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.
10 thoughts on “romanticism and the DADT repeal”
Ouch – and yes. Because it has always been a concern for me how many in our military are there, not necessarily because they want to be there, but because they had no other option in terms of being able to feed their families and take care of themselves. It makes me uncomfortable that the military seems to often be “the career of last resort.”
Considering I spent a few hours on the day of the repeal thinking, ‘oh, well, now I /can/ go die for something bigger than myself, and the only thing that’s stopping me is that I’m insufficiently patriotic, not that I fuck girls…’ — yeah. This strikes home.
(Additionally, I am very much looking forward to meeting Arkady at some point in print.)
I pondered, some years back, that if there were a draft, there should be a gender-equitable draft. Mostly I was pondering whether a gender-equitable draft would kill the possibility of this country ever invoking the draft again, given the culture clash about “how to treat a lady.”
Then I thought about how I would proceed to draft-dodge if I were tapped. I remember specifically wondering how difficult it is to go through the Conscientious Objector paperwork, and whether I should just tell them they don’t want me because I kiss girls instead. I think it was my father who said, “Yeah, just come out to them, it would be a lot simpler.”
To quote Arlo Guthrie, “Because if two people, just two people, do it… in harmony…”
This also raises the question of what an equitable draft could be. Officially, women still can’t serve in combat positions, despite the fact that they wind up in combat via combat support positions with more and more frequency. I remember my father and I arguing about this when I was pretty young. He said a society has lost its moral compass when it sends women to war. I could rant on those remarks, but you’ve heard it before.
Wow. I didn’t even realize the ban on combat positions was still live.
I keep thinking our society has grown up more. I’m not always wrong, but when I am, I get sad.
Re: your point on the draft…
Back in high school, I remember the boys grumbling about having to sign up with Selective Service at the post office. They grumbled that it was sexist that only guys had to sign up and girls were excluded. We girls in my government class agreed. (Not that we girls wanted to be drafted.)
Now you have me wondering how society would respond to a gender equitable draft…
I think its a little of both. I think people go into the military for a variety of reasons, among them to better themselves and get out of a bad situation and think it won’t change them. The fact is that the age that most people enter the military is an age at which people are very malleable. My father and mother met in the Marines and had very different takes on it because my father went in when he was 17 (he altered his baptismal certificate to get in) and my mother went in a few years later (I’m not sure when). They also had different perspectives due to their gender differences. My dad has romanticized it to the point that he believes everyone should be required to spend a year or two in government service of some sort and he is of the opinion that he learned a lot of important self hygiene in the Marines. We’ve had some disagreements about this sort of thing. I know I learned that stuff from my mom (primarily). I think my father probably knew about self hygiene before he went in but the Marines managed to convince him otherwise. I believe it was good for him and he probably needed to learn the discipline. On the other hand, my mother didn’t get much out of it except out of a bad work situation (sexual harassment when women had no recourse but to “submit”).
Back when my soldier was in Boot camp, we wrote each other literally every day. Once a week, he’d mail me a like packet of his tiny printing, and I would send him a packet of my barely legible scrawl. It was a life line to him, a way of staying sane. for me, each envelope was a little packet of love and loyalty. It kept us together through that long school year. Packets of love a news from home.
I don’t romanticize the military or war in general. I do think think that the poor bastards serving over seas deserve to have letters from their partners, pictures to look at on long celibate nights. I do think the husbands and wives of LGB troops back home deserve rapid notification if something goes wrong, the same health care and death benefits. Packets of love a news from home. Acknowledgment in sickness and death.
I also am a Classicist. It’s explicit in the way Roman Law was structured that military service and full citizenship were linked. We don’t link them explicitly in modern America, but i think we do subconsciously. African American service in war helped pave the way for the Civil Rights movement. I think it’s harder to look at a veteran and say, “You are less of a person and don’t deserve your citizenship rights.” It doesn’t grant equality in itself, but it helps prepare people.
My husband joined the Army this spring, despite being A) a treehugging liberal smartass and B) more than twice as old as most of the soldiers with whom he enlisted. It was largely an economic decision. He had been unemployed for more than a year, his job hunt felt increasingly futile, and we were caught in a downward financial spiral with no end in sight.
Both of us wrestled with the big moral questions, and with the potential risks. Ultimately I made peace (oh, what an ironic turn of phrase!) with his decision by asking myself these questions:
1) Whether or not I approve of how it is currently deployed–something decided by politicians and the highest chain of command, not the troops–do I believe that our nation needs a military? (Sadly, yes.)
2) Do I believe that a volunteer military is better than a military of unwilling conscripts? (Yes.)
3) If our military will be composed of volunteers, is it not preferable that those volunteers be more representative of America, i.e. that they include people from all different points on the socioeconomic, political, and religious spectrums? (Yes.)
For me it boils down to, if we must have an Army, then I feel better having people like my husband in it: smart, liberal, educated, ethical and unbigoted. I believe our military and our country will be the better for it. I also believe that any LGB soldiers he serves beside will benefit from his presence and his support for their rights.
It’s too soon to say if the Army is a new career for him or just a way to wait out the civilian economy for a few years. But I do know that he’ll have fewer reservations about staying in an Army that allows LGB soldiers to serve openly than one that doesn’t.