HPPUB BOOK REVIEW of Major Conflict


Author (or Editor):  Jeffrey McGowan, Maj., U.S.A. (Ret)

Title: Major Conflict: On Gay Man’s Life in the Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell Military

Fiction? Anthology?  

Publisher:  Broadway

Date: 2005

ISBN:  0-7679-1899-1

Series Name:

Physical description: hardbound, 278 pgs

Relevance to HPPUB: 

Review:  There were a lot of personal accounts (including mine) related to the gays-in-the-military issue (and gays-in-xxx issue) published in the mid 1990s, after President Bill Clinton started the firestorm that would result in the policy known as “don’t ask don’t tell.” There have not been as many recently, and this new one, though gentle, at least has the advantage of ending with the author’s entering another debate, gay marriage, as he marries a relatively new partner, Bill (not me!!) in New Platz, New York, in a ceremony that would get a town official arrested!

In fact, the most critical parts of the book—the resignation from the military (or was it retirement?) and the marriage issue get telescoped, in favor of long narratives about earlier phases of his military career, before Clinton came around. In those days, we really had the Old Ban from 1981, which demanded asking and which excluded anyone known to have homosexual inclinations. Of course, McGowan is right—politicization of the issue often made it worse in practice for many servicemembers. As for the Clinton policy, “theoretically, it guaranteed that a soldier’s private life was off limits to a degree never seen before” (p. 205).  But, all the while, a new culture, abetted by an Internet that could let anyone be known, was making everyone’s values visible to others to an extent never seen before. I have, in my own thinking, back in 1993 thought that protecting private life from McCarthyistic intrusions a worthy goal from the new president, and then my own life would change. It seems that McGowan had opportunity to discuss the ban in terms of other issues involving the freedom to live up to one’s potential, but rather skirted the details.

One legal observation is that, even under the Old Policy, each service had regulations that called for administrative and sometimes judicial action when any servicemember had engaged in “homosexual conduct.”  This was on top of the 123-word official policy for DOD (“homosexuality is incompatible with military service   —yes, yes, the litany). The individual services had these rules during the days that I was in, before there had been a uniform policy. I had read them at my leisure at Fort Eustis, shared them with ny barracks mates, and we had pretty much laughed at them.

McGowan gives a detailed account of his service in Germany, including maneuvers, when he met his second major lover, Paul (also an officer); he would play tag with Paul for years. His inner “coming out” was gradual, as he often pretended to be straight (and tried to be) during his early months as an officer. He gives somewhat less detail about his tour in the Persian Gulf—although it sounds very filmable.  In a few spots, his accounts of his encounters with his loves or marks are homoerotic—the references to young soldiers’ hairy legs and (in take-home tests) to gradual undressings and frottage.







Related: The Tom Swann Story;  Joseph Steffan’s Honor Bound,  Belkin: Don’t Ask Don’t Tell


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