The “Unbigoted” Argument in Favor of the Military ban on Gay Men

Timothy Kincaid

October 5th, 2009

It seems that nearly every month provides ever more support for ending the strange Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy and allowing gay and lesbian military personnel to serve their country openly. And I do, at times, rhetorically wonder, “Is there anyone left who supports this discrimination?”

Of course there is. Conservative movie reviewer James Bowman is one such person and he has written an article for the Weekly Standard entitled Don’t Change ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ in which he argues against allowing gay people – or, rather, gay men – from serving their country.

Bowman’s secondary headline is “There are sound reasons–unbigoted ones–for our policy on gays in the military”, and I don’t think he intended this to be read as irony.

Indeed, Bowman is quite concerned about bigotry; or, rather, the perception of bigotry. Much of his article is not about the military at all but rather about the unfair tragedy that those who oppose equality for gay people are perceived as being bigoted. He, of course, never questions whether their motivations lie in animus but instead decries the unfairness of others who identify the motivation.

That is a reoccurring theme among anti-gay activists. Although those who fight for equality can at times be too quick to ascribe bigotry and homophobia to their opponents, that is not to suggest that bigotry is never at play. Yet the dismissal of bigotry – even as description for the most obviously hateful – has been a favorite tactic of late.

And anti-gay activists – frankly, many of whom are driven by desires that can only be described as bigoted in nature – have been rather successful in twisting the discussion away from whether their arguments have merit and instead towards whether an inspection of their motivations is “name-calling”. And it is that derailing of communication which is one reason why we seldom employ the term here at Box Turtle Bulletin.

In a strange twist, it appears that – like many other words that have become taboo in our culture – the word “bigot” can only now be used by those whom the word describes. And they are not content with removing “bigotry” and “homophobia” from the lexicon. Recently I was informed by a devoted anti-gay activist that even the term “anti-gay” is a slur.

But I still believe that one can look at an argument and see it for what it is. If the basis is logical, we can say so; but if the basis is in animus and stereotype and unfounded assumptions and is nothing but a shallow justification for a desire to discriminate, we can also be clear about the nature of that argument.

So let’s look at Bowman’s “unbigoted” argument:

Yet if reason were to be readmitted to the debate, we might find something in the history of military honor to justify the principle now enshrined in the law decreeing that “homosexuality is incompatible with military service.” We know that soldiering–I mean not training or support or peacekeeping or any of the myriad other things soldiers do, but facing enemy bullets–is inextricably bound up with ideas of masculinity. We also know that most heterosexual males’ ideas of masculinity are inextricably bound up with what we now call sexual orientation. In other words, “being a man” typically does mean for soldiers both being brave, stoic, etc.–and being heterosexual. Another way to put this is to say that honor, which is by the testimony of soldiers throughout the ages of the essence of military service, includes the honor of being known for heterosexuality, and that, for most heterosexual males, shame attends a reputation as much for homosexuality as for weakness or cowardice.

In other words, being in the military means being a man. And being a man means feeling contempt towards gay men.

Oh, but he’s not done with his unbigotry. Bowman speaks of the notion of a Band of Brothers and the way in which military service creates a brotherhood and engenders a deep love for one’s fellow serviceman.

And he makes the argument that gay servicemen would destroy this bond. And to do it he creates a strange assertion – one he oddly attributes to Brokeback Mountain: “the homosexual relationship is simply friendship carried to a higher power”.

Those who are not homosexuals have always resisted any simple equivalence between sexual love and friendship, not out of bigotry but at least partly because to grant it would be an abdication of their own right to love. Characteristically, the robust heterosexual, if told that close friendship with another man is only a degree away from homosexual relations with him, will back off the friendship. He knows, or believes, what it seems the homosexual cannot know or believe, or doesn’t want to know or believe, namely that the two sorts of love are different in kind and not just in degree.

This is a most peculiar argument. It says that because gay relationships are just really strong friendships and not equivalent to “erotic love between men and women”, therefore robust heterosexuals can’t be friends of gay men. They would fear that it’s just too gay.

So in summary, Bowman’s “unbigoted” argument is based on the following:

1. “Being a man” means experiencing contempt for gay men.
2. Robust heterosexuals fear any relationship that might be too close – just a matter of degree – to a homosexual relationship.

In other words, Bowman’s “unbigoted” argument is based on the assumption that heterosexual men – those who are robust and take pride in being a man – rightly fear and hold contempt for gay men.

And those are Bowman’s “sound reasons–unbigoted ones–for our policy on gays in the military”.


