect upon reentry into civilian life. However, I had trouble feeling any sort of sympathy or connection with a man I saw as a brutal warrior. He approached the subject of killing and battle with a glee I found deeply off-putting. I understand that war is unconscionable to most people, especially those of us who have never held an AK-47 or worn body armor or ridden in a camouflaged tank.  But I still found it impossible to find honor in the business of murder, especially when presented in such a jocular and sarcastic way.

I felt further excluded by his use of “guy talk” throughout his presentation. He cussed, used slang, made jokes about drinking and shooting guns, all strategies that created a “manly” feel in the room. For instance, at one point during his talk, he showed a series of pictures of an enemy fort that he and his troop members had destroyed during a battle. Without warning, charred body parts flashed on the screen, strewn on the sandy road around the fort. Our presenter said, “I hope none uh y’all guys got weak stomachs” as he continued to show us about ten more images of dead Afghanis.

First, I do have a weak stomach, and these images are potentially triggering. A disclaimer should have been given beforehand, and to give one halfway through is unacceptable. Second, to couch the warning in “manly” language makes the warning a challenge, as if it would be unmanly to raise a hand and ask him to stop. He phrased his warning as a joke by implying that of course everyone in the room could “take it,” making it impossible for any of us to voice a protest without coming across as pussies.

After the presentation, there was room for some quick Q&A, which turned into a pretty eye-opening moment in terms of how the class had been reacting to this guy. Throughout the semester, we’ve focused our attention solely on the culture of war and paid no attention to military strategy or weaponry. We learn about social institutions surrounding the military, not the details of battle or the technology employed by soldiers on the field. However, almost every question asked by my classmates was along the lines of, “Whoa, that’s a cool gun in that picture. What kind is it?” It was fascinating to see my classmates try to “man up” to the soldier and ask what I considered to be pretty pedestrian questions.

Because here’s the thing. Most of the people in my class are guys, and most of the guys have only ever experienced war through video games. Here we are sitting under fluorescent lights in a college classroom, avoiding critical questions about war or war culture and instead relying on what we’ve learned from “Call of Duty.” I not only felt excluded from the “guy talk,” but also paralyzed. I didn’t feel as though I could rise to the occasion and ask a bro-y question about guns or armor just as I couldn’t raise my slender, effeminate hand and ask the nice man with the projector to please stop showing us icky pictures of dead people. I couldn’t draw on everything I’d learned so far in this course to ask a question that might further my understanding of what it means to be a soldier today, because I was worried I’d come off as a privileged academic, unable to hide my pacifist politics from a man who is not a college graduate and who has chosen to make this stuff his career.

So I found myself perpetuating the disconnectedness between veteran and civilian. How could I connect with this guy on any sort of human level when, if I had my way, he’d be out of a job? I hate war, do not find it charming or romantic or thrilling in any way – and yet I’m sitting here listening to this guy geek out about raiding homes and killing “bad guys.” Leaving the classroom, I wondered what this said about me as an American. Am I unpatriotic for not following the advice of a thousand yellow bumper stickers and supporting our troops? Am I, or people like me, guilty of causing mental and emotional problems for countless veterans? Am I a bad feminist for not raising my hand and voicing my concerns about the violent images he showed our class? Am I bad gay man in for a life of sexual frustration for finding this hunk attractive, then questioning that attraction until it becomes so removed and abstract that it becomes meaningless?

And where does this leave me? I feel like in this situation I don’t know how to do anything but ask questions. I’m sad and angry about all this, but don’t know how to fix any of it. I want to support my troops, be proud of America, not trap myself by pointing out every societal problem I see until I’m a sterile old queen with no friends.

Maybe I’ll never be a patriot. Maybe I’ll never be a red-blooded American with biceps and a southern drawl. But my reactions to this guest speaker have taught me that I’ll give myself an aneurism if my first instinct to anything challenging is to respond with ire and annoyance. I want to stop getting angry. I want to start looking for ways to find love for guys like the one who spoke in front of my class, to stop using him and guys like him as examples of things I hate about gay culture or American society. Individuals don’t deserve to be sights on which I work out my personal prejudices, neuroses, and frustrations. I want to start seeing people as people — then worry about the rest.

Pictures via Flickr.


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Judge Virginia Phillips of the Federal District Court for the Central District of California yesterday ordered a worldwide injunction banning enforcement of the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell law.

The 17-year-old ban on open gays serving in the military “infringes the fundamental rights of United States servicemembers and prospective servicemembers and violates (a) the substantive due process rights guaranteed under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and (b) the rights to freedom of speech and to petition the Government for redress of grievances guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution,” Phillips wrote in the injunction.

The injunction came following her ruling last month that DADT is unconstitutional. Although the ruling and yesterday’s injunction has been hailed as a landmark for LGBT rights, the government has 60 days and is widely expected to appeal before the injunction takes effect. A stay will almost certainly be granted in the meantime. “The Ninth Circuit will likely stay the effect of this order and, if it does not, the Supreme Court will do so,” Dale Carpenter writes at the Volokh Conspiracy.

Jason Mazzone at Balkinization notes that the Obama administration could play both sides of this touchy issue.

