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Choosing sides in the cultural war.

It appears that in order to be a humanist one must also be a feminist and pro-gay. Please discontinue my membership." This letter to the editor of The Humanist was the briefest sponses to two articles on gays in the military by Leo N. Miletich and myself in the May/June 1993 issue. As it zeroes in on the essentials, I'll advance a conviction of my own:

Humanism is a fart in the wind if humanists themselves remain aloof from social change. And when humanism becomes one more philosophical mask for the dehumanization of women and queers, then feminism and queer liberation become the true face of humanism.

Sgt. 1st Class B. R. Ward (Retired) sent this response, which I quote almost in full:

Look, in The Humanist I want to

read of reason and logic, enhanced

socialization--not Queer City. If

The Humanist is going to turn into

a propaganda release for a gang of

terminally diseased, perverted,

child-molesting, disgusting faggots,

you can kiss my rosy red ass

goodbye. If you can't understand

this and plan on more propaganda

for a bunch of shit-chute fuckers

and dick-sucking, diseased faggots,

refund my subscription....

And Leo N. Miletich reads like

he is a flaming faggot, disclaimers

or no.

Here is honest hatred, unalloyed and uncensored. Liberal heterosexuals may have the luxury of dismissing such pronouncements as extreme or eccentric. Queers, on the contrary, know all too well that such hatred is radioactive throughout our culture. If a token queer gains a regular column in The Humanist at this late date in history, anti-gay bigots may well perceive the propaganda of a "gang." Speaking as a shit-chute fucker and dick-sucking diseased faggot myself, I must draw attention to Ward's intellectual kinship with George Will, the Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist who wrote: "Journalism seems reluctant to clarify that the primary reason for the AIDS epidemic is that the rectum, with its delicate and absorptive lining, is not suited to homosexual uses."

That single sentence--which I quote from "Straight Talk About AIDS," published in the New York Daily News of June 4, 1987--is so rich in obfuscations that I must wait to do it justice in a later issue of The Humanist. For the moment, I ask readers to read it again. If, as is likely, a fair percentage of you regard such words as common sense in 1993, then some credit must go to the many journalists such as George Will back in 1987 and earlier who were not at all "reluctant" to blame AIDS on queers.

In response to Miletich's article, O. J. Cunningham addresses the following warning to the editor:

You should recognize that he has

leveled libelous canards against

our military while protesting what

he, dubiously, calls unfair criticism

against gay people. You do not

trash our military.

Two personal guesses, if I

may. (1) Miletich never served in

our military or if he has it was not

on a voluntary basis. (2) He is

probably gay--certainly lacking in

masculinity. Let's omit such articles

in the future.

About the only criticism gay people have not received from our enemies is the charge once leveled at Jews--that we drink the blood of babies. But the frequent charge that we are prone to molesting and corrupting the young amounts to something similar, and likewise reduces us to social parasites. The military is a bastion of bigotry, and the evidence for this is abundant in the current congressional hearings. Cunningham seems to believe that there is no moral authority higher than the Pentagon, in which case every libelous canard the top brass direct at queers becomes gospel truth. You do not trash our military--there you have it: the Eleventh Commandment.

An openly queer foe of militarism may be a person of no account, but in the second paragraph of his own article, Miletich explicitly informed readers that he is a critic of the military ban on gays "from the straight side," that he has "never been intimate with another man," and that he spent three years in the US. Army "as a volunteer" And what do folks like Ward and Cunning, ham do with such information? Ward insists Miletich is "a flaming faggot--disclaimers or no" At least he seems to have read the disclaimers. Cunningham, on the contrary, seems to suffer from selective amnesia--or else he, too, read what Miletich wrote and is also calling him a liar. Some folks plainly believe that a straight military veteran who opposes the ban on gays is a creature who cannot and must not exist, as fictional as a unicorn, as unnatural as a queer.

The same folks share an implicit faith that the quintessence of masculinity is strictly heterosexual and that such masculinity is quintessentially enshrined in the military. Though all this is cultural mythology, such myths have real cultural power; to that degree, mythology and society do coincide. It is not at all necessary to believe in biblical inerrancy in order to be a sexual and cultural fundamentalist, and these letters are one proof that such true believers find a home even among humanists.

