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Military men seem to fear that those feelings could turn the barracks into seething love nests. “Romantic interests, even if unconsummated, would shatter the bonds that add up to unit cohesion.” The authors thus invoked a reigning myth of the current debate, which sees the ideal of virtuous male bonding threatened by ungovernable homosexual lusts. Homosexuality remains exotic and forbidding terrain for most servicemen.

“With openly gay and heterosexual personnel together, sexual tension would fester 24 hours a day,” says a recent op-ed page piece written by Bernard E. Many have never known a gay man or woman and can barely imagine what their lives are like.

For young armed-forces recruits who are still uncertain of their footing in the male world, the gruff camaraderie of barracks life may provide a reassuringly masculine setting. Keep up with this story and more That human truth, never publicly acknowledged by the top brass, may be one reason the Pentagon so bitterly resisted President Clinton’s campaign promise to drop the ban on gays in the military.

It would just make me sick.” —Sergeant Stan Ronell, Fort Ord, California SIGMUND FREUD OBSERVED HALF A century ago that men seldom live comfortably with their manhood; they are stuck with constantly having to prove it.

Military leaders insist that homosexuals threaten the bonding that is vital to “the military culture.” But gays are simply incorporated into that culture as useful foils for masculine self-validation.

Seldom merely shunned, suspected gays often run a gantlet of macho bullyragging.

“It’s a version of order, congratulating one’s tormentors.” There did seem a need for a kind of ritual humiliation, perhaps on the notion that it toughened a man up.

Drag shows: Afloat, some of the rituals are even more bizarre, like the Dionysian initiation rites, including simulated acts of sodomy, that sailors may undergo for their first equator crossing.

“They were young, lonely, and sometimes desperately horny,” writes Zeeland, a civilian employee of the Army in Frankfurt for eight years and himself gay.“Part of it is the idea that, ‘Maybe [gays] are seeing something in me that I don’t want to admit is in me,” says University of Mississippi psychologist Dan Landis, who has worked with the military on equal-opportunity matters over the past 20 years.The military exalts masculinity in ways that are frankly or implicitly sexual.“It is not surprising that they would seek out...pleasures they might not even have dared think of [back home].”There is, in fact, an undercurrent of homoerotic tension in the shared latrines, shower rooms and sleeping quarters of barracks life.GIs get used to the loss of privacy soon enough, but not perhaps, to the enforced physical intimacy.

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