Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell"

As I write this, the Congressional legislation repealing the policy referred to as "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" in the American military only awaits the signature of the President (a mere formality) to become the law of the land. The restrictions are mandated by federal law Pub.L. 103-160 (10 U.S.C. § 654). The policy prohibits people who "demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts" from serving in the armed forces of the United States, because their presence "would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability." (10 U.S.C. § 654(b)) The act prohibits any homosexual or bisexual person from disclosing his or her sexual orientation or from speaking about any homosexual relationships, including marriages or other familial attributes, while serving in the United States armed forces. The act specifies that service members who disclose they are homosexual or engage in homosexual conduct shall be separated (discharged) except when a service member's conduct was "for the purpose of avoiding or terminating military service" or when it "would not be in the best interest of the armed forces" (10 U.S.C. § 654(e)).

In my capacity as interviewer with the Federal Government--a position I held for many years--I had the occasion to meet dozens of men who had been discharged from the American military because they had been determined to be homosexual, or because they had been caught engaging in homosexual acts. Discharges for this behavior usually stigmatized the recipient, coloring their later life. The character of one's military discharge was once much more important than I suspect it now is; a man who'd received a dishonorable or "undesirable" (as they were called) discharge, could find it difficult later in life to advance in the business world, or even to get decent work at all. One could be "marked" for life with a discharge like this, and men who'd gotten them were ashamed, and reluctant to talk about them. One knew that there were Gays in the military, just as there were Gays in all walks of life; but the trick was in not giving it away to authorities, not getting caught.

Don't Ask/Don't Tell was intended to permit Gays to feel more secure, in that they couldn't without provocation, be persecuted or pursued by the military for merely "being Gay" without having declared they were, or for engaging in such behaviors. But it kept a principle of secrecy, in that it prevented Gays/Lesbians from revealing their identities. It encouraged secrecy, and secrecy encourages hypocrisy.

The traditional military attitudes regarding homosexual behavior and identity have been loosened in many other countries, with no notable deleterious effects. It is also a commonly accepted opinion, as I'm given to understand, that soldiers who have affectionate feelings for one another, probably fight as well or better than those who don't.

In my view, this new liberalization should be regarded within the context of the larger struggle to legitimate Gay identity and behavior throughout institutions and society generally. If you believe that Gay behavior is unacceptable, you probably disagree about the legalization or increased tolerance of it wherever it occurs, and this would include the military. It's part of a larger effort to make Gay behavior legal throughout the culture. On its face, preventing persecution of different sexual behaviors follows the spirit of our political traditions, which favor freedom and tolerance. But there are wider implications to defining sexual variations as kinds of minority entitlement.

Gay/Lesbian theorization hovers uncertainly between regarding unisexuality as a genetic predisposition, or as a proclivity reinforced with opportunity and training. In other words, there is no generally accepted definition of what it means to have unisexual identity. It may be as likely that one "learns" to be homosexual, as that one "always" knew, from earliest consciousness, that one was different. People will argue both sides with equal tenacity. There are those who will argue that this distinction is irrelevant, since the right to engage in different behaviors needn't be justified by a predisposition, because the principle of freedom of choice and behavior trumps any need for vindication. Then there are those for whom the identity question forms the very basis for their claim, i.e., unisexual identity is by itself a discrete categorical entity, distinct and irrevocable.

It is one thing to legislate fairness and equality by forbidding persecution and discrimination, but quite another to authorize and underwrite a minority "life-style" based on an entitlement which treats a group defined by its "clinically" aberrant sexual proclivities. Given the documented generic promiscuity of unisex behaviors--at least as notorious as straight promiscuity--it seems natural to make a claim of innocent "equality." If unisex activity and persuasion is at least partly a matter of conditioning and opportunity, it is not in the least frivolous or irresponsible to ask whether in a military setting, youths as young as 17 should be required to swear allegiance to an authority that commands them to share the most intimate circumstances of life, with those who may regard them as sexual objects, instead of comrades-in-arms. The potential for "opportunity" and training seem as relevant in this respect, as they would in a fully co-educational dormitory.