Charles W. Reace asks the editor of The Humanist to cancel his subscription, and writes:

From Leo N. Miletich and Scott

Tucker I learn that each individual

is born with the divine right

to be "gay" (how I hate that

word), even though the one factor

that runs through all of nature

is that the highest purpose for

each biological entity is the propagation

of its species. As an aside,

let me say that some "gays" can't

help themselves, and I know and

am friendly with some. I will

never agree, however, that homosexuality

is a normal behavior and

should be portrayed to all children

as an acceptable life-style.

This is bigotry in liberal masquerade. "As an aside," Reace expresses the same charitable contempt for queers that certain genteel racists express for blacks--he, too, is friendly with some who "can't help themselves " In my own case, years of experience and hard work helped to create a radical queer, and I assure Reace that I have not the least desire to trade either my sexuality or my politics for anyone else's. I am precisely that "perverse."

Humanists keep company with the religious right if, like Reace, they agree that children must be discouraged from accepting homosexuality "as an acceptable life-style." Speaking for myself, I do not, in fact, have a "life-style" I have a life. In my youth, I had the good luck to have a few gay teachers, and they helped save both my sanity and my life. We know that the suicide rate among gay youth is very high, and this is no "natural" phenomenon. It is an artifact of our culture--a culture in which gay people are still shamed, silenced, and erased.

The religious right does its best to censor any school curriculum in which lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are even acknowledged. On May 18, the New York Times reported:

The May 4 elections for the 288

seats on the city's 32 community

school boards were the city's most

contentious in two decades, pitting

a loose coalition of conservatives

led by Pat Robertsor's

Christian Coalition with the

Roman Catholic Archdiocese of

New York against an array of gay,

rights and other liberal groups.

But with vote counting completed

and results released in only 12 of

the 32 districts, the smoke had

still not cleared sufficiently to

conclude who had prevailed in the

city-wide battle.

Similar battles are already breaking out in towns and cities across the nation. Which side are you on? In Philadelphia, where I live, Archbishop Bevilcqua initiated a coalition of Catholics, Protestants, and Muslims to wage a holy war against domestic partnership legislation.

Any divine sanction for any forms of human sexuality is Reace's own projection. Indeed, with supernatural omniscience he pronounces "the highest purpose" of nature: "the propagation of the species." It may come as news to Reace that some lesbian, gay, and bisexual folks are parents or help raise kids in other ways--as relatives, neighbors, friends, and, yes, as teachers, scout troop leaders, and camp counselors. But perhaps he objects to all sexual acts that are not potentially procreative? Then he must maintain the moral consistency of the Holy Father and explicitly oppose all contraception and all heterosexual acts which rule out pregnancy. I do not care to pick on Reace in particular. My point here is more general: I am not, in fact, surprised that some "secular humanists" share a common patriarchal culture with religious conservatives.

Laverne Rison's letter to the editor (see "Letters," p. 47) makes me wonder whether I must post traffic signs throughout my work so that all readers accustomed to level, unswerving, earnest statements may slam on the brakes when they see "WARNING: CURVES AHEAD." Irony is almost as contraband as crack cocaine among some folks, so I will try to respond with Presbyterian rigor to Rison's concerns. To begin: yes, even if I had sodomized Millie, the adorable subject of a Barbara Bush biography, it is perfectly true that "dogs are immune to the virus" linked to AIDS.

Concerning my reservations with scientific studies of sexuality, I wrote:

I do believe human beings can

search out a common ground of

reality, and I do believe reason

and science can be useful in that

venture. However, queers had

good reason to distrust the gospel

truth about sexuality, psychology,

and society offered by science in

the past, and we might be more

skeptical even now...

This is what Rison concludes in response:

It's one thing to reject a certain

theory so long as you have evidence

to the contrary which you

are willing to submit to scientific

inquiry. It's quite another to say

that science was wrong in the

past, therefore we reject it categorically

at present.

Skepticism is not categorical rejection. Rison's inability to read what I wrote is further proof that scientism is a secular religion with its own priesthood, dogmas, and true believers. Science is a social venture and subject to social distortions and abuses, so no one should be surprised that scientists participated in fascist eugenics, in the racist Tuskegee syphilis study, and in programs using castration, lobotomy, and electroshock against gays. And scientific collaboration in projects driven by no higher motives than power, profit, and militarism flourishes today.

