On sexuality, ignorance, and sex in the showers

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.

Author: Matthew

U.S. Marine Corps officer living in North Carolina. The views expressed here are my own, and are in no way intended to represent the United States Marine Corps, Department of Defense or any of its components.

27 thoughts on “On sexuality, ignorance, and sex in the showers”

  1. Great post!

    If you look back through history, the people who got persecuted (and are still be persecuted) were always the people who were ‘different’ in some way. People fear the unknown – it’s why we even bother with religion and science, so we can explain away the things that we don’t understand or don’t know about and feel more comfortable in the world. Personally, I think that humans are the ultimate unknown. We see what humans are capable of doing and we struggle to understand why so when we see humans that are different from the masses, we freak out. “I know what I’m like and I know what my neighbors are like but I don’t know what the Jews, blacks, gays, etc….are like.” It’s a sad reality and I’m not so optimistic that that we will ever get to the place where everyone is accepting but I am proud to be part of a generation where being politically correct and open minded is “in”. Heck – we’re passing same sex marriage laws and repealed DADT! I celebrate that every day.

  2. I was recently told about a couple who moved out of their neighborhood because too many gay couples had moved in. Hell, I can’t believe anyone still has that kind of attitude. The good news I guess is that attitudes are changing, and we can only pray it continues.

    1. Now that was a stupid idea… don’t they know that whenever we infest a neighborhood the property values go up – no matter how crappy your house is! Ah, well. I guess they were afraid they’d have to get the rusty cars and dead refridgerators off the front lawn…. *smirk*

      Been there, Ellis – and I even helped them load the truck.

  3. It’s unnerving how accurately and comprehensively you’ve summed up my own thoughts about this issue. And as a retired military member who served both before and during the DADT era, it’s still kind of surreal to me to see this published publicly by someone ON ACTIVE DUTY.

  4. Thank you! Posts like yours keep us thinking…keep us talking. We shouldn’t have to call conversations about human sexuality a courageous act. But since we seem to keep putting a cloth over that “elephant in the livingroom” and/or scapegoating “other” people, it takes people willing to speak and be in public to push the dialogue.

  5. Thank you so much for your well thought out, reasoned thoughts. You put in words what I have thought, but never been able to cogently put forth to someone during a discussion of this issue. As a gay man myself, I find myself often at a loss for words when confronted by the stupidity of some individuals when discussing the issue of gay rights. I will definitely have to read this over a few times and formulate some logical talking points for any future discussions I may encounter. Thanks so much and merry christmas!

  6. I thought when DADT was passed that it was a slap in the face of those that serve with integrity – which is everyone. We all took an oath to serve with honor, which requires us to be of strong moral fiber and be brutally honest. I commend your blog and the intelligent discussion.

    Peace In Your Heart, Mind & Spirit – Always,

    DT Bondick
    US ARMY 1982

  7. Well said! Sexuality is about more than our sex lives (like you say). It’s about our identities and daily experience.

    As an openly transgender man I often face criticism for being open about my female past. People tell me they don’t want to know what I do with my partner in my bedroom because they don’t share what they do. And yet I never talk about my sex life with anyone other than my partner – for example, someone said this when my female past came up because we were discussing the high schools we went to and I disclosed I went to an all-girls’ school just like the woman I was talking with had.

    I love your blog and writings. I applaud your courage, honesty and integrity.

  8. Matthew I would never think of you as a “Gay Marine” – a yummylicious Marine who’s 20 years too young for me and already taken, yes. But never a “Gay Marine.”

    Sorry, but after “…it didn’t rub off on me, even a little…” you didn’t really expect me not to be laughing when I posted a comment, did you? Silly boy.

    Seriously, or as seriously as Mommie Dammit can, I always love reading your posts. You will always be one of my beloved brain-damaged children in uniform, but your writing shows a cutting intelligence and honesty that I appreciate right down to that little, black, shrivelled-up heart of mine.

    I’ve often marvelled at the hypocrisy of those who oppose us, and have always found the “sex in the showers” argument to be especially tiresome. It reminds me of what my dear, departed grandmother use to say when confronted with massive stupidity…

    “Humans are such amusing creatures… I think I’ll go eat one.”

    My love to you and that man of yours,

  9. Once again, you never fail to disappoint me with a well-crafted, intelligent, and thoughtful post. I think you’re the first blogger to cite Maslow outside the shrinks office! I’ll be FB-ing this to my people and spreading the education. Thanks again.

  10. Great post, and I agree with all you say. Your thoughts brought a couple of points to mind: the military is a reflection of its larger society, and it can be a very effective organization for spearheading social change. As a reflection of the larger society, it shows us the issues we have in American culture around the body and sexuality. I spend a fair amount of time outside the US, mostly in Germany, and am always amazed at how comfortable they are with their bodies and sexuality – straight men dancing with other straight men. I hope this would carry over into their military. On the second point, you make me wonder about how much more powerful the military would be in effecting social change if we had a civil force rather than the professional one we have today? While I was one of the youngsters protesting against Vietnam and the draft, I have come to believe that a mandatory national service is a good thing, and in our case of gay rights could be even more forceful because it would touch more people’s lives.