Military readiness and fitness for duty, as well as unit solidarity, were almost certainly never at issue, with respect to sexual proclivities. So the real objection to tolerant permission was never the stated pretext of efficiency and cohesiveness, but instead the effect of installing official permission as policy, upon those most vulnerable to its effects. Now that Don't Ask/Don't Tell has been removed, unisexual advocacy can enjoy another victory over official non-acceptance of Gay/Lesbian identity (and "life-style"). The actual consequence of this victory will without a doubt be an increase in opportunistic indoctrination, which was, in my opinion, its real purpose to begin with. As each successive barrier to acceptance of unisexual or bi-sexual behaviors falls, the objective morality upon which that toleration is based, will be significantly augmented. If unisexual identity and behavior is just "a fact of life" or a matter of "individual choice"--protected by individual freedom and "harmless" privacy--then the superstructure of the framework of "normality" is made increasingly meaningless.

The treatment of Gays/Lesbians in the military is just one segment along the spectrum of culture, in which the ethical contest of idealized sexual profiles is tested and determined. Another sphere is the legalization of same-sex marriage, still pending. Still another--down the road--will be the official treatment of unisexual identity in public and private educational institutions. I'm not sure the official "culture at large" has had the opportunity, or the time, to absorb these new waves of permission and honored difference.

There is no such thing as "innocent" behavior among people. Every interaction among thinking individuals carries the potential for adaptive inclination. If we teach our young men and women that sexual variation is morally neutral, more of them will choose to regard it as morally harmless. And more of them will indulge in behaviors which undermine traditional systems of belief. Whether this is a good, or a bad, thing depends upon your ethical attitudes. For some, it clearly is an undesirable outcome. It would be useful if we acknowledged (and addressed) this in discussions, instead of clinging to legalistic definitions of "rights" and constitutional interpretations, which constitute only half of the argument.


Conrad DiDiodato said...

"If unisexual identity and behavior is just "a fact of life" or a matter of "individual choice"--protected by individual freedom and "harmless" privacy--then the superstructure of the framework of "normality" is made increasingly meaningless"

Curtis, you've lost me here. Or I should say rather that the tenor of the argument has shifted (ever so cleverly) towards a position of moral disapproval.

What I thought was a fairly unbiased reporting of the grounds (mostly legislative and constitutional)for repealing the military's "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" policy seems now to have become a lament for the loss of a prevailing Superego ("superstructure" is your term) injunction against homosexual behaviour (and identity)in general.

We used to call this in Ethics 101 the "deontological argument", an appeal to the inherent rightness of an act; irregardless of the consequences of overtly gay/lesbian or bisexual tendencies for military order & discipline, open display of homosexual behaviour is morally reprehensible in itself. Is that your position?

You seem just on the verge of wanting to inscribe that moral reprehensibleness into the language of the Congressional repeal. The moral obligatoriness for the military to uphold some standards of "morale, good order and discipline" seems, in your account, to have been flouted.The underlying fear, in short, is that the repeal may be a dangeriously insidious concession to "behaviors which undermine traditional systems of belief."

Curtis Faville said...


I think you've caught the underlying ambiguity of my position, such as it is.

I'm saying, in effect, that homosexuals serving in the military was never an issue of performance, or any other pretext. I'm saying, in effect, that the change in regulation was, in a sense, anti-climactc, or irrelevant.

The real issue is the expansion of Gay rights throughout society, and to what extent that impacts morality and behavior.

Unisexuality is usually graded as comprising between 5-15% of the populace, but the basis for defining what that minority actually represents is clouded in confusion.

Do we want a society in which openly unisex individuals are free to advocate unisexual and bi-sexual behavior? In the military, in the schools, in the courts, in entertainment?

I'm morally neutral with respect to the rights and privileges of different sexual options, but not with respect to its effect on youth. The adolescent mind can be coerced into all kinds of dead-ends and blind alleys. Why should we try to convince 85% of the straight kids that unisexuality is a "good thing" or at least morally neutral? It's really only "good" for less than a fifth of the population.

Gay rights activists aren't, in my opinion, concerned about equality in the military. They want the freedom to "be Gay" anyplace, at any time. I would no more accept that male soldiers could pursue unwilling or reluctant female soldiers than I would accept Gay soldiers pursuing same sex soldiers.

