Semper Fey

Men Who Love Military Men Too Much—And the Sailors Who Oblige Them

Steve likes the term "pre-gay," with its evocation of a time when homosexuality was an appetite, not a sexuality. Anyone was capable of committing the sin of sodomy. As for the current model of gayness—in which you are what you do and with whom—Steve says, "That comes at the expense of 90 percent of the population, who have feelings that can't be consigned to gay. I don't mean that people are basically bisexual, because it's more complicated than that. Even in the same act, the two partners have such different interpretations that it's hard to define its meaning. And when it comes to communicating desire, it seems impossible. What people don't tell each other is the potential they're aware of. I don't think homosexuality is contagious, but I do think it's a potential." Not an identity.

The military life comes close to meeting this pre-gay ideal. It's a world where grunts can whack off together in the barracks, sailors can don dresses at sea, marines can get fucked on leave—all without feeling gay. But times have changed. The row over gays in the military has made servicemen hyperaware of homosexuality. "That may help people who embrace a gay identity," Steve says, "but progress has come at the expense of a certain traditional freedom among military men to enjoy physical intimacy without any implications for their identity."

Instead of allowing out-and-proud gays to serve, Steve would rather see the ban on sodomy lifted. Any sort of sex off-duty would be permissible—and uncategorical. Don't ask, don't name.

Seaman Packard on shore patrol
photo courtesy of Zeeland/
Seaman Packard on shore patrol

As dawn breaks over Bremerton, Tony and Mark stagger off to bed together. I conk out on Steve's guest bed. Sleeping where so many sailors have posed and reposed, it's impossible not to consider the sum of all these connections. They add up to memory and need. Fantasies of men in uniform preserved from childhood like pressed flowers, yearnings for the blessing of the brotherhood: These are things anyone with a powerful homosexual drive might understand. But there's also the reciprocal need of straight men for the devotion a father once provided—if he ever did. Far from home, in a city where everyone seems to know more and have more than you do, the connection with a worldly man who adores you can be irresistible, even arousing.

Each of these needs is met in the union of a chaser and a squid. All that's missing is a love that lasts, for, as every chaser knows, the sailor is the one who goes.

Steve has seen Tony drunkenly moaning Mark's name after one of their fights. Yet to a stranger, Tony seems resigned to their inevitable separation. "He's gonna be leaving soon for Oklahoma," Tony says. "It'll be hard, but we need a break. I don't get attached. I like knowing from the start that they're not gonna be here for long."

Steve understands. "Of course, you ache for something that will last," he admits. "But it's been a long time since I've wanted to walk off into the sunset with anyone." Why would he, when there are so many military men willing to bond for an hour, a night, a year or two? It's a life, and as Steve says, "I'm a lifer."

The names of sailors have been changed to protect their security. Steven Zeeland's books include Sailors and Sexual Identity and The Masculine Marine (Hayworth Press).

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