The story is not available online, but now lucky Mark Simpson Patrons can now read the UNCENSORED – and uncircumcised – version of my SCANDALOUS and SORDID and decidedly un-fragranced adventures with NAKED PARATROOPERS at Fort Bragg here.
Just one of the many exciting exclusive benefits of being a Mark Simpson Patron – for as little as $1 a month.
My Details editor insisted on taking out ‘the gory bits’ to save his readers’ sensibilities – so you’ll be glad to know I’ve put them back in, and out, and in again. The piece has also got bigger – and now runs to 5000 words of sordidness.
Way back in the last century, before the Interweb swallowed everything, my friend and accomplice in literary crime Steve Zeeland and I 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 Mountainleft 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 Pavlov’s 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?’
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 Twentieth 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.
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 elite 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’ Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. There isn’t much if 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’.
I also point out how everyday and ‘normal’ homoerotics is for many if not most men – but we don’t want to see it, and when we can’t ignore it because it’s thrust in our face by digital cameras and the Interweb we pathologize or criminalize it:
…the furor is another reminder that we live in a culture where female bi-curiousness is routinely regarded as natural and almost universal while male bi-curiousness is seen as non-existent – or else it is just “sexually confused” (i.e. they’re really gay, but laughably repressed), or it is “deviant hazing” conducted by “sexual predators” that needs to be eradicated.
In reality, to anyone who opens their eyes on a Saturday night on either side of the Atlantic, there’s scads of evidence that plenty of “normal” young men who aren’t particularly “sexually confused” – especially the most, er, physical types – have a healthy appetite for highly homoerotic behavior after a keg or two. It’s what beer seems to have been invented for. In the Middle Ages they thought the cause of sodomy was drunkenness – they weren’t wrong. By contrast, I’ve hardly ever seen such homoerotic horseplay amongst straight women, even despite the invention of alcopops (though admittedly I perhaps wasn’t looking as closely.)
Some people have a more violently negative response to the everyday evidence of male homoerotics, literally trying to stamp it out. In the UK a straight female Canadian martial arts expert attacked and knocked out a couple of drunken British soldiers at a disco for kissing and ‘pretending to be gay’, screaming ‘THIS SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED IN THE BRITISH ARMY!!’.
Living in a garrison town I’ve seen plenty of similarly steamy behaviour from drunken squaddies in pubs and on dance-floors, snogging and humping and groping one another, so I can understand her frustration – I’ve wanted to get physical too, but not in quite the same way she did.
Sometimes the response is more genteel, but just as vehement. During the last Rugby World Cup a couple of years ago I was invited on Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio Four to talk about homoerotics and rugby. I thought it a bit odd that Woman’s Hour wanted to cover this subject, but the producer enthused: “The presenter Jane is really keen to talk about it”. It turned out that neither the presenter, a former female sports journalist, or her guest, another female sports journalist, wanted to talk about it at all.
Both of them refused point blank to countenance the possibility that a game that involves men with large thighs wrestling in the mud over odd-shaped balls, or taking communal baths, or kinky nude drinking games that would shock the guards at the American Embassy in Afghanistan, could be in any way homoerotic. Only a homo would say such a thing.
“Of course you would say that Mark,” she said at one point, “because you’re gay”.
I paused. Several things occurred to me to say to that. I could have replied that droves of gay men were probably rushing at that very moment to dissociate themselves from what I was saying (they usually do). Or “Well, of course you would say that Jane, as an uptight middle class woman.”
Instead I replied, “It seems that some people have a problem with the word ‘homoerotic’. They think that it means something ‘for gays’. Perhaps some people would be happier with the word ‘male bonding’…”‘
“Yes!’ they chorused, “it’s male bonding!”
“But,” I continued, “it’s male bonding with an erotic component so we’re back where we came in.”
They didn’t like that.
Just a few weeks earlier this doc had gone out on national UK TV, in which a team of northern rugby players were shown getting drunk and naked with one another, snogging, licking each other’s nipples – and playing with their captain’s ‘donkey dick’. Of course, I couldn’t even mention it, because on radio – especially Radio Four. You’re not allowed to acknowledge that TV exists.
Again, being radio, and posh radio at that, just before we went on air a nice voice whispered in my headphone. “Remember Mark, this is a family show so please try not to be too rude!” This did hamper my case somewhat, as rugby homoerotics are meant to be rude. Though it didn’t stop me from leaving something unsavoury hanging in the air: “The soggy biscuit game, for example, isn’t entirely a myth….”
“I think we’d better move on,” said Jane rather quickly.
Apparently the BBC switchboard was jammed with retired lady callers demanding to know what the soggy biscuit game was.
(This feature of mine from a couple of years back, ‘Assume the position’, offers a more in-depth investigation of the culture’s crackdown on hazing and male horseplay in general.)
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