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Military is afraid to admit 'sissies' can be brave, too.

It was easy for Americans to tolerate homosexuals as long as homosexuals were sissies. It is another matter altogether for many American heterosexuals to accept the very idea of sissy warriors.

All week, the bald and the bellied politicians - paragons of heterosexual propriety - worried the issue. The president was moving too fast, they said.

What would happen on an aircraft carrier six months at sea? What would happen in the shower room? Would homosexual soldiers in combat be able to concentrate on killing if they were, otherwise, in love?

For most of the week, it was mainly male voices me heard. The issue of "allowing" homosexuals into the military involves both gays and lesbians. But it was no coincidence that most of the talk centered on the homosexual male.

The gay male is more upsetting to heterosexual America, always has been. He violates the cult of the male in a country that has always been more male than female in its ethos.

A woman doesn't get upset at being taken for a lesbian; it's more threatening for a woman to be told she is frigid. Ask a heterosexual male, by contrast, if he's gay and he's likely to get very angry.

It is easier to be a tomboy in America than a sissy. Papa loves his tomboy daughter, with her soiled jeans and messed-up hair. She flatters him. Papa loathes his sissy son who goes to musical comedies with mama.

The U.S. military could accept the notion of women in the ranks long before it ever dared imagine gays in the barracks. And though Americans are hesitant today about allowing women into combat, the notion of the sissy warrior is more profoundly disturbing.

So there they were - the thin and worried voices on the radio call-in shows. Many of these were the same people who, during the Vietnam years, blithely mocked antiwar protesters as "draft dodgers." All this week they were in the embarrassing position of having to criticize homosexuals for wanting to fight and die for their country.

Here is exactly the problem: If the sissy is, after all, a warrior, then he is as brave and as "male" as we always thought the heterosexual was. And what does the sissy in arms tell us about the superpatriotic, right-wing pinups like Rush Limbaugh or Patrick Buchanan who, for one reason or another, never enlisted?

Pity the insecure heterosexual male this week. Pity the heterosexual who grew up with the notion that he was the predator. In his mythic scheme of things, wasn't this always the truth?

He was the one who went out and stalked the beasts in the forest. He was the one who protected the hearth and protected his family. In return, it was his prerogative to play the predator in matters of sex.

Poor papa! Poor twice-divorced Rush Limbaugh! The last few years I not been easy ones. Mama doesn't want to play mommy anymore. She has a better job than papa - she makes more money. The kids are, meanwhile, crossing social borders. The daughter is a better mechanic than papa. The son shaves his legs.

These years of feminism have not been easy ones for the insecure heterosexual male. Which is why he needed the idea of the sissy, the reminder of the sissy - all pink and flowery - to laugh at. He needed the sissy to stay in the pretty closet.

Everyone knows that there are gays in the military. The question this week has been one of simply whether we want to acknowledge reality. "Please stay in the closet!" the insecure heterosexuals were pleading. "We don't want to deal with the fact of your existence!"

The notion of the sissy warrior challenges the illusion that papa has always had about himself. For here was a sissy as predator, stalking the forest, defending the American household. Which is why, too discussion among congressmen turned finally to shower stalls.

The insecure heterosexual shuddered at the prospect that he would no longer be the active agent. (What had always bothered heterosexuals about homosexuals, of course, had been their promiscuity and sexual aggressiveness - the very things papa assumed for himself.)

The Joint Chiefs of Staff put on their pretty ribbons and medals and posed glumly for photos this week, looking like Victorian fathers. Senators echoed in the marble halls: The president must slow down. We need to have congressional bearings. This difficult issue needs to be studied at length.

President Clinton decided to play along, play the moderate. But it was too late. By week's end, the idea of the sissy warrior had invaded the American imagination. The insecure heterosexual male was left frightened by the notion. Frightened, but unable to say exactly why.

PNS editor Richard Rodriguez is a contributing editor to Harper's Magazine and a regular essayist on "MacNeil Lehrer."
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Title Annotation:ban on gays question
Author:Rodriguez, Richard
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Column
Date:Feb 12, 1993
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