The DADT repeal got signed yesterday, and the rhetoric around it, which I mostly agree with, tells us this is a good thing. The hope, of course, is that a country willing to let me die for it, might soon be willing to let me live for it and so go on to pass things like ENDA and DoMA. On the other hand, getting excited about the opportunity to go to war – which, lest we forget, is generally an endeavor that involves killing people – is a fairly uncomfortable idea.
It’s also a romantic one, and as a people whose government arguably does not wish us to love and whose pop-culture paints us too often as weak or ugly, it’s pretty easy to see why queer people might be inclined to romanticize violence and uniforms.
Of course, romanticizing war isn’t something that’s limited to queer people in the throes of a civil rights victory. For a lot of writers, it’s practically a job requirement, which is what’s got me thinking about Arkady.
Arkady’s the main character in the novel Kali and I are writing. It doesn’t have a name yet, but we call it Unbanked in our work on it, due to our having realized that the best way we could solve a major world-building problem we were having was to use the European banking crisis as a metaphor.
It’s a difficult book. It’s about ambition, antiheroes and colonialism. It’s about people doing horrible things for what are really perfectly reasonable reasons. It’s also about love and war and magic. And it’s very, very queer.
In Arkady’s world, everything and everyone is a game of allies. And the rules of taking lovers, particularly of the same sex, are as complex and as formal as those for heterosexual marriage in this book. One doesn’t replace the other in Arkady’s world; in his world, families accumulate and extend through desire. Which isn’t a fantastic deal for a low-born, obscenely-talented scholarship boy with incredibly wealthy and dangerous friends who don’t make the best choices when it comes to self-preservation.
About 40% of the way through the book, after a precipitating hideous event about which I will not tell you at present, Arkady is forced to ask the people he loves most in the world to buy him a commission in the army so he can leave their sides and go on an adventure that may uncover the one piece of information that will allow them to extricate themselves from the political and magical morass in which they’ve embroiled themselves.
All of which means, Kali and I spend a lot of time talking about regiments of an army of a country that never existed stationed on a front at a colony that never was and how someone gifted and sharp grows into a man who is ruthless and calm by trying to hold things together at the muddy edge of his known world.
It’s a hard journey to write without romance, and it’s not one we’d want to write without romance. But it must be just the right sort of romance. As writers, we must be cautious where Arkady is not, where his lovers are not, where his charges are not, where the woman he effectively requisitions from her family to be his field secretary is not (and lest you think this is just a story about men, it is not; she is awesome and not the love interest).
It’s hard work. But it’s also pleasurable. It’s an indulgence. And sometimes, to be frank, that worries me. Other times, I feel like we’re getting it just right.
In the wake of the DADT repeal, I keep thinking about is something a Tumblr blogger who said the other day: “The military is full of poor people, and people of color. Now it gets to be full of queer people too. And you wonder why i’m sad today?”
That quote pulled me back down to a certain reality – as a queer person, as an activist, and as a writer. What will legalized open military service mean ultimately to LGB people (remember, no T here; trans people received no positive benefit from the DADT repeal) both individually and collectively? Will we use the military or will it use us?
Kali and I know everything about Arkady’s journey. We know what his service does to him. But we haven’t philosophically decided if that means he uses or is used.
Arkady’s a character I have a lot of love for, and the things he has to sacrifice are weighing heavily on my mind tonight. When other avenues of perspective fail me, Arkady has a habit of reminding me that stories are powerful, dangerous things, and that’s true of any through-line, assembled from fact or from fiction.
So the DADT repeal is great symbolism. It will also be a huge good in the lives of a great many LGB people who have served and continue to serve with honor, fortitude and courage and have suffered significantly and needlessly under the complete absurdity of DADT.
But I do wonder, I must wonder – simply because I make up stories to breathe – whether in the long term, in the balance of things, we will use this or be used by it.
The repeal of DADT deserves celebration. But it also deserves solemnity. And questioning.