Essays & Images on Cities, Travel and Contemporary Culture. A web journal of James A. Clapp, Ph.D., an UrbisMedia Ltd. Production

Vol.64.1: DON’T ASK, DON’T DROP THE SOAP

V064-01_soaponaropeYou’re probably not going to believe this. (Actually, you probably don’t believe anything I write.) In a group discussion in which the subject of the American military DADT (Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell) came up, an acquaintance of mine, a few years senior to me, argued a spirited defense of the prevailing policy. At first I thought he might actually have a logical reason that I had not fully considered in my own argument that it should be rescinded forthwith. But I should have known better. He is a Republican. But that might not matter; there are Republicans who favor repealing DADT. Homophobia crosses ideological lines.


Fair Warning: you might have to be over 18 for this next part. My opponent’s concern derived from his homophobia. Not that (and he spent a period in military service) he feared that our soldiers might be forced to re-decorate, listen to Barbra Streisand or sing along with The Sound of Music while keeping us safe so we can destroy our democracy without Muslim meddling; no, his homophobia was more specific and personal. Let’s hear his own words on the matter: “Would you like to be in a shower room with a homosexual?” he put it to me, as if that were a quod erat demonstrandum.


OK, Fair Warning Again: “Buggery!” I responded, “you have buggerphobia. Next thing, you’ll be telling me that pederastic priests are all gays!” So, that was his case, and his fear, and it got me to wondering if the basis of DADT is an abiding fear of male rape. The old argument against gays in the military, or the CIA or FBI (its legendary director and cross-dresser excepted) was that gays could be compromised if they were exposed (“Zo, Elton Johnovich, tell me the launch codes for your missiles or I write on your Facebook wall that you are faggot.”) Gays don’t give a rat’s about that stuff anymore, if they ever did (except for that FBI director, of course). No, these days it’s all about group showers and those tight quarters on submarines that strike fear in the hearts of our hetero-warriors that they are going to be, ahem, buggered. Anyway, that’s what my wrinkle-butt acquaintance argues. According to him, nobody who is facing down an Al Qaeda insurgent, or has to make a decision whether to launch missiles from a nuclear sub, wants to be constantly worried that a closet hairdresser or fashion designer in tight-fitting camouflage is going to sneak up and take their manhood.


Somehow, the “logic” of DADT doesn’t quite square even with these ridiculous phobias. For example, if gays in the military are required to quietly stay in the “camouflage closet” as it were, then how the hell do you know who you are showering with? BTW (and I promise to make this the last reference): the showering phobia is the basis of an old joke about “don’t drop your soap in the (group) shower.” Is that really the problem here? Simple: issue soap-on-a-rope and those rampant gay gang-rapes in military showers will be eliminated. So DADT just creates an atmosphere of suspicion that anybody with Barbra Streisand songs on his iPod is gay. And, of course, it forces a gay military person to fear having to lie, or be caught in a lie, if they are “outed” by someone (and many have been). Put another way, homophobic fear is transferred to the homosexual.


What President Obama’s hang up with all this is a mystery. During his campaign he said DADT should be rescinded. So it has been a year during which he could wave his Commander-in-Chief Executive wand and make DADT disappear. But all that has happened since is that nearly 600 gay service people have been expunged from the military and the right to serve their country. Some of them, with records of valor and behavioral spotlessness have been ridden out of military showers and have lost their pensions. Shame on Obama, who also, of course, has his hang-up about same sex marriage. We needed a profile in courage and we got a weenie with Machiavellian political craftiness. In his State of the Union, in the process of dishing out some candy for every constituency his focus group could identify, he said again said that DADT should go. That might have encouraged Admiral Mullen, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to say before a Congressional committee that it should go forthwith But it prompted our Twerp Secretary of Defense (and lost twin brother of Pope Benedict), Robert Gates, to say that they would need a year or more to study the matter. European armies did it with a snap of the fingers. What’s to study. Oh, yeah, I forgot: how long will it take our contractors to design soap-on-a-rope.


It is time we got over our homophobia (and its silly kin phobia, buggerphobia) and start acting like a grown-up nation, not one that is run by cretins like my acquaintance who prompted this piece. After all, I got over my homophobia a long time ago.


What! You say? Your homophobia?


Yup. It’s confession time, right here in Dragon City Journal. Let’s do one of those movie effects where calendar years peel back through the decades to New York in the late 1950’s, and now we go from blur to sharp focus and the sound begins to come up. There’s snow in the streets of the city and people scurrying about as Christmas is only days away.


And there is your author—young, lean, strong, handsome and hirsute—on Christmas break from school and working some days with a package delivery company back in New York during the Christmas season. From an overhead shot we see his truck is parked in a bust street and he is taking packages off a conveyor belt that brings them up from a store’s basement. We sense some frustration and anger on is face because also coming up from below is the falsetto voice that every day is singing “White Christmas”—over and over. Our protagonist has been told by the guys back at the trucking company garage that the store hires gays (the terms in those days were “fairies” or “queers”) to gift-wrap packages because, as one of the drivers added, “they like to tie bows.”


For reasons lost to memory they managed to install their homophobic software in my young and innocent mind and it all found a substantive target on that “falsetto-voiced, bow-tying fairy” in the basement of that department store. For a couple more days I listened to “White Christmas” as I retrieved packages from the belt and stewed in the anger (at insulted manhood) that came up from that unseen, debauched netherworld of “queer package-wrapping.”


A couple of days before Christmas, when the final packages were coming so fast and furious that I was hardly able to keep up with them, I was so sick of “White Christmas” that I would have strangled Irving Berlin and Bing Crosby. The guys at the garage had really worked up a homophobia in me and I yelled down, “Stop the belt!” Ready to kick some butt as I charged down the staircase of the store to the package room I yelled, “Which one of you goddamn fairies has been singing “White Christmas?” I figured to intimidate him with my manly manner.


“That would be me,” replied the six-foot-four, rippling-muscled, African-American (in those days that would be “Negro”) guy just snugging up a bow on one of the packages, his voice tinged with falsetto. He towered over everybody. “Can I help you?”


The room was silent. It was as though all the air had left. My adrenalin was looking for some other place to do its job. Every eye was upon me. It was fight (manhood time) or flight (chicken-hood time). Mr. Falsetto had a slight smile on his face, but it wasn’t a “gotcha” smile; it was a friendly smile, actually a let-me-off-the-hook smile.


I never learned if the homophobes at the garage knew about this guy and were just setting me up. Maybe they were having a good laugh at the “college kid.” No matter, I have to smile, too, when I recollect how I got out of getting my arrogant, manly ass kicked by a huge, gay Black guy, and being cured of incipient homophobia two days before baby Jesus’s birthday may years ago.


“Well I’d like to hear ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’” for a change,” I yelled to him across the room in a voice that my unspent adrenalin gave a nervous tremor of falsetto.


He smiled. “OK, why not.” “Merry Christmas,” the gay package-wrappers chorused to me as I started up the stairs. “Merry Christmas.”
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© 2010, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 2.5.2010)

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