DADT repeal and the boundaries of heterosexuality

Detail of 1943 advertisement for Cannon Towels--or, technically, for war bonds--depicting "the bathing facilities of our boys in the service." Click for full advertisement.
Detail of 1943 advertisement for Cannon Towels--or, technically, for war bonds--depicting "the bathing facilities of our boys in the service." Click for full advertisement.

When historians talk about how modern conceptions of homosexuality and heterosexuality emerged in conjunction with one another beginning at the turn of the twentieth century, attention understandably focuses on the changing lists of sex acts one could do, or have done to oneself, without raising eyebrows. But the emergence of homo- and heterosexuality also involved a whole array of subtler changes in routine social interactions. My advisor George Chauncey discussed a compelling example—the less-intimate poses adopted over time by Yale football players in their team portraits—in a Yale Alumni Magazine article last summer.

This phenomenon came to mind as I read New York magazine’s fascinating new profile of the National Guardsmen in Iraq who, led by 22-year-old Codey Wilson, created the Ke$ha-soundtracked “If the Army Goes Gay” video that went viral earlier this year. This passage of Lisa Taddeo’s article especially stood out:

The thing they seem most concerned about is that the repeal [of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy] will usher in a slew of new rules about fraternization. “If everyone knows you’re gay and you touch someone, even as a joke, you’ll be going down for it, the same way that if a guy held a girl’s hand on the—Stop it, man! My roommate’s touching me right now.”

Wilson’s concern that DADT’s repeal would require the reconfiguration of the behavior considered acceptable for heterosexual soldiers offers another example of how sexual categories have evolved, and continue to, at different paces and in strikingly different ways in different social contexts.

And it would be pretty fantastic if those much-maligned DADT surveys ended up indicating, rather than anxiety about predatory gays in the barracks, apprehension about the fate of horseplay and grab ass.

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