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Hello, Sailor!
"Don't talk to me about naval tradition. It's nothing but rum, sodomy, and the lash."
Winston Churchill (not really) unwittingly inspiring a name for an album by The Pogues.

It's a lonely life in the Navy. Outside prison or single-gender schools, probably the most well-known version of Situational Sexuality is in the naval service. For years, men would be left alone together on ships for weeks on end, as female sailors served in a very limited capacity if at all (this is slowly changing). Sexual needs had to be met somehow and that meant a lot of men turned to one another for comfort. This has led to sailors becoming sex symbols among gay men. Definitely Truth in Television on occasion, and in fiction, a common subtrope of the Manly Gay and Straight Gay types. Pretty much Older Than Steam.

A somewhat outdated trope nowadays, however, as most military fetishists have been leaning towards the sweaty and permastubbled soldier or marine as of late.

Note that the Royal Navy abolished the practice of flogging in 1948, and that rum rations were discontinued in 1970 (but were temporarily reintroduced in 1982 because of the Falklands War). The modern navy runs on sodomy, and sodomy alone. QED.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     Anime And Manga  
  • In the Area 88 TV series, former US Navy pilot Mick Simon is seen reading a Playgirl magazine in the cafeteria.
  • Kurogane Pukapuka Tai fills the Indian Ocean with lesbian sailors during World War II.

     Comic Books  
  • In the second volume of Heroes for Hire, the main characters Misty Knight, Colleen Wing, Shang-Chi, and Black Cat find themselves in a stolen boat with the Coast Guard about to board them.
    Misty: What do we do?
    Colleen Wing: Relax, they're sailors. Just look cute.
    Shang-Chi: That might not work for all of us, Colleen.
    Black Cat: They are sailors, Shang.
  • Deadpool accidentally invokes this trope by walking into a bar full of sailors in a tiny tank top and short shorts. In San Francisco. And then he comes up with his hairbrained scheme to join the X-Men.
  • In Circles, Paulie's father appearently was subjected to this:
    "Ach, son. I know how ye feel. I'v been oot on th' boats, son, and I know what it's like...But it isn't love, son!"

    Commercials 

    Film 
  • Captain Shakespeare of the Stardust film (though not the book) is a flamboyantly gay secret Drag Queen. Technically not a Navy man, but a sky pirate. Played by Robert De Niro, of all people! It's said DeNiro took the role of Shakespeare out of deep regret at having passed on playing Jack Sparrow. Make of that what ye will.
  • Top Gun: They're pilots, but they're still Navy.
  • In Zorro The Gay Blade, Don Diego gets injured and asks his brother Ramon to take his place. Only Ramon is now Bunny Wigglesworth.
    Ramon/Bunny: They say the Navy makes men. I'm living proof - they made me!
  • Referenced in Kids In The Hall Brain Candy. Wally Terzinsky is shown cosplaying as a sailor after coming out and just before collapsing from the side effects of GLeeMONEX.

    Literature 
  • Jean Genet's Querelle De Brest, later made into a film by Rainer Werner Fassbinder.
  • Referenced vaguely a few times in the Temeraire series, when Laurence reflects on some of the hazards of the Navy, while musing he was lucky to escape that part of it himself.
  • Herman Melville's unfinished novella Billy Budd. It's all about homosexuality among sailors on ships in the age before steamships.
  • Moby-Dick is stuffed full of it. Including Ishmael and Queequeg's status as Heterosexual Life-Partners and Ishmael wading, nay, wallowing in spermnote  along with the rest of the crew.
  • Referenced on a number of occasions in Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series. While sodomy is technically a hanging offense in the Royal Navy, the more liberal sort of officer - such as Jack Aubrey - tends to turn a blind eye to it unless it's excessively blatant, or is coupled with some other breach of the Articles of War that can't be ignored. The main problem that Jack has with gays in command positions is not so much their sexuality as that the favoritism they show their partners has a very bad effect on their ships' order and discipline.

