Do The ‘Gay’ Comments In The McChrystal Scandal Even Matter?

Marc Ambinder has some interesting observations about the military’s level of tolerance towards gay soldiers. I was arguing here that McChrystal’s aide should be fired for describing something as “gay,” but Ambinder suggests that this kind of language does not necessarily denote homophobia; it simply confirms the stereotype about military machismo.

Soldiers don’t care if their colleague is gay as long as he can shoot straight, but don’t expect him to abandon their locker room colloquialisms. He recalls this encounter:

One soldier — call him Ben — checks his e-mail. “Fuck,” he says. He opens his cell phone and makes a call. … A beat. … “Heeeey cock breath, how are you?” … “Yeah, that sucks.” “Yeah, why is he doing this to us again?” “No, he told me his partner was in town for the weekend and he really needed to see him.” … “Dude, why can’t he break way for one weekend!”

The conversation continues.

“Yeah, well, you know I’m just going to come over and [perform an obscene act involving testicles — this IS The Atlantic, after all, and I already typed ‘cock breath’].”

He hangs up.

What was that about, I asked?

“Oh, this guy we haven’t seen for a while is in town, a really good buddy, but his partner is also in town and he wants to see him. So we were just complaining that he wanted to see his partner rather than hang with us.”

“A lot of the outside discussion of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell assumes that the integration of gays in the military will require the imposition of a new code of political correctness, one that dissolves the rough, often profane, often exaggeratedly anti-gay banter that serves as a gateway into conversation between buddies,” Ambidner writes. “But the two cultures can co-exist. It seems as if they already do, informally. People who are gay, and who are competent, and who have been tabbed, are accepted. And no one is toning down their language; discipline and morale aren’t suffering. It’s the lesson from South Park: there’s “gay,” and then there’s gay.”

There is probably a lot of truth in this, but I don’t see the harm in using the McChrystal saga as an opportunity to expose this kind of rhetoric to a healthy dose of public condemnation. The “two cultures can co-exist,” but it doesn’t mean they should, at least not for much longer.