October 5th, 2009

Also, that men cannot be friends with women, that women should not serve, and that Greeks did not exist.

Richard W. Fitch

October 5th, 2009



October 5th, 2009

I am glad you can read his pop psycho-babble, because he lost me.


October 5th, 2009

It’s par for the course when the right wing turns to a movie reviewer for psychosexual analysis. The results are pretty laughable, but that was to be expected.

James knows nothing of ancient history. The Sacred Band of Thebes was an elite corps of 300 homosexual lovers who were the most respected soldiers in the world at that time, and it took the combined forces of Alexander the Great and King Philip II of Macedonia to defeat them in 338 BC. I would say the Sacred Band was pretty manly.

James is also ignorant of current affairs. Many countries allow openly gay servicemen in their ranks, including Israel. If *any* country needs to worry about unit cohesion, it’s Israel, with enemies on all sides. I’ve met some Israeli solders and they’re pretty damn manly, both gay and straight.

James needs to stick to reviewing movies, as his expertise is in fantasy and not much else.


October 5th, 2009

I see I wasnt the only one who immediately thought of the ancient greeks at this part:
“In other words, being in the military means being a man. And being a man means feeling contempt towards gay men.”

A spartan could rip any modern soldier a new asshole in a fair fight, and no one will ever argue the ancient greeks felt ‘contempt’ towards homosexuality.

Joe Allen Doty

October 5th, 2009

While the two main male characters of “Brokeback Mountain” were apparently exclusively homosexual in their sexual orientation, neither Ennis Del Mar nor Jack Twist were openly gay.

Ennis suffered from internalized homophobia and he was afraid that other men could guess that he had sex with a man. Both guys who grew up on ranches did qualify as real cowboys. The last time they were together, although Ennis was divorced and Jack was still married, they both told lies about relationships with other women. But, Larry McMurtry twisted their lies by turning the non-existent women into real characters in his story.


October 5th, 2009

I’m having real trouble understanding the second argument. Where is he getting the idea that gay people view love as only quantitatively different from friendship? Because although I have some friends who I love, there’s no way I’d ever confuse those relationships with romantic love. I don’t see how anybody could.

Ben in Oakland

October 5th, 2009

I have often said that all arguments against the ending of this idiotic prejudice full inclusion of gay people in this society boils down to one of three reasons:

1) I hate queers. 2) My religion says it’s ok to hate queers. 3) Anything about S*X scares the hell out of me.

To these we may now add a fourth:

All real manly men should only have to hang out with real manly men.

Of course, by that logic, half of the gay men in the world aren’t gay at all for hangling out iwth only manly men doing manly things.

All this thinkin’ makes my head hurt.

Joe Allen Doty

October 5th, 2009

When I was in the US Army – Jul 26 66 – Jul 25 68 (I also served a tour in S. Vietnam), I was in denial of my sexual orientation. But, I was still dating women in those days. But, I was chaste as far as the relationship with the opposite sex was concerned.

When I was in South Vietnam and later in a Signal company at Ft. Bragg, NC, I wish that there had been a “Don’t ask; don’t tell” rule for the adulterous married men and the single heterosexual men, too.

I wasn’t interested in their sexual affairs at all. In Vietnam, some single men who had girlfriends or fiancées at home and married men went on R&R to places where they could have sex with prostitutes. And, some of them even brought back photographic proof of themselves actually “doing it.” Also, some guys in the company had movie projectors and they showed pornographic movies in their sleeping quarters. I had never seen a pornographic movie before I went to Nam.

Openly gay guys can have normal friendships with NORMAL men who are exclusively heterosexual in their sexual orientation.

Timothy Kincaid

October 5th, 2009


Bowman errs in assuming that his own biases are shared by others.

Obviously friendship and romantic love are different. But because Bowman is incapable of believing that two men or two women could share “real” romantic love, his arguments start from that position.

Ironically, while Bowman claims that his arguments are “unbigoted”, they are an excellent illustration of raw bigotry.


October 5th, 2009

When DADT supporters argue that gays should not serve in the military, it strikes me as hypocritical and cowardly when they don’t advocate replacing DADT with an outright ban.

Regan DuCasse

October 5th, 2009

Good point, JA Doty.

I got two words :bui doi

A lot of mixed children have paid a terrible price for the liasons between straight men and the women in enemy territory.
At least same sex relations won’t produce children who will be abandoned by their soldier fathers.

