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Military Trade

Mark Simpson interviews Steve Zeeland about ‘chasing’ military men

(Originally appeared in Attitude, 1998)

When Christopher Isherwood was asked to explain the romantic appeal of sailors, he replied prosaically: ‘Because they go away.’ With exquisite perversity, Seattle-based author Steve Zeeland has devoted his life to capturing, pinning, and mounting the elusive attraction of sailors and soldiers. By interviewing his military buddies, tricks and lovers—Zeeland claims to have had sex with over a thousand military men—and turning them into books, he has made his pleasure and passion his bread and butter. Producing along the way an entire anthropology and sociology out of his nettings. 

Dubbed ‘an Oprah Whitman for our times’ [by, in fact, me], Zeeland has already published three volumes of confessional-poetic interviews with men in uniform: Barrack Buddies and Soldier Lovers, Sailors and Sexual Identity and The Masculine Marine. Zeeland decided the last remaining service, the Air Force, wasn’t worth putting under glass (‘office workers dressed as security guards’), and instead his next tome Military Trade turns his tape recorder on those who share his own obsession with military men—so-called ‘military chasers’.

MS: So, Steve, what’s it all about? Uniforms?

ZEELAND: Only a few military chasers are uniform fetishists. To most, the uniform is only exciting as a mark of authenticity; they typically say they’re ‘more interested in getting men out of uniform than playing dress-up’. One man I interviewed told me that the only uniform that ever did anything for him is the US Navy dress blues, and that’s because it’s the best uniform for sucking cock in a car. ‘The 13 button-fly opens a flap. The sailor doesn’t have to take down the pants, or even open his belt – the flap folds down and everything is immediately available.’

But gay men don’t fancy straight men—that’s all in the past. 

Any gay man who tells you that is not being honest. Back when I first started chasing soldiers, my best gay friend tried to enlighten me about my retrogressive, self-loathing ways. But it’s a funny thing; when I showed him a picture of a ‘straight’ soldier I was having sex with, he became rather jealous.

But no really straight man would allow themselves to be caught by a military chaser…

Despite a falloff in business in recent years, because of anxieties about AIDs and the rise of the idea that participation any male-male activity means you’re gay, some military chasers manage to keep pretty busy. I know men who have had sex with more than 4,000 servicemen – slightly more than four times the number I’ve had. Maybe it’s men like that who should be writing these books. But of course they don’t have time. In San Diego there’s this guy who lives in a van. He’s always hanging out near the bases, in adult video arcades, tattoo parlors – wherever sailors and Marines are, he can be found, at any hour of the day or night. I often wondered how he managed to make a living.

Finally I found out. He sells cactuses on consignment.

Then of course there are the older men constantly trolling the streets outside the Marine base in very expensive cars.

Well, the soldiers that let themselves be caught must be either very poor or very ugly.

Believe it or not, it’s the butchest and most beautiful boys who are often the most available. They’ve built themselves up and they want to be admired by other men for it. Having proven their masculinity in boot camp, they’re often less anxious about defending it. And at least some of them seem to have a special need to take orders from older men.

Really?? Erm, I mean to say… military chasers must be queer bashed constantly.

Two of the chasers I’ve interviewed have had knives pulled on them. One guy was choked and beaten by a sailor who came home with him and enjoyed a massage but was offended by his offer of a blowjob. As the chaser stumbled gasping and bleeding onto his front lawn, the sailor pointed his finger and screamed to the neighbors: ‘He raped me!’ But what’s most surprising to me is that stuff like this doesn’t occur more often. Especially considering the number of encounters some of these guys rack up. I actually know more gay men who have been beaten up by boyfriends than chasers who have been queer-bashed.

Gay men can be as sociopathic as anyone else. Another guy in Military Trade tells how his cruising buddy was murdered by a soldier he took home. But it turns out the chaser wasn’t exactly an innocent victim. As his friend put it, ‘I think he crossed a line. When you drug and rape someone, that’s your fantasy, it’s not theirs’.

And there’s the story of a San Diego military impersonator named Andrew, who used to chase my Marine boyfriend. He ended up killing a Navy lieutenant, before he became famous by assassinating Gianni Versace.

