Don’t ask, don’t tell will go in the US military. Which prompted me to wonder how long it will take in that other institution that finds homosexuality so difficult to bear, the church.
Well, what made homosexuality so difficult in the military? Michel Foucault made an observation that is illuminating.
He argued that the problem of homosexuality is keenly felt in institutions that seek closely to manage the interpersonal relationships of the individuals within them. They do so for good reasons. In the military, camaraderie must be cultivated to such an extent that one person be prepared to die for another. Homosexual love leads to similarly intense relationships though ones that float free of military discipline. It’s this outlaw status – being as powerful but outside of the condoned form for same-sex relationships – that has made the military so fearful, Foucault argued.
Obama’s statement seems to support that analysis. It implies that homosexuality is no longer seen as such a threat to order and cohesion. It doesn’t undermine camaraderie. Homosexuality has lost its erotic, anarchic mystique.
That is not yet the majority feeling in the church – at least amongst its leaders, for whom it is not military order that matters but social order, they feeling themselves to be the guardians-in-chief of social order. Homosexuality is still feared for what it would do, if unleashed, to the institutional forms of love that the church so keenly seeks to manage, namely the family.
Seeking to manage the family is not going to change. It reaches deeply into the Jewish roots of Christianity. Plus, religions that have grown enamoured with proximity to power know that their USP is providing a moral cement for the ‘building blocks’ of society.
But perhaps something else will shift: homosexuality will lose its erotic mystique here too. You can certainly see how conservative strategies attempt to preserve it. The artificial separation of orientation from practice, for example, works to ensure that this mysterious activity called ‘practice’ maintains an air of dangerousness, inscrutability, subversion.
Homosexuality is different. But it’s not dangerous. What conservatives refuse to countenance is the possibility that gay people love each other in ways analogous to how straight folk do. When that’s seen, don’t ask, don’t tell seems silly, not necessary.