Gay men and lesbians in the military: using the presentation of self and the perspective of the outsider within to negotiate the military's iron cage

This paper presents and analyzes the results of a qualitative research project that investigated how gay men and lesbians in the military negotiate the hostile environment of the military's closed bureaucracy. The literature review revealed four themes: national ideology, the cult of masculinity, culture wars, and family secrets. Three theories were used to analyze the literature and the data derived from the research. Max Weber's theories of bureaucracy and the "iron cage" were used at the policy level. Erving Gottman's concept of the "presentation of self' was used at the individual level, and Patricia Hill Collins' concepts of intersectionality and the "outsider within" were used at the group level. Results indicated that there was a pervasive awareness among gay men and lesbians that they could be discharged for their sexual behavior confirming the concept of the "iron cage." However, many openly homosexual servicemembers were not discharged because the military's need for skilled personnel overrode its mandate to discharge homosexuals, and gays and lesbians used the "presentation of self" to pass as heterosexual indicating the "iron cage" could be breeched. The severity of surveillance and harassment varied among commands. Where it was less severe shadow communities of military gays and lesbians emerged; where it was most severe weak, or no military gay and lesbian communities formed. This partially confirmed the concept of intersectionality and the "outsider within."