You see! Military chasing leads directly to crimes against fashion!  Isn’t all this promiscuity empty and pointless?

Some military chasers say they are looking for a husband. But others have had husbands and now just crave anonymous sex with as many butch servicemen as they can get. ‘An unending supply promises a promiscuous monogamy,’ as one of my more eloquent contributors put it. Quite a few of the guys I’ve interviewed have developed long-term relationships with military boys who can’t really be termed either ‘gay’ or ‘straight’. My Navy ex-lover Troy and I were together for two years and are still very close. Our relationship began with me giving him head in an adult video arcade. He’d just had a fight with his girlfriend. He was looking for trouble, and he found me.

And by the way, a lot of these ‘straight’ military guys don’t want oral sex – they want to be fucked.

NO WAY! Ahem… what kind of sad, dysfunctional people become military chasers?

Some of them are gloriously dysfunctional. There are some wicked, despicable people in my book – but not as many as I would have liked. Wacked out characters are more interesting to me, I admit, but most of the chasers I’ve met are stable, affable, eminently ordinary people. They tend to be conservative in style, but politically they cover a broad spectrum; I eroticized soldiers as a pacifist, which I remain.

One of the interviews in Military Trade is with a British heavy metal singer who recently came out on MTV. In this book he comes out as a Marine chaser. He says he likes jarheads ‘because they are the defenders of freedom and democracy’. A certain famous queer theorist I repeated this quote to laughed and said, ‘Nobody ever got off on that’. I think he’s wrong; a lot of chasers get really misty-eyed about comradeship. You could almost call them… Whitmanesque

Another guy in the book writes about how he used to pimp marines to big-name Hollywood stars. But I have to say that all of the men are upstaged by the one woman I interviewed, who seduces Marines online and then meets up with them in person to dominate them with strap-on dildos. Myra Breckenridge lives. But this woman, too, told me that she’s most attracted to Marines because of their integrity.

Integrity? Is that a brand of aftershave? And what about ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ isn’t that dishonest?

Of course, it was a weak-kneed compromise. And it hasn’t been properly enforced. But the policy does make a certain kind of sense. The military has long been much more interested in appearing to exclude homosexuals than actually doing all it can to eradicate them.

I actually feel a little more sympathy for the military’s position than I used to. It’s hard to maintain the homoerotic charge that straight men have traditionally both denied and enjoyed in military life once you have openly gay men present insisting that any physical intimacy between men has to be called ‘gay’. A Marine infantryman I interviewed told me that the guys in his unit complained that if openly gay men were allowed in the Marine Corps, they would no longer feel comfortable masturbating together. The hard-core grunts he served with were very intimate with each other. Ultimately, he came out to seven of them; they were all pretty much ‘accepting’, he reported. But they no longer wanted to give him massages.

Oh phooey! Who would exchange being out for being massaged by a platoon of brawny marines? 

There used to be a saying among submariners, ‘It’s only queer if you’re tied to the pier’. That idea simply no longer works now that servicemen are buying into the gay line that any man who enjoys sex with another man but doesn’t think of himself as gay must be ‘closeted’ or ‘in denial’. Discharges are up, and sexual fluidity is down.

On the other hand, the Pentagon does still retain a ‘queen for a day’ clause, which lets men off the hook for having sex with other men if they can convince the military it will never happen again. In fact, last year a friend of mine’s Air Force ex-lover successfully used this defense. Unfortunately, a few months later he was kicked out after all, when he recklessly made it clear that, for him, being a queen was not a 24-hour affliction.

In your previous book The Masculine Marine you talked about wanting your ashes deposited in the piss trough at a marine enlisted club. 

I wasn’t completely serious. But it does seem like a romantic idea, having all those Marine penises pointed directly at me, washing my bones away.

Sadly, it’s no longer possible for my last wish to be fulfilled. A few months after I wrote that passage, the Marine enlisted club was renovated. They tore out the piss trough and replaced it with individual urinals – and vanity partitions. Then, after all this money had been spent, the enlisted club was permanently closed and torn down, on personal order of the Commandant of the Marine Corps.

Apparently, he compared this Marines club to Sodom and Gomorrah.

Attitude, 1998