There's no such thing as a morally neutral act. Before the law, all men are supposed to be created equal. But with 17 and 18 year-olds, everything isn't, as it were, "equal." To be convinced, at 18, that Gay sex is preferable, should only be true for 15% of the population, unless you believe that Gays enter the military in proportions greater than their number is relative to the whole population.

I think the debate about constitutionality and equal protection is only half the issue. We can't pretend that unisexuality isn't a moral issue.

Art Durkee said...

NOt sure what LGBT theorists you've been reading, but your description of LGBT theory as presented here is full of holes. As you say, it displays your own ambiguity. But you're projecting your ambiguity onto fairly unambiguous ideas in both identity politics and LGBT rights arguments.

I also question your term "unisexual" the way you're suing it here, because having read probably a couple of hundred LGBT books on this topic, I've never run into it before. You seem to be using the term here as an alternative to "homosexual," which is an absurd non-sequitur. Had you read the literature on bisexuality, you might have known that the term often used there is "monosexual," as contrasted to "bisexual." Where did this "unisexual" come from?

The "life style" argument you recycle here, which one hears coming from the right more than the left to be blunt, is based on the presupposition that sexual orientation IS always a "choice" and not hardwired—which is the root argument of those who think people can choose not to be gay or lesbian, and therefore ought to choose so (an argument obviously tainted by moral condemnations)—and research from Kinsey onwards has shown that in some people at least it IS hardwired, therefore blowing the "choice" argument our of the water.

One does indeed detect a whiff throughout of moral disapproval spoken from a position of moral superiority, which seems quite unfounded. "Superstructure of the framework of normality" is just a code phrase for a post-Freudian condemnation of diversity.

J said...

while we should oppose discrimination against the non-hetero (like prop 8), the recent ruling looks like more PC Demo feel-good vote pandering. It's a bit different issue than the usual civilian same-sex debates. In some areas of the military it probably wouldn't be a problem (and fairly common among women, IMHE)--tho...in some it might. I doubt the grunts, or tank-crews, seamen, infantry etc approve of it. Or most brass for that matter.

You might not care for the hard-guy soldiers, but they're the ones doing the dirty work, even if one doesn't agree with the political decisions which resulted in the combat. I doubt that the mujahideen have too many pretty boys in the ranks--and no females (really I suspect it was more about placating some...lesbian officers...more numerous than you might think). So it was a bad decision--typical AIPAC-Lieberman/Feinstein horsesh*t--the US of Israel. Don't Ask Don't tell was probably sufficient. That doesn't mean one blesses the likes of McCaint.

Curtis Faville said...


Thanks for the comment, and your questions are all good. You do, though, manage not to say anything specific about your own feelings or beliefs--an avoidance which I find telling.

You say "your description of LGBT theory...is full of holes." I would argue that LGBT theory is indeed full of holes, but I didn't put them there. There's no general agreement about whether LGBT should be considered, as you say, "hardwired" or acquired through conditioning, or both. LGBT (if we want to use that term) advocates argue from both positions interchangeably. That's really my first point. If we're going to talk about behavior, and rights, we need to be inclusive, and address that "born" Gays are different from people who "learned to be" or were "convinced" they were Gay, through behavioral learning (or seduction). Notice I make NO moral distinctions here, at this level. If you believe that Gay behavior or identity is wrong, you deal with that privately.

"Unisexual" is a shorthand way of talking about both sexes (Gay and Lesbian) in one word. I dislike monosexual because it suggests onanism. (I also dislike the term "homophobia" which suggests that people who regard homosexuality with disfavor are really "afraid" of Gay people--I think that word is an example of bad coinage. There doesn't have to be any "fear" involved.)

The "life-style" argument isn't mine, and it isn't the province merely of critics. Gay advocates--Gore Vidal, for instance, among them--argue that what people do causes no reflection on "who" they are or the meaning of their identity, i.e., men who screw each other aren't different from men who screw women, it's just a behavioral "choice" which carries no ulterior consequence beyond the expression of an aesthetic preference, and hence is beyond the bounds of narrow moralities which dictate prohibitions, and not subject to any legal abbreviation.