Reading my work, Rison responds: "I forget whether or not homosexuals should be in the military as I begin to wonder if they belong in the AHA." Oh? I assure Rison that I am unrepresentative of many queers who are thoroughly uncritical of scientific power. I do categorically reject both the superficial and subterranean currents of scientism within humanism, and if this conviction excludes me from any sect, so be it.

Rison also writes: "I doubt our military brass are ignorant enough to believe AIDS is transmitted by the evil eye or that Scott Tucker is ignorant enough to believe they do.... What the military does understand is that AIDS is a blood-borne disease" Rison and a few other letter writers echo the party line of the top brass, none of whom have shown much knowledge about either AIDS or gay people. In sexual intercourse, HIV is more easily transmitted from the male insertive partner to either the male or female receptive partner. Should we therefore exclude women from military service as well? And rather than driving gays underground in the military, why not try to reach all recruits with comprehensive sex and health education?

The military tests every recruit for HIV and follows up with regular blood tests. Why is this fact so rarely mentioned by military officials themselves in the current debate? When they do, they usually add the comment that anyone might be infected the day after any blood test, and there is also a latency period before infection may be detected. Quite true. But the contention that lifting the ban on gays would make AIDS epidemic in the military is quite simply a hysterical fiction. This assumes, once again, that gays are not already in the military--and, in fact, there is no such epidemic in the ranks. In defense of an indefensible policy, the top brass en, courage panic and prejudice--to which certain humanists are evidently not immune.

Gary Bass, writing in the February 22, 1993, issue of the New Republic, puts the current debate in historical perspective:

In 1948 blacks were accused of

spreading tuberculosis; today gays

are accused of spreading AIDS.

Segregationist Richard B. Russell

of Georgia ... {said} that "the incidence

of venereal diseases, gonorrhea

and syphilis, was 252 per

thousand among the Negro race,

as compared to 17 per thousand

with the white race." In 1993,

Wells-Petry writes in the WAll

Street Journal that "homosexual

adolescents ... were 23 times

more likely to contract a sexually

transmitted disease than were

heterosexual adolescents "

Then as now, reactionaries play heavily upon the themes of corruption and contagion. Then as now, our society exposes many blacks and gay youth to greater risk of health problems and provides less access to appropriate health care.

John Arents' letter to The Humanist states:

Some people are unsuited to some

jobs, either because of the work

itself or because of conditions that

come with it--which does not

make them bad, unworthy, or unreliable

people. In particular,

homosexuals should not be in occupations

that require group sharing

of sleeping/bathing/dressing

accommodations. Nonmilitary examples

include summer camps and

traveling circuses.

Traveling circuses? After queers have filed those jobs that straight society deems most suitable for us, many of us will still find ourselves unemployed. Whether we are openly or secretly gay, in each case there are moral guardians who would purge us from the ranks of soldiers, sailors, teachers, librarians, doctors, nurses, camp counselors--and now even from the ranks of trapeze artists, lion tamers, and clowns. Might we be allowed special permits to take our show on the road under lavender tents? Oueers, I am confident, could create even a circus of our very own like no other--but shouldn't that choice be ours?

Arents continues: "It is a liberal, humanistic assumption, perhaps even true, that homosexuals are not anti-human monsters but are fundamentally like other people, except for being aroused by different stimuli." Note that precious qualifying clause--"perhaps even true,"--which does leave open the fair-minded possibility that homosexuals might, in fact, be antihuman monsters. A humanist must be careful not to rush to judgment, and it is notoriously difficult to discern the humanity of queers.

"Putting a male homosexual into a male barracks is as cruel and dangerous as putting a male heterosexual into a female barracks," according to Arents. I am willing to think the unthinkable: why not allow men and women of all sexual persuasions to live, eat, wash, train, and fight together? Against nature? Nonsense, though evidently against the common sense of this culture. Such integration would have a salutary effect upon straight men in particular, if a decent code of conduct was truly enforced. Arents assumes many gay men will be as sexually predatory toward straight men as many straight men have been toward women. The only restraint on such behavior in the case of queers, we might conclude, is precisely the penalty which would follow if they dared come out of the closet. But even within the closet, queers are not to be trusted, and Arents spells out this danger:

Mr. Miletich accuses servicemen

of being "afraid of homosexuals"

Why should they not be? Most

of the time nothing will happen,

but I would not bet my life on the

self-control of an 18-year-old, especially

when he is drunk or half

asleep. The fear is not only of a

traumatic, loathsome experience

but, with AIDS prevalent, of

death.

