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Why DADT Is Insidious

February 8th, 2010

Before I get into the subject of why I believe DADT (Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell) is insidious, let me begin with a ‘Quote of the Day’ from Andrew Sullivan. In responding to National Review’s Rich Lowry, who said in a blogging heads debate with Ana Marie Cox, that keeping sexual orientation secret is no big deal, Andrew Sullivan wrote:

Rich says that it’s no big deal to live hiding one’s sexual orientation. If you’re straight, try it for one day.

Try never mentioning your spouse, your family, your home, your girlfriend or boyfriend to anyone you know or work with – just for one day. Take that photo off your desk at work, change the pronoun you use for your spouse to the opposite gender, guard everything you might say or do so that no one could know you’re straight, shut the door in your office if you have a personal conversation if it might come up.

Try it. Now imagine doing it for a lifetime. It’s crippling; it warps your mind; it destroys your self-esteem. These men and women are voluntarily risking their lives to defend us. And we are demanding they live lives like this in order to do so.
As a straight man, I have often thought of just this very thing. The way that I have always explained it is that our entire culture is heteronormative, which basically means that we accept as the given that the cultural norm for any kind of public intimacy is heterosexual. Therefore, we heterosexuals go about our lives with the full exposure of our heterosexuality on constant display, but which we simply take for granted. Andrew Sullivan’s challenge that we heterosexuals try to mask our heterosexuality, even the small, routinistic, and thoughtless displays of it, is virtually impossible and crippling in the effort of it.

When I think about my day, it is amazing how much I actually declare my sexual orientation publicly without ever having to speak the words “I am straight.”

For instance, I live with a woman and we have children together. My neighbors know this and know that my wife and I are a couple. My wife drops me off at work and before I get out of the car, I often lean over and give her a kiss on the lips without any concern about who might be watching. I remember when my wife was pregnant with our children and we would do things together like take a walk, hold hands, and declare our companionship such that there was no doubt that we were together and that we were a happy pair of parents-to-be whose sexual intimacy was automatically presumed. When we fill out forms at the bank for joint checking accounts, or when we went to the bank to apply for a home mortgage, it was no big deal to declare ourselves spouses. Every time I speak to my wife on the phone at the office, I end my conversation with the words: “Love you.” Every single time. And I talk with my wife multiple times over the course of every single work day. I think about the times I put my arms around my wife’s waist, or hold her hands when we go for a walk in the park, or the times when I would lay my head on my wife’s lap at a picnic in the park. How many times we’ve danced together at wedding receptions, or parties. How many times we’ve held hands openly across the tables at public restaurants.

And I could go on and on and on and on about all the little things we heterosexuals do to project our sexual orientation every day, all the time. What would life be like to have that taken away, or to feel that such expressions bore with it a crushing social stigma such that the pressure to hide it or even deny it would be intense? It would make for a very unhappy me. And this is where DADT is insidious. To pretend, as Rich Lowry and many conservatives like to claim, that all DADT does is tell all folks in uniform, heterosexual and homosexual alike, that sexual orientation doesn’t matter, is to propagate a lie. DADT is not a policy that exemplifies some universal sexual-orientation-blindness, but rather tells gays and lesbians in the military that the rules of heteronormativity apply when it comes to expressions of sexual orientation — that sexual orientation does matter in terms of public expressions of such, as long as it is within the heteronormative context.

Ana Marie Cox doesn’t ever challenge Rich Lowry on the point, but if I were in her shoes, I would have asked Rich Lowry whether he would go so far as to say that heterosexual soldiers shouldn’t talk about their sexual exploits in the barracks; whether heterosexual soldiers should talk about their wives, husbands, girlfriends or boyfriends back home; whether heterosexual soldiers shouldn’t carry around pictures of their sweethearts or whether they shouldn’t ever acknowledge the love letters that they get from their sweethearts. Because if DADT really is the policy of the absence of expressions of sexual orientation, then soldiers demonstrating all forms of such expressions, even the simple, daily, heteronormative ones, need to be called out and disciplined for violation of the policy.

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