In The Masculine Marine, Steven Zeeland interviews active-duty U.S. Marines about what it means to be a man, to be a Marine, and to desire other men. Their answers shed light on homoerotic bonding among Marines, hazing and institutional violence, how gay Marines reconcile their sexual identity with the ethos of "hard" Marine supermasculinity, Marines in all-male pornography, how Marines feel about being viewed as sex objects, and male attitudes about women in the Marine Corps. In the following excerpts, "Captain Eric" (aka "R", as featured on the cover of The New York Times Sunday Magazine) takes issue with the gay stereotype that "all Marines are bottoms."
Captain Eric: My first picture of the Marine Corps? I was in between the eighth and the ninth grade and I had a summer job working in the cafeteria at a nearby college. They allowed fourteen-year-olds to work as long as you didn't work past seven p.m. The head of the dish wash crew — oh man, he was a stud. He was a Marine. He had just gotten off active duty, but he still had a flat top. He was the epitome of the perfect Marine gentleman. And I thought: if this is what the Marine Corps is made of, this is something I want to be a part of.
Zeeland: He exhibited qualities that you wanted for yourself?
Captain Eric: Very much so. That was a very traumatic time of my life. I reached puberty a little bit before the other guys. As a result, my voice started to change. Instead of going right away from a little boy's voice to the deep, manly voice it is now [laughs], I went through a period where I'd answer the phone, and the person on the other end would say, "Oh, hello Mrs. [Eric's last name]." I'd just totally freak out. So I was kind of in that phase, and here was a guy that was just a total man. Don't get me wrong — my dad was definitely a perfect gentleman, a perfect man, but my dad was pretty laid-back, easygoing. This was a young attractive man who had qualities I definitely wanted to emulate.
Zeeland: Were you conventionally masculine as a boy, or not?
Captain Eric: No. Well, it's kind of hard to say. I was small, I was nerdy, and I don't know if I was — I was never called a sissy until these two guys that were a year ahead of me used to call me that. David L and Ernie L. They would call me a fairy, and if I saw them walking down the sidewalk I would just duck behind the building. It's something I would go home and cry about, but — [Pause.] Some guys, the queens that you see out, they probably went through that same thing, and it just made them more bold and defiant in their effeminacy. I said, "Well, I must have a problem here if these guys are calling me a sissy." So I started concentrating on the way that I spoke, and the way that I walked, to try and not be a fairy. I was not an athlete; I could run a little bit, but that was about it. I could ski, but I couldn't play ball. I played the piano. So by some standards I was not the most masculine of boys. And I know what you're leading to with this! [Laughs.]
Zeeland: What am I leading to?
Captain Eric: No, I did not join the Marine Corps to try and fulfill my sense of manhood.
Zeeland: A lot of men do join for that reason, don't they?
Captain Eric: Yeah, they do. And you can see it. [Pause.] There's definitely a Marine stereotype, but I don't think most Marines live up to the stereotype.
Zeeland: How would you describe this stereotype to someone who didn't know about Marines?
Captain Eric: Six foot six, barrel-chested, looks like a bulldog, and he's got the IQ of a bulldog. He parties hard, and works hard, and lives like a pig. Then there's the more realistic stereotype — it's a little bit more modern, probably — of the Marine as precise, punctual, thorough, militaristic. But I think that old stereotype of the rabble-rouser is what a lot of guys are trying to live up to.
Zeeland: Those two stereotypes would seem to contradict each other.
Captain Eric: That's what I'm saying, even in the stereotypes there's duplicity built in.
I knew we were going to have this interview, so I thought about some things I wanted to bring up. When I was a little kid, driving down the road, my mom would always take her tea with her. And if she spilled the tea on her blouse, we turned the car around and went home and she changed. If it happened to my dad, his attitude was, "Oh well, I guess I got a spot on my trousers," and we kept going. So right off the bat I have this image of the man [as someone] who doesn't really care that much about his appearance, or not as much as the woman. Now, there's no way on earth that a Marine would ever show up to work, in even his cammies, with a stain on his clothes. This week I'm having to wear the service uniform; the short sleeve khaki shirt and the green trousers. And I had a little spot on my shirt. I had to drive all the way back up to Oceanside and get another shirt. No Marine — I don't care what type of person he is — is going to show up for work with any type of flaw in his appearance. Marines are so masculine and butch — the stereotype — and yet that is kind of a feminine thing, I think. Well, I don't know if it's really feminine, but it's definitely associated with that.