The point is still this: any soldier who is charged with facing invisible terrorists, bombs and bullets, is more afraid of serving with a gay soldier facing the same danger doesn’t have the guts to wear the uniform to begin with.
This being an all volunteer army, those who don’t want to serve with someone gay, doesn’t have to.

It’s better THEY don’t serve, than indulging prejudice and losing skilled personnel.

David C.

October 5th, 2009

Let’s not be afraid of the words bigot, bigotry, or bigoted even though in some cases they have come to connote pejoratives.

From Merriam-Webster Unabridged:

2 : one obstinately and irrationally, often intolerantly, devoted to his own church, party, belief, or opinion

This describes James Bowman in this context perfectly irrespective of however much he would like to believe otherwise.

Bigotry is like racism: both are currently out of fashion. Those that want to be taken seriously do not want to be associated with either, thus this deliberate dodging of the truth as if to say “I’m not a bigot but because others are it’s okay and even appropriate to maintain a policy rooted in bigotry”. Of course, enemies of the truth are seldom burdened by logic or reason.

Ben in Oakland

October 5th, 2009

David C: As voltaire put it, or maybe, de rochefoucauld, hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue.

As rregarding timothy’s “raw bigotry”, I doubt that any amont of further cooking is gonna change this mess o’ pottage into a nice meal.


October 5th, 2009

This reminds me of the “unbigoted”, “secular” argument against gay marriage that basically went like this:

Gays can’t marry because then blacks will never marry because it’d be a “gay” thing to do, and they already don’t marry enough!

Sorry but as long as the BIGOT label fits, you ARE a BIGOT. Get used to it. I the future you will be the new gays, marginalized and treated as second class in society, only this time, rightfully so.

Scott P.

October 5th, 2009


I have to make a small correction to your posting.

Philip and Alexander were not a “combined” force at the Battle of Chaeronea. Alexander, as the eldest son of Philip, was a soldier on Philip’s army, not a leader of a separate force. Alexander led the cavalry that led the charge and broke the line held by the Sacred Band.

That being said, this man is bat-shit crazy.


October 5th, 2009

I loved Andrew Sullivan’s take on the Bowman article:

“…let me point out to this bigot that he might want to avoid a fight with a sissy, because many of them could take his sorry ass to the cleaners, and because many more, over the centuries, have fought and died for their country and are more men than he, from his armchair, will ever be.”

Eric N

October 5th, 2009

This part annoyed me the most: “They say they demand the ‘right’ to make the supreme sacrifice for their country, and yet they are unwilling to make the presumably lesser sacrifice of being publicly reticent about their sexual behavior–or the sacrifice of not being in the military. It doesn’t add up, somehow.”

“being publicly reticent about their sexual behavior”?! That description is an insult and is quite hypocritical.

Emily K

October 5th, 2009

Although it might be tempting to bring Ancient Greece into modern justification for gay equality because they influenced many areas of advanced human civilization, let’s not forget that much of those celebrated “gay” relationships consisted of an unequal pedagogic pederasty, a sacred institution in Hellenistic culture, and especially in Thebes when the “Sacred Band” was formed. They might have been “manly,” but I would hardly think that couples who were divided between those in the role of “beloveds” and those in the role of “lovers” would be equal to today’s egalitarian relationships (gay or straight).

Richard W. Fitch

October 5th, 2009

@Emily: Granted the relationships were not exactly egalitarian, but the point cannot be dismissed that these Spartans were warriors to death as well as sexual companions/lovers. The “300” amply portrays their “manly-ness”. Until the critics of gays can see past the image generated by “The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence” and the ‘camp’ of the leather queens to the average Joe who is their accountant or minister or decorated local war hero, they will never be able to fathom that two men (or two women) can form a bond equal in both quality and kind to that of a “normal marriage”. It has already been stated here by others that some of our European allies have opened the doors and the sky has not fallen. In a way, it is even a shame to give any measure of credibility to this movie reviewer by trying to refute his assertions.

Christopher Waldrop

October 6th, 2009

It’s really a shame that a publication like The Weekly Standard has any credibility at all, particularly given their history. You may recall Sam Schulman’s article in the same publication on why homosexuals don’t deserve marriage.

What’s perhaps most frustrating, though, is “the unfair tragedy that those who oppose equality for gay people are perceived as being bigoted” is an argument that’s actually given some credibility when it doesn’t deserve any.

Nevada Blue

October 6th, 2009

My point is tacky compared to the dialogue…..but that whole piece screamed closet case to me.

I’ll be waiting for the tearful confession after bust. It’s only a matter of time.