    Keep your posts coming, I think you are raising great issues.

  11. I applaud your courage as a blogger more than your courage as a Marine. And in the United States of America, that is a sad thing to have to say. As a Marine, you face death, dismemberment or injury from the enemy. As a gay man, you face the death of your relationships, dismemberment of your self-esteem or injury – bodily or emotional – from “friends” and family. Thank you for taking the risks you do by blogging this way while still on active duty. Your blog gives people a chance to see a Marine, who just happens to be gay; and left-handed and blond. The more of us who stand up and say, “I’m just a normal person,” the better! Now if they’d just let a lesbian teacher keep her job.

  12. Sir, next time somebody tells you they don’t want their kids seeing two men holding hands (funny how few seem concerned if it is two women) because their kids might think it is okay and “become” gay….I have a better retort for them….Repy….”So you are saying that if you saw two men holding hands when you were 4 or 5 years old, it would have made you gay?” And then watch them backpeddle. I have used that several times. When push comes to shove, when you scratch a homophobe, you find a homo. I have never met a man who is totally straight who cares or even wants to talk about who might be a homosexual. It is the ones who recognize in themselves their own homosexuality, and wish to mask it by attacking others. Anyway…I enjoy reading your blog, and as a former Marine myself, I can honestly say, the really straight guys don’t care. It is the closest cases that cause all this concern and turmoil! Semper Fi!

  13. Thank you for your wonderful posts. I enjoy them immensely and am always passing things along. I never have understood the logic behind some peoples thinking. Like being around or living next to gay people will “rub off”. *shakes head* I wish much continued success in your career and love life. Keep up the good work!

  14. Thank you for putting your words down so beautifully and elegantly. It’s been my belief (wish actually) that every straight person should have to spend a year questioning their orientation and perhaps they’d realize the struggle theLGBT community generally goes through until (hopefully) they reach self-acceptance. Repeal of DADT and possibly DOMA isn’t just about rights-it’s about respect and finding our individual self-esteem, a blessing many gay people before us weren’t blessed to enjoy. Thank you for lending your courage and eloquence to the public conciousness.

  15. As an African American, retired military, Christian. I really liked your post. The military was the proving ground for integration. As we all can see now, we haven’t had major racial issues in the military for some time. Gays serving openly has gone fairly smoothly. It will only get better.
    I would mention, though, that “religion” doesn’t equate to “homophobia”. I know this to be true in Christianity. Those Christians who are homophobic probably would have been so eve if they had never stepped inside a church. I know many people like them. Just my 2-cents.
    I look forward to more of your post.

  16. I loved the article, and I agree that I don’t want to be defined solely by my sexuality. I think, however, that because of the discrimination and sometimes years of self-searching that gay people go through before we are okay with ourselves, that our sexuality almost necessarily has a more profound impact on our identities than it has with straight people. That’s the reason gay pride parades and celebrations happen–the struggles we go through give gay sexuality a more important and profound meaning than it would have without the struggle and persecution.

  17. I never have understood why some people (especially men) are so homophobic. They say they wouldn’t want to shower with gay men; do they think they’re SO attractive that a gay man couldn’t help but attack them? Do they want to attack every female they see? Yes, men are more visually stimulated than women, but do they somehow think that gay men aresomehow less able to differentiate between “appropriate” and “inappropriate” behavior? Most men I’ve asked this say “Oh, but that’s different”. How? I think they’re scared they WON’T be attractive to gay men, thus disturbing their feelings of their overwhelming attractiveness to the world.

  18. Such a great essay on the subject. I just came across this, which I thought was interesting:

    If that guy in 1868 had picked different words, then we might be talking about romantic orientation rather than sexual orientation, or something altogether different.

    I don’t at all understand why some people keep thinking of ‘sex’ when they hear ‘sexuality’, it’s just so rude and bad mannered. And what’s all this nonsense about visualising bedroom activities of other people? I mean of anyone. I.e. when we talk about adoption, child rearing or god forbid conception, we do not, as a rule, visualise the actual or potentially future parents in bed together. When as youngsters we get the birds and the bees talk and realise how we came about, we shy away from thinking of our parents as sexual beings – so why on earth don’t people extend that courtesy to everyone? I suspect it goes back to the thinking as ‘wrong’ element that you mentioned. Many people cannot think beyond the realm of their own experiences, they never learnt empathy, they cannot put themselves into someone else’s shoes. They are much the poorer for it.

  19. I completely agree with what you’re talking about and have practiced for as long as I’m open about my sexuality. If one doesn’t make a big deal about being straight, why should I? Which is also why some gays annoy me for disclosing their sexuality with hello, like it’s all the defines them which by consequence sends out the message that gays are that and any other trait they have comes after their sexuality or because of it. On the other end, it’s so repulsing to have people meant to be part of a loving religion speak like that and think that sexuality is as infectious as the flu. If it doesn’t hurt our ego, then it shames their intelligence.

  20. “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?” Great post, and Thank You for your service.

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