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Coming out under fire by Allan Bérubé

Coming out under fire (1990)

by Allan Bérubé

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Hoo boy. I want to start this off by first acknowledging the important work Berube did in this book; this book was definitely groundbreaking when it was published, and importantly, legitimized the service of gay and lesbian veterans of World War II. Berube's work here also served a materially political purpose, which is something that many academics cannot say.

That being said, if you, like me, are suspicious at best of the citizen-soldier construct, this book can be difficult to get through. I found myself drowning in homo-nationalism so frequently that I had to put the book aside for weeks at a time. (You'll notice it took me ~six months to finish it, and that wasn't just because grad school got in the way.) The introduction to Berube's My Desire for History gives some context for his need to honor these veterans this way, but it still was difficult to grapple with as a reader who might have appreciated a little more nuanced look into the service of these individuals.

The best parts of the book for me were those centering around lesbian women in the military--they were mostly free from the horrifying culture of masculinity that Berube described with gay men serving, and so I enjoyed them much more. I will, as always in books like this, point out that though Berube pays lip service to bisexual and transgender people in the text, their actual appearances are minimal at best (which is to say that some of the folks interviewed or talked about might have identified as bisexual, though Berube is not explicit in identifying any,) and, in the case of transgender people in particular, are wholly absent (which is really interesting, given the rich history of particularly transgender people serving in the military.) Though I understand that wasn't Berube's intention per se, I am going to note it for potential readers. ( )
1 vote aijmiller | Jan 11, 2017 |
This book is exhaustively thorough, which is good in a history book exploring new territory, especially when access to the participants is disappearing as they age and die. However, it makes for a choppy, sometimes repetitive read. If you want the details, read the book. If you just want the overall gist, see the movie instead. ( )
1 vote aulsmith | Nov 8, 2011 |
Review by Elaine Taylor May points out that Berube's is a pioneering work in the social history of gays in World War II. He finds that the experience of WWII was both that of increased surveillance and of a greater solidarity as a gay subculture developed in the military during wartime. In a time when the military needed manpower, the services were ambivalent about what to do about gays in the military. As military's psychiatrists sought to discover the gay personality type, new ways of dealing with gay servicemen included the "queer stockade" and "blue discharges" (less than honorable discharge) as well as rehabilitation for return to duty. A minority of these psychiatrists did not feel that homosexuality affected battlefield performance. The fact that the military did not allow women in combat zones meant that those who entertained the troops returned to the age old convention of men playing the parts of women. Developing a drag performance style designated as "camping," the gay servicemen claimed their own cultural space. Berube also recounts the battlefield performance of gay men, which included many acts of heroism. The period of tolerance in the immediate post-war period quickly yielded to homophobic witch hunts in the cold war.

Among the more interesting sections of this book is the one that deals with medicine's treatment of homosexuality. In "Pioneer Experts: Psychiatrists Discover the Gay GI," he describes the research undertaken by military psychiatrists to better diagnose homosexuality in men. They began by working on tests that determined if a serviceman had a gag reflex, which they assumed disappeared in gay men who had performed frequent oral sex on other men. They moved on to studies which categorized the personality characteristics of gay men -- effeminacy, superiority and fear. One main objective of this work was to weed out true homosexuals from straight men who used homosexuality as an excuse to get out of the military. Though this was not as common as it would be later in Vietnam, malingering was still seen as a problem by military officers. Berube's account also explains how the compassion of many psychiatrists led them to purposefully "misdiagnose" the patient, rather than put "homosexual" on the medical record they made up other diagnoses like "psychoneurosis" to protect the patient. In one of the ironies of history, the first challenge to the military's anti-gay policies was launched by a group of psychiatrists reporting to LTC Lewis H. Loeser at the 36th station hospital in Devonshire, UK. Their research, documented by 450 case histories argued that homosexuality did not make men less capable soldiers and urged the Army to abandon discrimination against homosexuals in the military.
  mdobe | Jul 24, 2011 |
What I found most fascinating about this book is how the military's anti-gay policy was almost like a self fulfilling prophecy. Before cracking down on gays, it seems like they lived a relatively normal existence within the military, and it wasn't until they were stigmatized and forced to remain wholly within the closet that problems such as homophobia, stress and morale came into play. It's also pitiful how little has been done to change military policy since WWII. DADT isn't much of an improvent. Although I am opposed to all war, I believe that if we're still going to keep having them, all people (gay, straight, male or female) should be allowed to fight in them. ( )
1 vote lemontwist | Dec 28, 2009 |
A study of homosexual soldiers in the US armed forces during the World War II. Bérubé examines both official records and more private materials, such as letters and interviews. ( )
  mari_reads | Sep 10, 2006 |
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Among the many histories of fighting men and women in World War II, little has been written about the thousands of homosexuals who found themselves fighting two wars--one for their country, the other for their own survival as targets of a military policy that sought their discharge as "undesirables." To write this long overdue chapter of American history, Allan Bérubé spent ten years interviewing gay and lesbian veterans, unearthed hundreds of wartime letters between gay GIs, and obtained thousands of pages of newly declassified government documents. While some gay and lesbian soldiers collapsed under the fear of being arrested, interrogated, discharged, and publicly humiliated, many drew strength from deep wartime friendships. Relying on their own secret culture of slang, body language, and "camp" to find each other and build spontaneous communities, they learned, both on and off the battlefield, to be proud of their contribution and of who they were.--From publisher description.… (more)

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