Thursday, July 8, 2010

Back to the Bathrooms: The Pentagon Polls Soldiers about Showering with the Gays

It always comes back to the bathroom, it seems.  To restroom arrangements.

When we in the mainstream choose to stigmatize a despised minority, we always head to the bathroom with our lurid imagining about what it would be like to rub shoulders with the dirty, diseased Other.  George Orwell notes in his Road to Wigan Pier that  this is how generations of the British upper classes justified the gross exploitation of the lower orders: the plebs were dirty, and did not have the fine feelings that aristocrats have, when forced to interact with their inferiors.

The dirt-and-disease libel against the Jews energized Christian anti-semitism throughout the Middle Ages and right to the Holocaust period.  The Nazis used code words like "extermination" and "infection" adroitly to play on the deep-rooted subliminal fears of Christians re: the Jews as filthy and disease-ridden, fears with long historical and rhetorical roots that the church itself helped to nurture for centuries.

And now this: Timothy Kincaid reports yesterday at Box Turtle Bulletin that the Pentagon is asking soldiers to submit private emailed responses to a questionnaire asking "how they would react if they had to share a room, bathrooms, and open-bay showers in a war zone with other service members believed to be gay or lesbian."

Oh, the humanity of it!  Being forced to shower with a dirty queer.  Since, as we all know, that's what barracks life is all about--enforced showers with other brawny soldiers in tight, steamy, unsupervised quarters.  No queers needed or allowed.

This toxic folderol brings back, sadly, one of the dirtiest tactics used by those opposing integration of the public schools as I came of age in the American South.  As integration took place in my high school, we were inundated, as were students all over the South, with fliers asking us how we'd feel about having to share "our" pristine white bathrooms with dirty, infectious black students.  When my school was finally integrated, at least one teacher took it on herself to spray Lysol onto the desks that black students had used after each class session, and to drop broad hints about the need for good hygiene.

In some ways, the human race is terminally stupid.  We just don't get over some of these ugly little games designed to dehumanize the group we want to despise at the moment.