     Live-Action TV  
  • Homosexuality in the Royal Navy was the subject of one episode of the Channel 4 parody news show Brass Eye. Sailors did ridiculous things like marching in pairs pressed right up against each other and devoting over 90% of their medical training to treating "penis wounds." It also showed footage of a naval officer fellating a gun.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus has its own parody on the subject, exchanging "homosexuality" for "cannibalism", and making countless of jokes of navy men casually eating one another, or discussing nonchalantly of who should get eaten. This comes right after a sketch with a letter from a member of the Royal Navy who is outraged that the show would demean Her Majesty's naval forces... that soon descended into describing the "perfect little buttocks" of the sailors, and John Cleese saying, "And we can't show you the rest of that letter."
  • Veronica Mars first season episode "M.A.D.":
    "The Navy? Cover my back, wingman. The rear admiral wants us to pound away with the 10-inch gun. I mean, isn't just joining the Navy alone gay enough to get you thrown out of the Navy?"
  • Used in Mystery Science Theater 3000, of all shows, in the final host segment of Teenagers from Outer Space. Tom Servo has a rather...spirited reaction to the sight of Joel in a homemade Navy-style uniform.
    "Well, you can swab my deck anytime, sailor."
  • In one round of the Whose Line Is It Anyway? game "If you Know what I Mean," which involves speaking in nothing but sexual innuendos, one of the players reminisces, "When I was in the Navy, I was surrounded by seamen!"
  • Saturday Night Live had a continuing serial Dickens parody with guest Michael Palin, who as the youthful hero gets initiated to the manly life on the sea with manly men on the "Raging Queen".
  • The second-season Blackadder episode "Potato" is full of gay sailor jokes since it revolves around explorers and sea voyages. The next episode has Baldrick suggest making money down at the docks by exploiting this trope.
  • In the UK comedy Brass, the Camp Gay son borrows his mother's perfume, "Bonsoir Matelot."
  • Season 6, Episode 11 of How I Met Your Mother ("The Mermaid Theory") notes this in The Stinger. It's hard to explain how.
  • In one episode of QI, Stephen Fry asks the question, "Do you know how they separate the men from the boys in the Navy?". Answer: with a crowbar.
    • Giving Alan Davies an embarrassing buzzer is a Running Gag on the show. The trope title has been used for this purpose more than once.

    Music 
  • The subtext of the Village People song "In the Navy". Just remember what "subtext" is an anagram for! Hilariously, this song was originally recorded as the theme for a US Navy recruitment spot. The deal fell through when conservative activists complained about the Village People's association with the gay community. While the Navy yielded to the right-wing screeching, they took umbrage to the implication there was anything at all gay about the Village People or the song "In The Navy" in any way promoted homosexuality. Or on a less insulting note, people questioned the legitimacy of the government using taxpayer money to fund a music video.
  • Martin Mull sang a rousing sea shanty about being on a 'ship all filled with men' - he does note "But none of us are sissies/And so we sleep in sep'rate beds/and blow each other kissies!"
  • This trope has been immortalized in song for well over a century at the very least. "Backside rules the Navy; backside rules the sea...."
  • The Frogs' song Sailors Board Me Now is one big ode to seaside sodomy.
  • Damon Albarn, while working on the Gorillaz album Plastic Beach, apparently worried that the nautical theme would come across this way, according to this interview.
  • Subverted in Cosmo Jarvis' Gay Pirates, which has nothing to do with Situational Sexuality and everything to do with The Power of Love.

