Why Straight Soldiers Can’t Stop Acting Gay on Video

Way back in the last cen­tury, before the Interweb swal­lowed everything, my friend and accom­plice in lit­er­ary crime Steve Zeeland were vis­it­ing, as you do, Camp Pendleton, the giant US Marine Corps base in Southern California with some jar­head friends.

We spent the after­noon watch­ing the Marine Rodeo — scores of grin­ning fit Texan boys in tight Wranglers and high-and-tights boun­cing up and down on bron­cos and slap­ping each other’s butts. Perhaps you’ll under­stand why, after hav­ing seen this, the Details fash­ion shoot that was Brokeback Mountain left me cold.

We then headed to the enlis­ted men’s club for a much-needed and, I’d like to think, well-earned drink. While we were there, some Marines came in from a week’s exer­cise in the field, still in their com­bats, cam­ou­flage paint still on their young sun­burned faces. They were in high spir­its, enjoy­ing their first beer of the week, and when the DJ played the open­ing fan­fare of The Village People’s ‘YMCA’, like Pavlovs’ dogs they instantly and instinct­ively under­stood what was required of them.

They flocked onto the dance-floor, scram­bling to outdo one another in their 1970s disco dance moves, and joy­ously spelling out the let­ters of the camp clas­sic extolling the pleas­ures of get­ting clean and hanging out with all the bo-oys. ‘Hey buddy,’ one jar­head shouted to me, slap­ping me on the shoulder and grin­ning in my face, ‘you hav­ing a good time?’

Oh yes.

At this point Steve pro­duced his mid 1990s, large, cum­ber­some and very, very obvi­ous cam­corder and star­ted film­ing the jar­head hi-jinks. ‘Steve,’ I hissed in his ear, palms moisten­ing. ‘Don’t you think this might, er, get us into trouble?’

We escaped unscathed — though we did hear reports a year or two later that the Commandant of Camp Pendleton had ordered, like an angry Old Testament God, that enlis­ted men’s club be razed to the ground because it was ‘a cesspit of sodomy’.

I needn’t have wor­ried about Steve’s cam­cord­ing. But the Commandant did have reason to worry — and his Biblical efforts proved in vain. In just a few years time, mil­it­ary boys would be enthu­si­ast­ic­ally film­ing them­selves act­ing way ‘gayer’ than dan­cing to YMCA — and post­ing it on YouTube for the entire world to see.

You’ve prob­ably already seen the video trib­ute to Lady Gaga’s ‘Telephone’ made by US sol­diers in Afghanistan, which has gone vir­u­lently viral.  It’s part of a well-established craze by dusty, bored and stressed mil­it­ary boys let­ting off steam, tak­ing time out from buttoned-down mas­cu­line norms and chan­nel­ling a little glam­our instead. Having a scream, in other words. But the fact they are video­ing it and put­ting on YouTube sug­gests that, like most like most young people in a medi­ated world, they want to draw atten­tion to themselves.

Way back in the Twenieth Century again I wrote, only slightly tongue in cheek: ‘The prob­lem with straight men is they’re repressed. The prob­lem with gay men is they’re not.’ In the met­ro­sexual 21st Century I think it’s pretty clear that even straight sol­diers aren’t that repressed any more.  While of course gays are get­ting mar­ried and becom­ing Tory MPs.

I don’t know about you, but the scene where the sol­diers are stand­ing around admir­ing one another’s home-made House of Gaga out­fits will stay with me forever. There’s some­thing about Lady Gaga that seems to make funny, flam­ing flam­boy­ance — Gagacity - irres­ist­ible to men, women, chil­dren, civil­ians and sol­diers and small anim­als. Gay or straight.

Quite rightly, hardly any­one has sug­ges­ted that these sol­diers being hyper and hil­ari­ously camp are ‘really gay’. Some might be, of course. But their appear­ance in a video of this kind doesn’t prove any such thing. Even the gay-banning US Army put out a state­ment approv­ing the video, or at least try­ing to exploit its popularity.

Compare this with what happened a few years back when it emerged that some US sol­diers had been ‘act­ing gay’ on video for private con­sump­tion rather than YouTube. Gay porn videos made by a com­pany called ActiveDuty. A global scan­dal errup­ted and sev­eral young sol­diers were arres­ted, courts mar­tialed, fined and dis­hon­our­ably dis­charged.  A lot of people — par­tic­u­larly gays — seemed con­vinced that the sol­diers ‘must’ all be gay because they appeared in such videos. When in fact many did it like the sol­diers in the ‘Telephone’ video — for giggles, for fun, for a dare. And, in this case, also for the not incon­sid­er­able sums money they were paid.

Like the dis­charged sol­dier said to the shell-shocked wait­ress who recog­nised him from the ActiveDuty web­site and deman­ded to know how he could have done such a thing: ‘It was no big deal. And besides, I got paid.’

If you think my com­par­ison far-fetched, con­sider that the sol­diers courts mar­tialed for ‘act­ing gay’ on video (Certificate 18) were para­troop­ers in the 82nd Airborne based in Fort Bragg. The same élite unit that the chaps ‘act­ing gay’ in the ‘Telephone’ video (PG) are from.

The latest YouTube video of sol­diers ‘act­ing gay’ called ‘The Army Goes Gay’ (below) has been curi­ously claimed by some gay blogs as an example of straight sol­diers ‘ridicul­ing’ Dont’ Ask Don’t Tell.  There isn’t really any evid­ence for this read­ing how­ever — and in fact it could be more eas­ily read as an endorse­ment of the ‘Gay Bomb’ fears of the Pentagon. Almost cer­tainly it doesn’t have any  mes­sage at all.

It’s just sol­diers being silly and naughty. And ‘gay’.

  1. You must be the only per­son in the world — gay or straight — who hasn’t seen this:

  2. I’m really a “bad gay” cos I don’t par­tic­u­larly like Lady Gaga (or Madge or all the other disco divas) so I’m not au fait with their oeuvre. I’d like to know where to watch the video the sol­diers have based their routine on, per­haps you can give me a pointer?