With a vote that had seemed impossible just a week ago, Congress did the unthinkable yesterday:
The right thing.
Repealing Don't Ask, Don't Know (DADT) should have been a no-brainer. The president, the Pentagon, most lawmakers, the majority of the public, and the Secretary of Defense all supported the repeal. Even 70% of surveyed servicemembers believed it would have no negative impact on their units. But thanks to the voices of fear, it practically didn't happen.
Openly gay soldiers will be a dangerous distraction to the troops, endangering their lives!, warned Sen. John "I never said I was a maverick" McCain and Marine Corps Gen. James F. Amos. Apparently, now that they don't have to be closeted, McCain and Amos expect gay soldiers to hit the trenches in Bob Mackie gowns, making it impossible for our well-trained heterosexual boys to keep their eyes on incoming fire.
Does anyone else find that kind of hysterical homophobia a little, well, queer?
But there it was only a few weeks earlier, in a court hearing involving California's anti-same-sex-marriage law, Proposition 8. In that case, the group ProtectMarriage.com sounded the alarms, warning that allowing gay people to marry would threaten the very foundation of (the apparently fragile) institution of holy matrimony. Ironically, the same argument has been put forth by the likes of McCain, Newt Gingrich and Bill O'Reilly, who have five divorces and numerous affairs between them.
What lies beneath the fear of all things gay? Like all fears and prejudices, what really unnerves people may be deeper than meets the eye.
As a rule, people tend to rail against unpalatable aspects of themselves that they see in others. Someone who is afraid that they may be gay unconsciously tries to eradicate this threat from within by seeing the danger as coming from others. By clamping down on gay people they attempt to eradicate disturbing aspects of themselves. Many of the harshest critics of homosexuality turn out to be gay themselves -- like politician Larry Craig, who was caught in a compromising position in an airport men's room, and "Conversion Therapy" psychologist George Rekers, who believes homosexuality is sinful and was photographed with a male prostitute earlier this year.
Sadly, homosexuality is frequently associated with weakness, and male homosexuality with femininity. For men who feel insecure in their masculinity, gay men pose a particular threat. These heterosexuals try to prove (to themselves) that they are "real men" by beating up on other men.. Explaining why resistance to repealing DADT was particularly prevalent among Marines, Gen. James T. Conway responded, "We recruit a certain type of young American, a pretty macho guy or gal." Someone should tell Gen. Conway that us less-macho guys stopped calling women "gals" decades ago.
Finally, sexuality is a fertile breeding ground for anxiety. Sex represents both the ultimate vulnerability, as well as all that is wild and out of control. Erotic passions attract shame like a (Spanish) fly to a flame. As a society, we talk about sex constantly and often quite crudely (hello "The View"). We spend a fortune on products intended to improve our performance as if our sense of self was as flaccid as our erections. We are obsessed with sex -- we just don't have any. Gay people -- who often seem more sexually uninhibited -- can be a lightning rod for many erotic insecurities.
We all grow up in a heterosexual society that values sameness and conformity. To one degree or another, we are all at least a little homophobic, just as we are all a little racist. Prejudice is particularly insidious where it is most subtle, and therefore easy to hide out of view. Also this month, in the midst of the debates about DADT and same-sex marriage, a study in the journal Pediatrics showed that gay, lesbian and bisexual teenagers in the United States are far more likely to be harshly punished by schools and courts than their straight peers. This was true even though they are less likely to engage in serious misdeeds.
With the surprising repeal of DADT, perhaps homophobia has been dealt a serious blow.
But somehow I doubt it.
-- Eric Sherman, LCSW