The Point of a “Do Ask Do Tell” Documentary


How do most debates start? In a formal sense, it is something like:


Resolved: Same-sex couples should have the same marriage rights as opposite-sex couples




Resolved: Adult children should be legally responsible for their parents’ nursing home bills.


Usually debate coaches will tell students to come up with several pro positions, several con positions, and several flawed positions from both sides.


It is the flawed positions that really matter. The problem with issues like these – especially “cultural war” issues is that they are just that: questions about our deepest values. These questions about the importance of self are tied to religion but also to unchosen family circumstances and responsibilities.


A more fundamental question is: what is the proper balance between the rights of the individual and the common good when individual actions can influence the welfare of others in so many unpredictable ways?


Questions about sexuality come down to this: should sexuality be under the control of the individual, or should it be appropriated for the common good by being reserved only within marriage and for the purposes of creating and nurturing the next generation (and indirectly caring for the past ones)? If sexuality is to be preserved for the family only, should those not able to create their own lineage become subservient to those who do? As offensive as this sounds to modern ideas of civil rights, that’s how it’s used to be, and it’s obvious given the cultural wars that a lot of people feel that way today.


Sexuality is dualistic: at heart, it is a private choice of the deepest nature, yet it has public implications as expression and ratification of values, today more than ever in a global village.


Family values serve a social justice purpose, of giving everyone a place in life and of taking care of people. But so does individualism, which tends to break up underserved family wealth and spread it around more equitably.


But what matters the most about all of this is complete candor and intellectual honesty in the way we debate these things, and a willingness to face what the positions we take today can mean for future generations down the road.


Many other issues of major public importance (wars overseas like Iraq, global warming, the environment, public health, counter-terrorism) can be reduced to more fundamental questions about the individual and freedom.


But one of the other big wedge issues is free speech, especially now in the age of high-tech and the Internet. What makes it contentious is the way public speech links to self-promotion.


Yet objective speech is what is needed about all of these matters. Complete candor. Most people cannot afford to be objective and honest in public statements, both because of family loyalty and often because business pays them to maintain a certain slanted public perspective. This contrasts with what is taught in school in an academic environment.


The contents of the DADT film, video, CD, DVD or whatever medium are supposed to illustrate these points. The tables on the index file for this directory more or less follow these specific illustrations.


The autobiographical sequences of my own youth leading up to my William and Mary expulsion are intended to teach a subtle lesson. I was not thrown out for what I did (which was essentially nothing wrong) or even what I was, but for the example that I set for other adolescents in the dorm. I was refusing to “get it” and go along with the cultural norms of the times for my gender role. This was particularly well illustrated by my refusing to go to the hazing sessions (the “tribunals”). Given the values of the times (especially in conjunction with Cold War threats) it seemed that my presence in the dorm could jeopardize the socialization of more “normal” boys, and their ability to justify themselves culturally by having wives and children and protecting them. 


The emergence of gays in the military as an issue in 1993 would bring up this psychological matrix again; it would seem like a mathematical projection of the same problem into a different space. But the military ban gives the fundamental cultural question about the self and family explode. For national security is indeed affected in different ways. Freedom cannot be taken for granted: this is a lesson we learned on 9/11/2001. Our way of life is itself at stake, but is has always been, because of cultural and ideological forces about personal meaning.


But many of the adventures along the way supported the growth of individualism. These include the outdoors, political experiments like libertarianism, and of course the gay rights movement itself.


I spent more than three decades living in a kind of “urban exile” in several cities in a somewhat insular community that emphasizes taking care of one’s own needs. As a result, I did not learn to take care of other people in the way that I should have. Whatever you believe about all the gay issues, the plain fact is that heterosexual interest for most men provides a natural bridge to get them to be responsible for others (starting with children). I did not experience this. Instead, I experienced a rich world of its own, almost like another dominion. But recent historical events reminds me that we can be forced to become our brothers’ keepers as we deal with huge problems beyond the control of any one of us. Some scenarios could destroy the adult world in which I found meaning. We are being forced to come back together.  


A film or CD can be broken into sections along these lines (maybe driven by Powerpoint). It can also be supplemented by a political argument database along the lines discussed elsewhere on this site.


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