By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Bremerton, WashingtonThey may say, "Don't ask, don't tell." But a better way to describe what goes on in the military is the motto hanging over Steven Zeeland's guest bed. "They will tell you no," it reads, ". . . and you will tell them yes."
On this bed, Steve has photographed dozens of sailors from a nearby naval base. They aren't shy about showing their stuff, and not a few have spent the night here or shot a load, courtesy of Steve.
Most of these sailors are rural boys who feel more comfortable in Bremerton than in Seattle, an hour's ferry ride across the Puget Sound. Seattle is where the hot bars are, but most women in such places don't realize that a squid isn't just something gooey with ink. It's also a nickname for sailors.
To seamen who can't tell a latte from instant coffee, the bars around their base are a more reliable source of company. Bremerton has more tattoo parlors than discos, not to mention a supply of local girls known disparagingly as "bremelos." It's also home to a small group of men like Steve whose lives revolve around pleasing sailors willing, sometimes eager, to be pleased.
Steve calls his kind "military chasers." They can be found anywhere men in uniform are stationed, but especially around marine camps and naval bases, which are often located near big cities. Many of these devotees are pushing middle age, but some are no older than the men they admire. Mere youth is not the attraction. It's the fresh-faced look of a boy trained to kill, and the stunning effect of basic training on the body. At least a dozen pornographers specialize in photos of military men with these assets. Films of marines masturbating in and out of uniform are a staple of gay video.
There's money in this trade, and military men are notoriously strapped for cash. But there's also the joy of being appreciated, something jarheads and squidsespecially in the lower ranksseem grateful for. Much of this action occurs online, but some chasers dedicate their lives to the physical pursuit of military men, traveling from base to base like bedouin in search of water. The fop-rocker Momus captures the spirit of such devotion in a song that includes this couplet: "When I die, mix my ash/With the piss at Camp Pendleton."
At Pendleton, in California, marines can choose from chasers circling the base in impressive cars, or call the numbers listed in graffiti offering "GOOD $$$ 4 BJ 4 USMC." But San Diego is the capital of chaser nation. There, the concentration of enlisted men draws a dedicated fan club. Steve spent four very active years in San Diego, but he hated the sunshine and the lifestyle, so he set out for Bremerton, where neither sun nor brunch is in ready supply. Seafood is another story. Sailors fill the local bars when a carrier docks at the base for repairs. The more impatient hit the back-room bookstore where Christmas lights cast a ruddy glow on men waiting for a willing mouth. Even in the semidarkness, Steve can pick out an off-duty sailor by his demeanor, his tattoos, and especially his hair, cut in the manner Steve prefers to wear: high and tight.
Sailors, as the late Quentin Crisp observed, "are the ones who go away." That's no small part of their appeal to chasers, who tend to shrink from marriage, especially of the same-sex sort. But some of these relationships last until the ship leaves port or the tour of duty is up. It's not unheard of for a seaman to live off base with a chaser, and once in a while a pickup leads to a lifelong bond. Steve has had four long affairs with military men. He cherishes his photos of them, some of which grace his books of interviews with chasers and the men they love too much.
You might think this is a risky businessand chasers do get bashed, especially when they push too hard. But Steve insists there's less homosexual panic than one would imagine. Most military men who get into this scene know what they're doing, if not necessarily why. The main thing for the chaser is to be cool and buy the drinks. If anyone has to watch his ass, it's usually the sailor. Some chasers are predatorsone of them goes by the name Vulture Dickbut many are nurturing by nature. It's this attentiveness that draws lonely, uprooted sailors to men like Steve.
A woman willing to nurture a squid might give Steve a run for his money. But it's hard to find a bremelo who thinks sailors offer more than hot sex, and the number of eligible enlisted women pales before the horde of horny men. This is why, despite the attractions on basesuch as a pub, a state-of-the-art gym, and barracks that seem more like college dormsthere's no shortage of sailors who prefer the bars of Bremerton. But when they enter these saloons, they find mostly other men. The one bar where women gather is shunned by sailors, since it's known to be gay-friendly. Instead, they go where the real men areincluding Steve.