The Department of Justice can both appeal and not appeal. It can appeal the terms of the injunction as beyond the scope of Judge Phillips’s authority and argue to the appellate court that any relief Judge Phillips orders must be limited to the benefit of the plaintiffs before her or to the jurisdictional area of California where her court is located. At the same time, the DOJ can downplay objections to Judge Phillips’s ruling that DADT is unconstitutional; the DOJ can even forego entirely the constitutional issue on appeal. The message to gay rights advocates can be: “Judge Phillips is right.” The message to political challengers can be: “We’re appealing Judge Phillips’s ruling.”

University of Wisconsin law professor Ann Althouse disagrees on her blog. The timing is all off, she notes, and besides, Obama has proven wishy-washy on LGBT rights issues, something that could come back to haunt him and the Democrats in November’s midterm elections.

But what damnable luck for the Democrats to have this thrown at them 2 weeks before the election! It’s such a bad issue for Obama. He hasn’t done what he promised, and he’s fought against constitutional rights that he ought to be actively pursuing, whether he’d made promises or not. He’s going to have to rest on the argument that he was always all about Congress making the change. But why hasn’t his Congress gone his way? And do Democrats in Congress want this issue forefronted now? They’ve only made everyone unhappy — people who want DADT repealed and people who don’t. And then there’s the additional issue of “activist” judges.

Andrew Sullivan places some blame on Congressional Republicans, who successfully blocked legislative repeal of DADT several weeks ago. Although their public objection was that the repeal was tacked as a rider to the annual defense spending bill, Sullivan remains pessimistic about a legislative repeal moving forward.

Here’s the thing. We have no guarantee that the Senate will pass legislative repeal of DADT in this session; and there’s every chance that a radically Christianist GOP will win majorities in one or both Houses and definitely be able to sustain a filibuster against repeal in the next session if necessary. This is not because even most Republican voters back DADT; it is because it is a party hijacked by religious fundamentalists who cannot conceive of openly gay people serving their country. Look at the party of Paladino and DeMint and Palin. You think they will support anything that could remotely be deemed pro-gay?

The Department of Justice has 60 days, until Monday, December 13, to appeal, and if the administration plans to appeal they will likely wait until after the election in three weeks to do so.

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Remember the State of the Union address, way back in January? Back before the ground zero mosque and the Pakistan floods and Shirley Sherrod and the Gulf Coast oil spill and that Icelandic volcano and the winter Olympics? What was that thing Barack Obama promised?

“This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are. It’s the right thing to do.”

Oh right! Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell! Well, it’s September now, we’re most of the way through the calendar year and with midterms coming up there’s only a little legislative time left. How did that whole repeal thing go?

It hasn’t happened yet.

The repeal is tacked on as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2011, a yearly bill that budgets the Department of Defense. The House passed the DoD budget, amendment included, in May, but the senate has yet to move.

Now, advocates are scrambling to lobby senators to vote on it—especially Harry Reid, who as senate majority leader has to call for a vote. A Reid spokesperson told The Advocate that the bill is “on the list of things we would like to do in the next few weeks,” but supporters aren’t willing to leave this one up to chance. According to The Blade, Servicemembers United, a gay veterans organization, has designated Thursday, Sept. 16 as a lobbying day, hoping to get the senate to take up the bill the week after.

The SU lobbyists say they plan to target several moderate Democrats, including Jim Webb and Mark Warner of Virginia, Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire.

Everyone agrees the repeal is most likely to pass before the November elections.

“I think chances are pretty good that we’ll get that through to fruition if Sen. Reid brings it to the floor for a vote before they recess for election season,” [SU executive director Alex] Nicholson said. “If he doesn’t, I don’t know what to think. I sort of throw my hands up in the air at that point at that and say, ‘Let’s wait and see,’ because anything could happen.”

An anonymous politico in the Advocate was more worried.

The source wagered that if the Senate floor vote does not take place before the midterms, the defense funding bill would have a “50-50” shot of passing before the end of this Congress. If it is not finalized by year’s end, the repeal effort will die.

Jason Mazzone over at Balkinization is downright pessimistic.

[T]he full Senate, which was expected to consider the repeal measure over the summer, has not yet taken it up and Republicans have threatened a filibuster when and if the Senate does. … If, as expected, Republicans in November gain control of the House and gain seats also in the Senate, repeal of DADT in the next two years is extremely unlikely.

However, his next prediction, in which he assumes appeals on the Prop. 8 ruling and DOMA are reversed, is a little too far-fetched.

We have, then, a remarkable possibility. Within the next two years, federal appellate courts hold that a ban on same-sex marriage does not violate the Constitution and uphold the Defense of Marriage Act. Obama (who has said he opposes same-sex marriage) loses reelection in 2012. As a consolation prize, Congress repeals DADT and a Republican president signs the repeal into law.

Although the rulings reversals seem unlikely, Obama losing in 2012 is not, but the last sentence is pure hogwash. There are no consolation prizes in politics.


Bonus! Maybe Congress won’t have to repeal it. A U.S. District judge in California yesterday ruled DADT unconstitutional, saying it violated the First Amendment rights of gay men and women and has a “direct and deleterious effect” on the military. The judge will file an immediate injunction preventing the military from discharging soldiers on such grounds. The suit was brought by the Log Cabin Republicans. The Department of Justice is still arguing that this is a decision for Congress, not the courts, so we’ll see how this plays out in the coming days.

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