Personally, I accept that behavior is a combination of both inheritance and environment--but the varying degrees of difference imply that ethical choices are very important in how maturation and practice are played out during one's lifetime. I don't dismiss the moral imperatives of either those who believe it is intolerable, or of those who argue rationally that it's okay to have mutually exclusive participants in a diverse society. What I question is the right of any minority to get the majority to officially celebrate and entitle and promote something which it rejects on principle (and that includes prejudice and bias and aesthetic attitudes--the whole range of opinion which people may hold). That goes for minorities of all kinds.

My position isn't moral disapproval, just a frustration with the terms of the debate. We tend to "rule out" different positions with respect to how unisexuality is defined and how that definition is then applied, choosing instead to focus on "rights" and law and legal interpretations. It's perfectly possible to believe in equality before the law while disagreeing about the morality of certain behaviors which are "protected". Accepting diversity doesn't necessarily imply agreement and acknowledgment and celebration. Why everyone must move in one fell swoop from a grudging tolerance to a national holiday strikes many as completely absurd, and unjustified. Those who feel frustrated by legalizations of "impermissible" behavior have every right to be indignant.

I have no interest in Freudian psychology, which has been discounted for decades. But the issue of behavioral ethics doesn't go away simply because the first great theorist of psychology confused morality with clinical analysis. We're not out of the woods by any stretch of the imagination.

Curtis Faville said...


I agree to an extent with your assessment of the political issues involved in the liberalization implied by the repeal. But in politics, everything is political. That's not saying very much.

I don't know that it matters much, moving from DADT to "open" acknowledgment--certainly it won't affect cohesion or preparedness or performance in the military. I'm more interested in the larger issues which the march of liberalization represents. We're treating Gay liberation the same way we did the rights of women, the equality of "racial" minorities, and religious practice. But these aren't all the same things, and they can't be handled as just different versions of "diversity"--the catch-all bin intended to address every claim to minority entitlement. Everyone is different, but "honoring difference" means nothing. It's bad thinking, and it makes bad morality, and bad legislation. We can "honor difference" and still have a crumbling society where nothing works and everyone's miserable.

J said...

I'm more interested in the larger issues which the march of liberalization represents.

The role of the media and entertainment business in regard to the presentation of that march might be considered. Really for many pseudo-liberals politics has become a one-issue debate--ie, the G-word. We might call it the Ellenization of America . Who cares about economics, pending world war, real eco-problems--Ellen has some new bi-hottie on her program. Or Rachel Maddow's on TV ! Maddow may be PC (and superior to the likes of Foxnews) but she sounds about like some small-town dyke waitress. The news and political discussions themselves are produced by wealthy powerful media corporations, and they know SapphoCo moves product. The queers probably do as well, but....hardly as marketable, unless maybe Beatnik product (that said, Im against fundamentalist attacks on same-sex people. But that doesn't mean accepting Ellenization).

Kirby Olson said...

Many people say that President Buchanan was gay. But if you go to his Wikipedia page there's lots of research about the women he went after (largely unsuccessfully, it seems).

With this as yet another milestone, I predict that the gay rights movement tries to get someone gay into the White House (or what might yet be the Lavender House).

Barney Frank is a possibility.

Maybe we could have a two-fer if Ellen Degenerous were to win (1st woman, and 1st gay person!).

I think we're still thinking too small. We should be looing forward to the first non-mammalian individual -- not a sacred cow, not a donkey or an elephant (easy trademarks for the two parties), but the first insect, or the first reptile.

We need a bug in the White House. Not the KGB kind, but a genuine bug. In Democratic terms, there are far more of them. There are 300,000 beetle species, for instance. Let one of them be president!

No taxidermy without representation!

Curtis Faville said...


We're getting a little far from the original subject.

The media functions off of market share, as you suggest. But the news service versions of issues aren't really about selling, they're about what they think the public needs to know, and can stand to be told.

The truth is rarely addressed. The petroleum corporations, for instance, who collude to keep prices high--this is NEVER discussed in the media, because big oil won't permit it. Period.

