Thursday, June 22, 2006

Dear Defense Department, Study War No More

But for the love of all things decent, study SOMETHING!

Picture me, like Charlie Brown sitting at his desk, thunking his head on his desk in frustration. It seems that the Department of Defense believes that homosexuality is a "mental disorder." Here's the story:Common Dreams News Center. And they're qualified to make that claim because.... why, exactly? Yet, claim it they do.

There's a list of disqualifying impairments for admission to the armed forces. Mental impairments include conditions such as mental retardation, personality disorders, and homosexuality. Never mind that it's been more than 30 years since the mental health community removed homosexuality from the DSM, and it's embarrassing enough that it took so long for us to do it.

Two points come to mind immediately. First, they could make the "whoops.... outdated language" claim. Really, it's the only face-saving strategy I can see. Yet, it can't be true. If it were true, they wouldn't have the peculiar "don't ask, don't tell" policy. The military clearly knows that there are gay and lesbian soldiers; as long as they're quiet about it, same-sex orientation is a practical impediment to neither admission nor service. So, why put homosexuality on the list of mental impairments? It's hard to avoid the conclusion that there's something darker at work here.

Secondly, there are social workers, therapists, psychiatrists, and academics on the military's payroll. And even if there weren't, there are libraries in Washington. Go find a copy of the DSM. There's probably one lying around somewhere. Admittedly, it's a flawed and politically dangerous document itself. I'm not arguing its perfection, heaven knows. I am arguing that not consulting it suggests that you think you're experts in a field that isn't yours. Sensible .... I don't know.... botanists consult doctors when they have broken bones. Sensible physicists consult historians (or the published work of one) when they need information or perspectives about ancient Greece. There's nothing threatening about admitting that you don't know every single thing there is to know. Unless, of course, your intentions are more sinister than I would like to believe.

My final point isn't actually a critique of the military's reasoning. Well, not exactly. One is, of course, reminded of the Catholic Church's language of "objective disorder" regarding homosexuality. Just to be clear, I hate that language. Yes, I understand that it's rendered more horrifying in translation and that there are caveats aplenty. (Really, there are only a paltry few caveats. I'm trying to make the argument as easy as possible for the opposing point of view.) Hate still isn't too strong a word to describe my feelings.

Nonetheless, a church doesn't claim to represent the whole society and the whole society doesn't pay for its existence. A church could even properly claim to be counter-cultural, as in going against prevailing cultural norms. (Well, a church could properly claim to be counter-cultural in the more popular understanding of the term, too. But they rarely do.) So, the Catholic Church's claim that homosexuality is a disorder is an internal discussion waiting to be had. The military, which is a function of the broader society, making the same claim is a different enterprise altogether.

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