Whenever opponents of open gay service in the military are asked why they favor “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) (or an outright ban on gays serving in the military), they respond that sexuality has no place in the military, and they couldn’t be more wrong. As long as there are humans serving in the military, sexuality will have a place there as well. Even a cursory glance at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs shows that sexuality plays a role in the human condition. It plays a role in every level of this pyramid, yet opponents of gay service ignore the role sexuality plays in all of our lives, starting with their own.
For example, sexuality isn’t considered by most straight people to be related to their self-esteem or confidence (except perhaps in specific acts like dating), but gay people will likely tell you a different story. It is related to straight people’s self-esteem in that they don’t suffer from the negative self-esteem that results from being harassed and discriminated against by ignorant people who simply don’t understand them. Their self-esteem is bolstered by being a member of the majority, but of course they don’t recognize or appreciate this. I can tell you that coming to the realization I was gay in a conservative environment had a profoundly negative effect on my self-esteem. The impact of having certain traits and characteristics becomes crystal clear when they land you in a minority.
The problem seems to stem from the idea that because these people take the social acceptance of their sexuality for granted, when they see “different”, they think “wrong”. Couple this with the idea that they have been conditioned by homophobic and/or religious propaganda to hear the word “gay” and think “men having sex”, and “open service” takes on a completely different meaning for them than it does to me. Why else would they immediately jump to pornographic shower scenes and sharing close quarters on ships? They don’t even consider the idea that I might just want to live my life with someone I love and who loves me, that I can call or write to when I’m homesick on deployment, or who will have dinner waiting for me when I return home from weeks in the field.
Although sex is an element of sexuality, it is only one small part of it. There are, unfortunately, varying and conflicting standards of how “sexual” sexuality is. I was once told by a coworker that his opposition to gay marriage was that he didn’t want his children to see gay people walking down the street holding hands. I asked why that was an issue (particularly since hand-holding isn’t normally an indication of a state-sanctioned, legal contract between two consenting adults), and he suggested that it was because his children might think it was normal and could potentially turn them gay. I wondered–if there was any logic to be found in that statement–how it happened that over decades of seeing straight couples everywhere I looked that it didn’t rub off on me, even a little.
I’m constantly told that people are uncomfortable with gay sex and therefore I should be wary of public displays of affection with another man. How is it that me holding hands with another man in public is somehow less appropriate than a straight couple doing the same thing? How do seemingly rational people see the image of two male hands casually touching in public and translate it to hot, sweaty, man-on-man action? The idea that two guys holding hands is inappropriate because it conjures images of hardcore gay sex proves not only that they have extremely active imaginations, but also that gays are held to a completely different standard when it comes to our daily lives. We are seen as being only a sideways glance away from indiscriminately grabbing the nearest guy and having our way with him and it is up to laws like DADT and DOMA to protect the rest of the population from our ravenous sexual appetites. I actually pity those who spend their lives fearing gay people because they are too ignorant to understand the role sexuality plays in everyone’s lives, not just gay people’s.
If every time I saw a man and woman holding hands I envisioned them having sex, or if seeing a man wearing a wedding ring made me think of how he and his wife spent their honeymoon locked in a hotel room for a week as newlyweds, I don’t think I would ever walk down a public street. If a man and a woman playing in the park with their child were most certainly pedophiles acting out some sick fetish, I wouldn’t want them in my neighborhood, either. Yet this is how gay people are seen, and as ridiculous and irrational as it becomes when put into heterosexual terms, it’s still socially acceptable to see homosexuality as the root of all evil in the world. Disclosing my sexuality is not, as some would have you believe, meant to express or imply a desire to explicitly describe the details of my sex life with their children. Further, my decision to live openly gay is no different than their decision to live openly straight: an otherwise insignificant issue that is made significant only by their discomfort, as opposed to a conscientious attempt by me to destroy the moral fabric of their lives while promoting some nefarious agenda.
Several months ago, when Army PFC Bradley Manning was arrested for allegedly leaking classified and unclassified military documents to WikiLeaks, it took only a short time before his sexuality was brought to light. It was as though being an alleged traitor wasn’t enough, it was that much worse because he was a gay traitor. And it wasn’t long before some people began to make the argument that he was a traitor because he is gay. Even his own attorneys are suggesting that his sexuality played a role in his decision to compromise national security, a defense that the Log Cabin Republicans have subsequently been compelled to rightfully condemn.
People who are inclined to see sexuality as relating only to my sex life will condemn me for publicly acknowledging my sexuality. Although it is not my intent to be known as a gay Marine, there will inevitably be those who see me only this way. The truth, however, is that I don’t consider myself a gay Marine any more than I consider myself a left-handed Marine or a blond Marine. My sexuality is no more a threat to anyone else’s life or family as theirs is to mine, but it is clear we have a way to go before everyone comes to share this understanding. Believe me when I tell you that, as a general rule, gay people do not wish to be defined by our sexuality any more than straight people do. It is an aspect of our lives that has a profound impact on who we are as people, but no more than anyone else.