Secret Service: Untold Stories of Lesbians in the Military
The military is not an institution noted for its forward thinking. Bill Clinton’s disastrous “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy arguably does more harm than good, giving credence to the “try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one” saw. Gay servicemen and -women must operate in as cloaked a manner as before because engaging in “gay behavior” is still forbidden and earns a dishonorable discharge. This neither-fish-nor-fowl cop-out manages only to put the question of gays in the military in a kind of legal limbo, paying lip service to the notion of equality while still allowing the machinations of the ban to continue unabated.
Zsa Zsa Gershick’s Secret Service is a collection of interviews with gay women who, despite their employers’ backward stance on their orientation, serve their country in the armed forces. Some served before the implementation of Clinton’s policy, and some after, and there is a disheartening lack of difference between the two eras. One of the interviewees points out that, generally speaking, lesbians tend to be the type of women one would think the military would prize most—hard-working, confident, physically active—which makes the paranoia and harassment that much more of a needless waste and indicates the fragility of the military ego. Anything that compromises the hypermasculine, controlling ethos, be it a gay man or a competent woman, is seen as a threat. That the military would put such a shocking amount of time and energy toward persecuting and ejecting some of its best recruits goes beyond being a shame—it’s damn near treasonous.
Gershick is doing honorable work in getting these women to tell their stories. As a lesbian who has served in the U.S. Army Reserve herself, she understands their pain. But the 31 interviews presented in her book add up to a frustratingly light whole. There’s a sameness in these stories, though she draws from every branch and every level of service. Instead of feeling like a common thread, the women’s accounts of harassment and secrecy come off as an overworked motif. Naturally no discussion of gays in the military can take place without these core issues, but the brevity of each section does not serve Gershick’s aim well. It’s a democratic sampling of anecdotes, but her Q&A style of interviewing hampers the narrative and feels more expository than incisive. But while never seeming to add up to more than the sum of its parts, Secret Service may still serve as a jumping-off point for the conversations that need to take place to effect a real change.