A friend wrote me today on Facebook and said he’d been posed with a question that he’d like my thoughts on:
It seems to me that a key issue of having gays in the military is the idea of sharing barracks, sleeping quarters, restrooms, and other private areas with people of other sexual orientations. In other words, if it’s not acceptable for military women to be forced to sleep, shower, and dress in the presence of their male comrades, then why is it acceptable for heteros to be forced to do these things in the presence of their gay comrades?
Here is what I came up with:
The short answer is that while male and female facilities are rooted in physiological differences between the sexes, the lack of physiological differences in varying sexuality among both men and women prevent the same distinction being used to separate people of the same sex based on their sexual identities.
I think it’s interesting that he phrases his question in such a way as to imply that the reason men and women do not share quarters is because women shouldn’t be forced to live with men. Would not the converse also then be true? Should it not also be that men shouldn’t be forced to live with women because of what the women could do to the men? Of course he doesn’t, because he sees the world as one centered around the heterosexual male (most likely due to religious influence). He holds dear the idea that heterosexual males should be the focus of effort, and anything else must be clearly separated so that position is not jeopardized. Clearly the heterosexual male’s privilege is not threatened currently because the distinction is made for him by separate facilities for men and women. The privilege is threatened, though, when gays are given equal status, because the distinction is no longer made and the heterosexual male is forced to occupy the same quarters and operate on the same level as someone he deems to be less than himself.
He seems to imply that women can’t be subjected to living with men because men cannot control their desires towards women, and then takes it a step further to imply that gay men cannot control their desires when it comes to straight men. I would propose that men and women are not given separate spaces for any other reason than conventional wisdom that is rooted in the basic differences between men and women. Physiological distinctions between the genders have long been used to keep the sexes separate. Men and women are genetically different. These differences mean they have different physical capabilities and characteristics, as well as different hygienic and physiological needs, which are easier handled by separate facilities and infrastructure. (The separation is probably not entirely necessary since gender roles have become less distinct in recent decades, but it exists.)
To the contrary, gay men are genetically indistinguishable from straight men, as are lesbians from straight women. Further, as most professional and reputable studies indicate, sexuality and sexual identity are much less clearly defined than the differences between the sexes. Sexuality is a sliding scale, and therefore cannot be so easily written off as gay vs. straight. How would that distinction be made? Would there be separate barracks for people who identify as straight but occasionally engage in homosexual acts? Is there a difference between them and people who identify as homosexual but occasionally engage in heterosexual acts? And what about people who identify as bisexual?
Who wants to have sex with whom has never been the primary purpose behind separate facilities, so to use it as an argument now is something of a false pretense. Even if it were a valid premise, it would imply that sexual impulses cannot be controlled and that people need to be physically protected from those who might be sexually attracted to them. The truth of the matter is that gay men already shower with straight men, they sleep in the same barracks rooms, and they serve on the same submarines. Gay men and women obviously don’t have an issue controlling their impulses around straight people because they already do it. In fact, 14,000 of them are doing it right now, on active duty, as we speak. How would this be different in the absence of DADT? Simple: straight people would be forced to shower with people whom they *know* to be gay, and that makes them uncomfortable. This has nothing to do with gay men and lesbians, and everything to do with the straight people who are afraid of serving with them.
He speaks as though if DADT were repealed that straight people would have a right to know a person’s sexuality so they could be protected from something that makes them uncomfortable. There is no such requirement proposed: no one would be required to reveal their sexuality. Even if they were, such regulations would be completely unenforceable (see the previous discussion on sexual identity). Gender differences are clearly biological, whereas sexuality is not. (And he needn’t worry about transgender issues because DADT would not allow trans people to enter into military service).
We have behavior and conduct regulations that govern the interpersonal relationships between men and women in the military. Inappropriate conduct will always be inappropriate–even if DADT were to go away, what constitutes sexual harassment and sexual assault would not. The only real variable here is how the straight people would react to the idea that the people they’ve been serving with all along are gay. The only way this would become an issue is if straight people could not be trusted to maintain their professionalism, decorum, and integrity to do the right thing around people they know to be gay. (I limit this statement to straight people because gay men and women on active duty have already proven themselves capable.) If they can be trusted to control themselves, then there is no issue. If they cannot be trusted, then it is those uncontrolled perpetrators–not the victims of their acts–who should be punished. To use DADT as a means to “protect gays” is an inefficient means to this end; DADT would be like a curfew enacted to protect innocent citizens from being shot by irrational people who can’t keep themselves from shooting them. The more appropriate, rational response is to prosecute the criminals, not sequester the would-be victims.
I suppose the real bottom line (besides the simpler, physiological reasoning) is that women only need to be separated from men when they have reason to fear being preyed upon by them. The same would be true for straight people who need to be protected from gays. Since gays have already proven themselves able to contain their allegedly uncontrolled desires, rational straight people should have nothing to fear, and therefore protection by means of separation is irrelevant.
Although I’m no expert on the full history of Blacks serving in the U.S. military, I know they were fighting by the Civil War in all-Black units. This was due entirely to bigotry and a general discomfort of whites to serve and live with blacks. They faced the same discrimination that we deal with today and similar arguments were made to maintain that separation. President Truman made the same arguments for integration that are being used to allow open service for gays: personal prejudice stands in the way of equality and impedes unit cohesion and military effectiveness, and is therefore not reason enough to warrant segregation.
I doubt the person who posed this question will be swayed by this argument because he views people of varying sexuality as fundamentally different, whereas people who work to repeal DADT do not. The same resistance was faced and conquered before and will be again, it’s just a matter of time that can be sped along by policy if and when the current administration chooses to enact it.