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