Flexner Book Club Blog

2011 Mary Flexner Lecturer: Judith Butler

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and Masculinity as Repudiated Homosexuality

Many approaches to Gender and Sexuality Studies encourage us to divorce gender from sexuality, so while reading “Melancholy Gender/Refused Identification,” it felt somewhat “illegal” to be examining them in a way that considered them to be co-defining.  Of course, throughout our lived human experience, gender and sexuality are presented to us as one and the same, but gender theorists often immediately deconstruct this “oneness” and from there, proceed with their work of analysis.  Thus, it seemed foreign to be considering sexuality as something incredibly bound up with gender, but I was thankful for it.  One of my great frustrations with reading Butler is that it is often a great challenge to ground her theories in “reality,” but I felt that this essay’s consideration of gender and sexuality in such intimate proximity enabled me to connect her thoughts to my lived reality, in which gender and sexuality are constructed synonymously.

On another note, with the recent repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” I was greatly interested in Butler’s connection between the predetermined loss of homosexuality as a function of heteronormativity and the US military.  She writes: “And it is, we might conjecture, precisely the fear of setting homosexuality loose from this circuit of renunciation that so terrifies the guardians of masculinity in the US military.  What would masculinity “be” without this aggressive circuit of renunciation from which it is wrought?  Gays in the military threaten to undo masculinity only because this masculinity is made of repudiated homosexuality” (252).  The military is fixated on preventing the penetration of America’s imagined borders of security, both ideological and geographical.  The fear of national penetration is projected onto the bodies of those in the military—both men and women—and then integrated into the regulation of their sexuality.  Thus, sodomy takes on implications of national security, revealing the multi-pronged and interrelated functioning of the policing of sexuality under state institutions.  With the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” in what ways can we expect the military to renegotiate masculinity?

I would also suggest that the ongoing struggle within the reproductive rights movement to grant servicewomen the right to terminate unwanted pregnancies without undue burden is indicative of the military’s fear of penetration.  Ignoring the reproductive rights and health of servicewomen works to subvert their sexuality and construct servicewomen in an ideal of “bodily wholeness”—one that is unavailable to penetration and therefore has no need for abortion rights.

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