Now Ellen gets her own TV program--to canned cheers and claims of diversity and tolerance. But it's really about the cheering. Ain't it great to be Gay! Maybe, but only if you're Gay. It's your holiday, babe, not mine.

Curtis Faville said...

You're sounding a little uncomfortable, Kirby.

How about Sarah versus Ellen in 2012?

Then we'd be assured of a female President.

You betcha' !

Kirby Olson said...

I am a little buggy.

Craig said...

Don't Canada, Great Britain and a number of European nations already have laws that allow soldiers to assert minority sexual identities? How has it worked out for them?

Kirby Olson said...

It's funny how Prop. 8 went one way then was overturned. 60% of the Marines say they want to keep DADT, but that got overturned, too.

Unless there's something scientifically provable about gays being all messed up, and crazy, and unreliable, they have to have the same rights as everybody else.

Just because gay men have enormous rates of infection, doesn't mean there's something wrong with their ability to fire a gun, or stop firing a gun, I should think. No one knows anything about what it means to be gay.

People scream, it's a lifestyle! It's a gene! It's a predilection! It's a perversion! It's a normal thing! But nobody knows what it is.

How are you supposed to decide anything about it?

It seems disgusting, but is disgust anything to go on?

I find lima beans disgusting. I find meat eating disgusting. Someone brought over a giant wad of steak here the other day. We're all vegetarians but he didn't know. It was a 65 dollar chunk of meat. It sat in the center of the table as if it was someone's head while we talked aroiund it. I took it out to the trash as if it was a mafia hit. I had triple bagged it, in dark plastic, I was so ashamed of it.

But all around the country people are digging in.

Who knows what's what?

With multiculturalism we no longer have one secure document to which we can all appeal. Maybe it's the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) chatered by Eleanor Roosevelt.

I don't know anything any more. Judges put thumbs up, or down, or sit on thumbs and spin. Up, down, all around.

At least we're still allowed to give our opinion, not that it matters.

I believe in God. I think St. Paul has the whole thing right in Romans 20. But then I also believe in Civil Rights, and civil laws, as opposed to the theological ones.

But what the heck. I'm no soldier. Never was, never will be. If someone wants to go out on the front lines and fight the Taliban, there's no one better qualified to understand what's at stake than the gay American soldier. God help them.

Curtis Faville said...



From everything that's been reported, it hasn't cause any problems at all.

If you read my piece, you know that this isn't a major preoccupation of mine, either. I'm more interested in the initiative in the context of the growing liberalization of sexual tolerance in this country.

Craig said...

My dad was a full professor for four years, setting up a program in clinical psychology at a school in Texas. Some wise guys in the department decided that once the program was established anybody with a Ph.D. could run it. They ran a power play. Good luck, he told them.

Consequently, he only supervised one dissertation, a woman who worked for about ten years in the California penal system while she got her doctorate. She eventually wrote a book about advice she gave concerning gays serving in the Canadian military. It's called The Flag Was Still There, published just as the U.S. was adopting Don't Ask, Don't Tell as the official U.S. policy.

J said...

Note how the corporate liberals have suddenly forgotten about Lieberman the DINO now that he's repealed the nasty DADT. Wasn't Lieb. like best pals of BushCo a few months back and agent of the Mossad?? All's been forgiven, Lieberdem!

Imagine what someone like Pound..or LF Celine would think of the likes of Lieberman, or....DiDi Feinstein. They'd nearly be reachin' for their swazis

Kirby Olson said...

You killed a comment.

Kirby Olson said...

Are heterosexual troops allowed to have sex with local inhabitants where they're stationed? Are they allowed to have sex with opposite sex troops?

I foresee a new problem: now everyone can declare their identity in the army, but no one can act on it. If they do, they discharge, but then they're discharged, dishonorably.

Perhaps it will make the whole thing easier to police.

Kirby Olson said...

Man will live forevermore because of Christmas Day!

J said...

New Years Resolution, 2011:

DiDi Feinstein and her wife Blum, brought to trial, indicted, imprisoned, inexorably f-ed. Shady DoD contracts, conflict of interest, UC regents hustles, and mo'. Boxer should be as well, but that'd require a bit mo' work.

Help make it happen Sir F-. Even if...one has to side with the hicks at times