I turned 46 last week. It's not a momentous
birthday for most people, for me it was a little wistful, I'm closer to 50 than 40 now. Closer to old than young.
I thought back this morning on the things I've seen, which honestly have been extraordinary in this age of change. I watched (as a four year old) Niel Armstrong step onto the surface of the moon. I watched race riots in Detroit, the Age of Aquarius
, flower-power, an Arab Oil Embargo, our Embassy in Iran violated, the toppling of the Soviet empire symbolized by the tearing down of the Berlin wall, the advent of computers, cell phones, and microwaves, the opening up of China, and the age of the Internet (which may ultimately surpass all the others as being our "Gutenberg
Printing Press" accomplishment). Frankly, it's a remarkable set of events and changes in such a comparatively short time. I sit here writing out my thoughts which someone on the other side of the world may read later this morning. When I was 25 years old, that concept was, well.. inconceivable.
When I was 25 years old I had been in the military just short of 5 years. At that time (1989), gays weren't allowed in the military, no matter what. You were asked as you enlisted if you were gay, if you answered "yes", that was it, you were done - no enlistment. We were still in the Cold War, but our military apparently felt it would be better off by preventing participation of gays. At that time (at least) the pretext for such a policy wasn't about perversion or mental illness, but rather that it might well be dangerous and disruptive to have gays in the military because the "red neck" nature of many in the military might cause them to be upset about, and maybe even violent toward, gays. The term of the day was that it was not "conducive to good order and discipline of the service."
This attitude was a stark change from when I was 5 (or when I was born). The attitude then
was that gays were deviants, perverts, sick in the head, and any found in the military were normally summarily discharged as mentally unfit, but even worse there was a chance they'd be prosecuted for criminal conduct for violating sodomy laws the military still had when I joined it in the middle 80's. That attitude of revulsion and fear (and through fear, hatred) which created such laws and such views about gays still exists today in some parts of America. In America, in this age of remarkable change, some things haven't moved very far at all. Ask a social conservative privately about his or her view of gays, and many still comment that they are perverts and deviants, after all, "doesn't the bible say so?"
Since then, thankfully, our social conscience
has moved forward. Somewhere between "Philadelphia" and "Brokeback
Mountain" we began to see gays as human beings, rather than portraying them as "cowards" or deviants (well most of us anyway - see below). Somewhere between Rock Hudson, Gore Vidal (a WWII veteran) and Matthew Shepard, we began to see both that gays were admirable, even heroic, and that our "red neck" ways were not just something we needed to "quit" to quote the song, but were morally repugnant and ethically repellent