BE ALL THAT YOU CAN BE (UNLESS YOU’RE A LESBIAN)
This week on American TV, it was Shark Week! And Lesbians in the Military Week! (But alas, not Lesbian Sharks in the Military Week.)
First, Lifetime’s new Army Wives episode ("Loyalties") featured a story line about psychiatrist/high school teacher Roland Burton (Sterling K. Brown) being accused of an inappropriate relationship with a female student, Jessica. Unbeknownst to the principal, it was a whole lot of fuss about nothing because Roland was just helping Jessica with her girlfriend problems — but Roland can’t disclose this information to exonerate himself, because it would jeopardize Jessica’s military career (she was just accepted to West Point).
So Roland gets fired, until Jessica suddenly remembers she’s on a Lifetime show and Does The Right Thing by telling the principal she’s gay because "what kind of officer would I be if I just sat quietly and let you take a bullet for me?"
Then Roland gives a rousing speech to the principal on the ridiculousness of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell."
I’m all for standing up for what’s right, and the show clearly criticizes "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell," but I have to agree with what the Linster wrote in her recap of the episode:
Now obviously, I appreciate this story line on one level. Anything that promotes understanding of the plight of lesbians and gay men in the military is worthy of praise. But allow me to nitpick a little. First, how can so much of an episode concern a lesbian without the word lesbian ever being spoken? … Second, I’m not thrilled with the concept of encouraging Jessica to pursue a dream that means repressing who she is and hiding who she loves.
Yeah, what she said! Although in Army Wives‘ defense, the word lesbian is actually almost never used on network or cable TV, unless it’s for comedic effect (as it often was on Friends), or if the writers work for The L Word. Or The O’Reilly Factor.
This episode deserves a Lesbian Emmy, however, compared to HBO’s new documentary The Recruiter, which debuted this week and follows a successful Louisiana Army recruiter and four of his recruits through sign-up, basic training, and then to deployment.
Of the four recruits, only one is a woman. She turns out to be gay. And devoid of all common sense, apparently.
But let me start at the beginning. (Warning: rant to follow!)
First, watch the trailer:
See the woman in fatigues around 30 seconds in, bitching about the military? That’s Lauren.
I didn’t know Lauren was gay when I started watching this documentary. (Then why was I watching it, you ask? Because I’m fascinated by subcultures — I’m currently reading a book on the Amish concept of forgiveness, for example — and because, well, my girlfriend’s out of town and I was bored.)
But as soon as they introduced Lauren, I started seeing red flags that she was gay, and that joining the military was a really, really bad idea for her.
Red Flag No. 1: She looks really, really gay in that backwards baseball cap and baggy pants. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that … oh wait, yes there is, if you’re joining the military.)
Red Flag No. 2: She likes to draw slightly twisted art and wants to be an art teacher.
Red Flag No. 3: She rocks out to songs that are about screwing over the establishment. (Again, not that there’s anything wrong with that, unless you join the military!)
Red Flag No. 4: She whips out a photo of her girlfriend during boot camp and tells the camera she’s gay — and not even because she’s trying to get booted under "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell."
It didn’t take a genius to figure out this wasn’t going to end well, but Lauren still had my sympathy — up until she said this in the middle of boot camp:
I’m not learning anything to what I want to learn. I mean, this is combat smart, your basic infantry s— that you need to know in case you get stuck out there with a gun and ammo and people shooting at you. I want to learn about art, I want to learn about history, I want to learn about Englishes (sic). I want to get smart that way.
I know those Army recruiters can emphasize the benefits and downplay the risks of joining the military. But no one who has ever seen any movie, TV show or ad for the Army — or even watched an episode of Army Wives, for cripes sake! — can possibly believe that boot camp is about art lessons and literature. And did she somehow miss the fact that we’re at war?
My disappearing sympathy turned to annoyance as Lauren proceeded to complain and half-ass her way through boot camp while her male counterparts gave it their best effort (and mostly succeeded). The documentary showed a few other female soldiers who were doing well, but it didn’t focus on them. Then Lauren went and made it even worse by deciding during her one-month leave that she just wasn’t going back.
Really, Lauren? You really thought that was a good idea?
Needless to say, the military didn’t, and Lauren received unspecified "disciplinary action," according to the documentary, and was apparently booted from the Army.
In a follow-up interview a year after the documentary was filmed, director Edet Belzberg told HBO: "Lauren is doing well. I think she’ll probably start at a community college, and she’s trying to figure things out after the Army. But she’s very happy with her decision and feels that she can be a voice telling people to be sure about their decision."
Um, has Edet been spending too much time in the jungle with the Special Forces? Because from where I sit, the only thing Lauren is a voice for is the idea that women are slackers who can’t cut it in the military (and by extension, other careers that rely on physical toughness).
Look, I know not everyone’s cut out for the military (including me — all that shooting would interfere with my lesbian movie reviewing, plus I don’t actually want to shoot people), but it’s no one’s fault but your own if don’t do basic research before signing your life away for four years. And if you start something, you should finish it. (This does not apply to women who figure out they’re gay while they’re in the military. But Lauren knew going into that she was gay, and she didn’t leave the military because of that, she apparently left it because it just wasn’t what she thought it would be).
But most importantly, if you’re the only woman and the only lesbian in a documentary about a male-dominated occupation, you better represent!
I know it’s not fair to ask one person to represent an entire group, but that’s just the way it is. Suck it up. If you’re the only woman or lesbian in a documentary about box-cutters, for example, you should not be the one who goes crazy with the box-cutter one day and starts hacking people up. Leave that to the straight white men who don’t have a million stereotypes to overcome just to get hired.
And definitely don’t act happy about making things worse for the women who come after you!
And now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to climb off my soapbox and go back to reading my book about Amish forgiveness.
— by Sarah Warn