Culture and Society

Shocked and Appalled

I was deployed to Iraq with when Congress introduced the legislation to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. The response from the troops I served with was mixed. 

Some were vocally opposed to it.

Some of us thought it was overdue.

A very silent minority was thrilled in a way that my permanent privilege of inclusion will never let me experience.

No one openly celebrated the decision. Supporting the LGBT community was a cultural taboo in the military centuries in the making.

For the entirety of its long and distinguished history, the Department of Defense didn’t have a policy against discriminatory behavior towards the LBGT community. It was a criminal act to be gay and serve after all. Not surprisingly, circulating anti-LGBT speech was tolerated.

It happened all the time.

And then one day it didn’t.

Because the Department of Defense ordered service members to stop.

I don’t know what life is like for the LGBT community in the military today. I’ve been out for a long time. I know that many of the people that held the opinion that gay service members shouldn’t serve are still serving in some capacity today. It’s not much of a reach to assume it’s still not easy for gay service members. And that there are likely pockets of resistance that range from subconscious to violent.

The notion that I would find discrimination or harassment of gay service members by other service members outrageously shocking because we decided seven years go to change our behavior is dishonest.

It’s dishonest in a transparent way that betrays the struggle of gay service members today.

That’s a lesson that others should spend a little time on.

This weekend Stephen Marche wrote an opinion in the N.Y. Times taking to task “The Unexamined Brutality of the Male Libido” and America’s sudden, collective awaking to how horrible many of us men are.

“Men arrive at this moment of reckoning woefully unprepared. Most are shocked by the reality of women’s lived experience. Almost all are uninterested or unwilling to grapple with the problem at the heart of all this: the often ugly and dangerous nature of the male libido.”

I’ve lived my entire life in a world where men had power over women. And I knew that some of them took advantage of it regularly in repulsive ways. Our prisons are full of rapists. “Creepy” guys are common in our work places. Directors preying on actors are so ubiquitous it’s cliché.

The notion that I am now suddenly shocked and appalled that the male libido has been magically revealed like some malware running in the background of the program of humanity, gumming up the better angels of our nature, is dishonest.

At nearly any point in my life, if you asked me whether or not Congress had a secret fund to pay for sexual harassment settlements I would have said yes.

The lesson travels beyond our newfound zeal for shouting down sexual assault.

When Richard Fossett wrote a profile piece in the same New York Times on the normal life of a welder in Ohio and how he also happened to be a card carrying white supremacist with the intent to unveil a surprising reality to America, it unveiled nothing.

Because it surprised no one.

I had a relative at Thanks Giving dinner when I was a teenager (the 90’s) tell his daughter that if she ever brought an African American boyfriend home, he’d have to throw out the plates when he was done. I heard racist crap like that in my home, from my friend’s parents and from sports coaches my whole childhood.

The were no objections. Some eye rolling maybe. A few headshakes. Just some good old fashioned white New Jersey suburban racism. Everywhere.

I’m not surprised that racists are normal people because we normalized racism in America with state sanctioned apartheid until people just barely turning 50 were already alive for long enough to remember it. And we tolerated it long after.

Pretending we’re shocked by it is dishonest.

I get why we’re doing it. I know we’re not all racist, misogynist homophobes. And that we want people to know it. I didn’t come to this conclusion on my own. I went on my own Twitter outrage fest signaling y own “good guy-ness”.  A friend called me on it and told me how full of shit I was.

And I had a moment of clarity that only really comes from being told you’re full of shit by someone you respect. It led to this frustrating,permanent conclusion.

You can’t be outraged in arears for the injustices of this world.

You’ve got to be outraged in the moment.

We’ve all had plenty of chances.

And we’ll have plenty more.

So put your energy there.

2 replies »

  1. Sean, I so admire your thought and articulation of difficult subjects . You have also taught me a great deal about the military—a world with which I am quite unfamiliar. I don’t always agree with you, but I always welcome and thoroughly read your posts.
    Thank you.

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  2. O man, you are killing me. What a great piece. I love that you are able to admit to being a work in progress. I do not know what could shock us any more. The bar just keeps getting lower and lower. The Roy Moore thing is just stunning, and my jaw dropped when a pastor on MSNBC said morality is not a prerequisite for being a good leader. I am surprised, however, at how vindictive the Trump administration has been in so many areas, just spiting the people they hate, even though their own people will suffer too. Affordable Care Act and their current attempt at tax reform, specifically the deductions for state and local taxes. So transparent. The current shamelessness I guess is what still gets me. How they don’t even attempt to hide their motives and actions.

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