Anal sex is the act which often (as here) is only alluded to in such sexual scenarios, and with just such imprecision as to whether sodomy itself or rape is considered the great crime against nature. And the imprecision extends in this case to the "self-control" and the identity of the drunken, sleepy youth--gay, straight, bisexual, seducer, or seduced? A sexual border is being crossed, but we don't know just who is crossing nor in which direction. Was the story any clearer in Arents' own imagination? In the real world, some men and women of all persuasions cross such borders willingly, sober, and awake, in both civilian and military life.

The public debate about gays in the military is saturated with ambivalence and mixed messages about male sexual aggression. Boys will be boys and, as long as they go after girls, many kinds of sexual abuse--including rape--may be regarded as regrettable, but at least as "natural" Within the military, such behavior may even become ritualized and competitive--another way of pulling rank within a hierarchy of masculinity. And so we got the Taihook spectacle, where some guys wore a T-shirt proclaiming: "Women Are Property."

The military has given heterosexual men great license to abuse women and to queer-bait and queer-bash; acts of oral and anal sex are openly bragged about by straight sailors and soldiers, and often occur with prostitutes. And yet in the current public debate, the real world is turned upside down so that generals may join preachers in the crusade against queers. In recent congressional hearings, Senator Thurmond, sunk in the torpor of a Galapagos turtle, momentarily stirred to insert this proclamation into a debate about military sodomy statutes: "Heterosexuals do not commit sodomy." Laughter erupted in that marble cavern. If oral and anal sex are the criteria, then the majority of "sodomites" are heterosexual.

Currently, soldiers and sailors are encouraged by "investigating" senators to announce their aversion to the mere gaze of queers, so magically potent that we are able to emasculate whole battalions at a glance. Is this what Arents fears when he states that "the reaction of homosexual men to other men is similar to the reaction of heterosexual men to women"? Meaning what, exactly? That we aim to penetrate every orifice in the vicinity? But a gay man glancing at another man might, in fact, have a different fantasy in mind altogether--assuming sex was on his mind at all. One soldier quoted in the New York Times did, in fact, reverse Arents' equation but expressed equal anxiety when he said that having a gay man in the barracks would be like having a heterosexual woman among men (though camouflaged with a cock). A creature of this kind becomes an uncanny presence--a secret agent, a spy. And it's true you can never be quite sure who might be gay. Especially when you try hard to lock all queers in closets.

Well, everyone knows queers are already in the jets and tanks, in the ships and subs, in Pentagon offices and military barracks. But now generals and politicians are asking everyone to pretend they do not know. This is Senator Nunn's "compromise solution," dubbed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"--a policy which, in 1993, exceeds past hypocrisy and requires deliberate idiocy.

In one respect, Senator Nunn is doing democracy a great service, because he has been pressing an important point upon all liberal critics of the military ban during the current congressional hearings--namely, he insists that those who call for the abolition of the ban on gays should also call explicitly for the abolition of all state and military sodomy statutes. On this point, even congressional liberals like Senator Kerry suddenly get squeamish and feel forced to expound on the differences between "tolerating" and "condoning" a "lifestyle." Then Senator Nunn presses his advantage and insists that either the current sodomy statutes must be enforced or scrapped--knowing full well they are only enforced against queers.

Only self-contempt could make queers grateful for the mere tolerance of those citizens--liberals, civil libertarians, humanists, whatever they choose to call themselves--who so plainly wish we did not exist. For every humanist who expressed in public such opinions as I've just surveyed, there are others, unfortunately, who have kept similar thoughts private. Better we should have this out in public.

Editor's Note: We've devoted additional space here for three reasons: (1) because of the heavy correspondence we received; (2) because President Clinton's deadline for resolving the "gays in the military" issue is fast approaching; and (3) because it seems clear than humanists need this public discussion.
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Title Annotation:homosexuality, gays in the military and public opinion
Author:Tucker, Scott
Publication:The Humanist
Article Type:Column
Date:Jul 1, 1993
Words:3390
Previous Article:Compassion in Dying.
Next Article:False history, gas chambers, blue smoke, and cracked mirrors.
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