DOASKDOTELL BOOK REVIEW of Reichen Lehmkuhl Here’s What We’ll Sat, Lance Bass: Out of Sync

 

Author (or Editor):  Reichen Lehmkuhl

Title:  Here’s What We’ll Say: Growing Up, Coming Out, and the U.S. Air Force

Fiction? No (autobiography)

Publisher:  Carroll & Graf, New York

Date:  2006

ISBN:  0-7867-1782-3

Series Name:

Physical description: hardbound, 346 pgs, 33 chapters

Relevance to DOASKDOTELL: gays in the military

Review:

Boy, this book has the energy bar in it! Mr. Lehmkuhl, for a change, ran all the hoops of hiding out in open sight as a gay cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy, actually graduated and served his sex years without incident. This book is like a massive symphony in a major key, with twists into minor at every turn.

The author spoke at the HRC Anniversay Dinner in Washington DC in October 2006 as he received a visibility reward, and a look at imdb.com shows that he has mounted a movie and television career since leaving the military.

Born in Ohio, raised mostly in Massachusetts by a single mom, he had an uneven boyhood, curiously dyslexic yet smart, sissyish in team sports but very competent athletically in individual competition. He apparently had no real difficulty adjusting to the Air Force’s physical regime and learning to fly. In fact, he got a civilian pilot’s license after leaving the military. There is an early chapter “Bobby Threw My Bike in the Pool” where Reichen learned the difference between thought and action, against temptation and yielding, and appearances and reality, all concepts that the military would exploit years later with its “don’t ask don’t tell” policy regarding gays.

He got an appointment to the Air Force Academy from Barney Frank (ironically). And his years there would become a roller coaster. The book is long, and he, not needing any cowriters, provides the details in cliffhanging fashion; this non-fiction account has some of the writing style of a Tom Clancy novel. During Recognition Week (or Hell Week) in his freshman year, he was “initiated” into homosexual hazing rituals and found them exciting. For the rest of his academy years, there would be relationships, sometimes explicitly sexual, with some men, one of whom would fie in a tragic jet crash accident, another whom he had trained. The rituals remind me of the “tribunals” that I describe in my own books. 

His descriptions of some of the sexual encounters are rather explicit, with some attention to body image issues (he sometimes refers to other men’s chest or leg hair, as if that secondary sexual characteristic or part-object conferred social status, the way manes do with lions) . Yet, they blend in to the narrative and carry it along. The book reads like an ambitious, high-budget Sundance independent movie, with Cinemascope, certainly rated R (a couple of times approaching NC-17), as it approaches the confrontations. By his junior year, everyone knows that there is a huge gay subculture at the Air Force Academy, and the administration seems willing to look the other way most of the time, because homoeroticism seems so integral to military bonding, and everyone knows it. The government can say all it wants that "homosexuality is incompatible with military service," but homosociality and even homoeroticism seems to undergird warrior culture, which the Air Force seems to emphasize less than the other services (despite the nuclear survival exercises and the "First Beast" and "Second Beast" at the beginning).  The cadets build a secret society that meets in “The Tunnels” or catacombs that were built as shelter from potential Col War nuclear attacks, an irony that Lehmkuhl notes. (Imagine filming this. The Air Force would never allow filming “this” at the Academy, so it would cost a lot to set all of this up.)  The society has several principles that demand absolute secrecy and loyalty, with a bizarre relationship to the Honor Code. “Here’s what we’ll say …” It worked.

At one point Mr. Lehmkuhl writes (p. 334) about the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell law:

“The policy says not to ask a military member if he or she is gay and tells individual military members not to say they are gay, but it does not cover when someone else reports you as being gay.”

He quotes the 1993 law at one point in italics, but he does not give much history of the debate during Clinton’s rookie year that led to the law. Other books have covered this (especially mine), and have covered the old policy that required asking and telling. Lehmkuhl’s makes an interesting comparison to Joe Steffan’s Honor Bound (the Naval Academy in the 1980s) which is simpler and in which the protagonist did not test the limits as often. Lehmkuhl’s experience also was affected by Internet technology, as email and chat became new sources that people could out themselves or others – invoking the policy.

Lehmkuhl’s Tale brings out all the paradoxes of military service and other social obligations. Military service is tied to citizenship because we cannot take freedom for granted. Military service and other social or familial function is predicated on accepting the idea that people need to be protected, and as a result it accepts a great deal of social and personal hypocrisy as inevitable. Yet, in an increasingly individualistic society, personal honor and integrity become non-negotiable. We find ourselves chasing paradoxes and logical circles. One thing comes through all this: in men, at least in a military environment, homosexuality seems to reflect the idea that some men are preferred or to be idealized over others. It does seem like a paradox, to need and use personal freedom and liberty to express a value system that by definition looks at some people (here, men) as "better" than others. That may help explain the indignation that homosexuality sometimes incurs in certain family and social settings. 

Lance Bass. Out of Sync: A Memoir.  Simon Spotlight Entertainment. New York, 2007, 196 pages, hardcover, ISBN 1-4169-4788-4, with Introduction by Marc Elliot. A brief memoir of the former 'Nsync star, who came out as gay recently, and had a relationship for a while with Reichen Lehmkuhl, above. The most interesting part of the book is his account of his cosmonaut training. He looks great on the dust jacket, well built and not "chubby" as the Washington Blade reported from his clubbing at JR's in 2006. Blogger review here

 

 Related: Joe Steffan's Honor Bound      Nsync Popodyssey Concert review

 

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