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’.

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