October 6th, 2009

Bowman has caught on. It’s worse to be called a bigot than it is to actually be one.

Anyway, I have this real aversion to people who arrogantly tell us what constitutes a Real Man (or Real Woman, Real American, or Real Christian). His argument is essentially that a soldier, who of course is a man, has a right to be perceived of as a heterosexual (because only heterosexual men are Real Men). His argument is meaningless (a) because he doesn’t have a monopoly on what a Real Man is and (b) because it has nothing at all to do with national security or task cohesion.

I suppose it goes without saying that Lady Americans shouldn’t be soldiers at all, eh?

Emily K

October 6th, 2009

Richard, my point is not that the relationships simply “were not exactly egalitarian.” They were pederastic relationships based on “grooming” that was the norm then. It speaks to the Greek gender dichotomy, where the “female/passive” partner was the “beloved” and the “masculine/active” partner was the “lover.” It was common that the passive partner did not have a beard (and was hence more feminine) and would take a “beloved” of his own when he grew one. And considering the fact that in most city-states other than Sparta women were considered inferior human beings, I hardly think that one can call what the Greeks did parallel to today’s gender-role-eschewing queer community. I believe in the movie “300,” as a matter of fact, the Spartans hesitated to have Athenians help them because they were “boy-lovers.”

Gays should serve in the military not because a Greek army segment thousands of years ago was mighty, but because today, thousands of years later, gays are equal human beings to straights and can be just as honorable, courageous, and strong as them.

Richard W. Fitch

October 7th, 2009

Here’s a follow-up on the comments last nite (10/6) by Rep. Patrick Murphy(D-PA) and an interview by Anderson Cooper with Lt. Dan Choi and Elaine Donnelly.
YouTube clip

The Lauderdale

October 7th, 2009

Emily K:

Please don’t use the movie “300” as any kind of evidence for what Spartans and Athenians were doing over 2,000 years ago.

Otherwise, I’d agree with your assessment that the pederastic model isn’t something we should look to for any kind of egalitarian relationship. It’s like Xenophon’s Oeconomicus, where the perfect wife is one you marry young and then virtually rear yourself.

Jason D

October 8th, 2009

lauderdale, Emily didn’t bring up 300, your criticism should go to Richard for mentioning it in the first place.

Michael Wright

September 10th, 2010

I have no bias against homosexuals. Yet, I believe it is appropriate to limit what a homosexual is assigned to do in the military.

I have no concern about any military member’s sexual orientation when there are adequate facilities for sleeping, bathing, etc., such as at any base in any branch. However, when in combat, close conditions exist that will leave military members in situations where they must use bathing facilities that have poor privacy.

Perhaps the last thing anyone needs to worry about is whether someone has to endure others viewing them as they shower, but I imagine the argument would sound entirely reasonable if it were looked at from the perspective of a woman.

For example, if all female military members were forced to share shower facilities and sleeping quarters with males, wouldn’t there be a public outcry? Wouldn’t there be some cases of abuse, where women were mocked, teased, or propositioned because they were forced to share accommodations with males? I’m sure it would happen, if it hasn’t already.

There was a ban on females in combat, which seems to have changed over the years. There were reasonable arguments in favor of this ban as well. One only needs to peruse the annals of history to find periods in which war, famine, and pestilence was so wide spread, that the population took years to recover. It isn’t wise for a society to send its female members into combat, when the only means by which a society can expect to rebuild itself depends on their protection.

The military should continue to ban homosexual men and any female from front-line combat positions. Any other job in the military would be fine if s/he were interested in serving and I would be grateful for that service.

Priya Lynn

September 10th, 2010

Michael said “I have no bias against homosexuals…The military should continue to ban homosexual men and any female from front-line combat positions.”.

You’re a joke Michael, your hypocrisy knows no limits. Heterosexual men shower with gay men in public gyms, swimming pools, etc. throughout the world and there’s never been any problem with it. Its not going to be any different in the military. Military service members aren’t so namby pamby that they can’t put up with what civilians do every day.

Timothy Kincaid

September 10th, 2010

Michael Wright,

Based on everything that follows it, it is abundantly clear that your first sentence is either a lie or a self delusion.


September 10th, 2010

“However, when in combat, close conditions exist that will leave military members in situations where they must use bathing facilities that have poor privacy.”

You mean like… right now? Soldiers already share bathing facilities with gays all the time, Michael. Get on with it.

What I undeerstand from people like you is that U.S. soldiers are so weak, they don’t even need to fear the enemy: their own teammates frighten them!

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