Here’s What We’ll say: Growing Up, Coming Out, and the U.S. Air Force Academy, Reichen Lehmkuhl
A timely look at the anachronistic ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ policy.
Blurb: Reichen Lehmkuhl is perhaps best known for the ambition, intelligence, and athleticism that won him the grand prize on CBS’s Amazing Race. Since winning the million-dollar prize, Lehmkuhl has gone on to find success acting in film and television. However, he played the biggest role of his life long before his professional acting debut, when he was forced to hide his sexuality to comply with the Air Force’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Here’s What We’ll Say tells the harrowing inside story of what happens when cadets who are committed to serving their nation’s military figure out that they are in fact gay. With no way out and no place to turn for protection, a new code of conduct emerged among gay and lesbian cadets that helped ensure their safety. Gathering secretly in various locations, cadets formed a hidden network. To guarantee the privacy of individuals in attendance, however, each meeting opened with, “Here’s what we’ll say…” — a pledge so sacred that the group had it inscribed on the inside of their class rings.
About the author: Reichen Lehmkuhl is a graduate of the Air Force Academy, a former captain in the Air Force, an actor, an international model, a flight instructor, winner of CBS’s Amazing Race, and a gay rights advocate. He lives in Los Angeles.
Review by Gerry Burnie
Given the current debate regarding the ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ policy, Here’s What We’ll Say: Growing Up, Coming Out, and the U.S. Air Force Academy” by Reichen Lehmkuhl [Da Capo Press, 2007] is a timely topic. Regretfully those that need to read it most—the religious fundamentalists and dogmatic, small-c conservatives–will probably never see it.
Lehmkuhl’s story relates his troubled childhood; the breakup of his parents’ marriage, the feeling of not being wanted, and the psychological impact of all this. His feelings of inadequacy are also exacerbated by the stigma of living in a trailer park—i.e. the perception of being “trailer trash.” However, apart from being Lehmkuhl’s own story there is nothing unique about this. Nor is there anything about it that would necessarily be deleterious to a person’s later life. Therefore, I question the author’s choice of devoting 50% of the book to the telling of it when a quarter of the 368 pages would have said it all quite nicely.
Fortunately the second 50% somewhat redeems the prosaic first part, and finally gets down to the business of his coming out and the U.S. Air Force Academy, as stated in the title.
Although I was vaguely familiar with the discipline of a military academy, the pseudo-sadistic hazing rituals, etc., Lehmkuhl’s intimate knowledge of such has revealed much I didn’t know. For example, I knew nothing about the demeaning practice of running the “strip” [see photo to the left], which Basic Recruits are required to do between classes, or the memorizing of meaningless passages for the sake of being able to spout them on demand. It all seems rather mindless, but it is something that has worked to develop men for decades, and in the case of Westpoint Military Academy has worked since the time of Thomas Jefferson.
More odious is the systematic scourging of homosexuals at the official level; a point that ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ doesn’t address. This umbrella approach does not preclude being investigated or ‘outed’ by someone else. It also doesn’t preclude significant numbers of raunchy, virile young lads from indulging in ‘extra-curricular activities’ in spite of the risk.
To counteract this ever-present risk, Lemhkuhl describes how he founded an ad hoc brother and sisterhood, referred to as the “family,” which operated on the pragmatic basis of you lie and we’ll all swear to it, in order to protect one anothers’ asses. While one might argue the ethics of such a principle, Lemhkuhl makes a compelling argument for its validation on the basis of counteracting an even greater injustice.
Overall I found this story to be a worthwhile read on account of its look behind the anachronism of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ policy. Three and one-half stars.
January 31, 2011 – A new threshold for viewership has been achieved! Thanks to you, January was the best month ever with 1,104 viewers. I am humbled by your interest, and sincere in my thanks. Gerry B.