     Video Games  
  • In the video game Tradewinds: Legends, the burly Berber swordsman Hasan Tazere is a Straight Gay with occasional Camp Gay ("Does this tattoo complement my eyes?") and Manly Gay ("Visit meat market. Find bear.") concerns—and he's out! E.g., when he makes a particularly large deposit, the Banker is likely to ask if Hasan has met his or her son, and the other playable characters inquire if he's had any success searching for his . . . brother. (Since a Running Gag of the game is that the playable characters persistently misunderstand each other, this gay troper is convinced that Hasan's warrior brother Omar is straight.)
  • The trope name is actually a recurring Catch Phrase in the old Zork games.
  • Played for laughs in NationStates. An issue about gays in the military has four options: Ban gays from serving at all (suggested by an army chaplain), allow gays to serve openly (suggested by an air force pilot), allow gays to serve, but not openly (suggested by a marine in your personal bodyguard), and allow only gays to serve (suggested by the captain of a destroyer).
  • In Medieval II Total War, a general may pick up the homosexual trait if he is left on a transport ship for too long.
  • In Grim Fandango, Manny Calavera can say this to dockmaster Velasco, who is, apparently, an old salty bag of rope (you should see his wife!). He just answers "Quit foolin' around!"

     Web Comics  
  • Apparently referenced in this Crew Dogs strip by an Air Force member.

     Western Animation  
  • The Simpsons:
    • Used in an episode with the Sea Captain, where he was shown purchasing lots of pornography before a long voyage to keep himself and his men straight ... for about five minutes.
      Sea Captain: I don't swing that way ... on land!
    • "Simpson Tide" had the Village People sing on the submarine with Smithers dancing along.
  • In some Popeye cartoons from WWII era (such as "Seeing Red, White and Blue"), Navy sailors (except Popeye of course) were portrayed as "funny", groping, mincing and occasionally cross-dressing.
  • A rather odd version would be Mirage of Transformers Energon who is most of the Decepticon navy by virtue of being a boat. He's also completely gay for Megatron.
  • Shore Leave a walking stereotype from The Venture Bros., a parody of Shipwreck from the G.I. Joe cartoons.
  • Used in an episode of Johnny Bravo. After being told that women like a guy who's "in touch with his feminine side", the not-very-bright Johnny ends dressing in drag to impress a girl and gets hit on by a couple of Ambiguously Gay sailors who tell him suggestively that they're "on shore leave."
  • Family Guy:
    • A naval school described by an instructor:
      Instructor: ...Our curriculum consists of being on boats for long periods of time with men, just men, for many days at a time. Up on the deck with lots of men, or down in the galley with lots of men.
      Chris: Is this some kind of pirate school?
      Instructor: Well... a certain kind of pirate. Yes, we've been called that.
      Stewie: Is there some kind of preschool program?
    • This short of Stewie as an old British Navy Captain
      Stewie: I'm the greatest captain of the queen's navy
      Sailors: And your record will stand as proof.
      Stewie: Be it galleon or freighter, I'm an expert navigator.
      Sailors: And you're also a world class poof.
      Stewie: My manner quite effete/Is mistaken on the street For a sailor who can pirouette on cue.
      Well despite your point of view, I can thrill a girl or two...
      But I'd rather get it on with you!
      Sailors: Ha Ha Ha!
  • Robot Chicken's advertisement More Don't Ask Than Ever Before

     Real Life  
  • Many sailors have no problem making fun of this trope themselves as evidenced by the jokes "It's only queer at the pier!" and "It's not gay underway!"
  • Everyone knows submariners are all this way, everyone of them, just ask anyone else in the Navy "100 men go down, 50 couples come up!" The submarine service of the US Navy especially, since women have long been allowed on most surface ships, but were not permitted on submarines until 2010 and owing to training time would not actually serve until 2013. See also: this video.
  • Referenced often by Army personnel in most nations who wish to start a fight with their navy comrades — "Backs to the wall boys, here come the Navy!" is a favorite in the UK. "How do they separate the men from the boys in the Navy? With a crowbar and a bucket of cold water!"
  • Also referenced in England's old anti-sodomy laws, which had one exception: it was legal "after ninety days at sea." Though bear in mind that, by 1750, even crossing the Atlantic didn't take 90 days, and fooling around- or even trying to- with another man, at least in the Navy, would be punished by being strung from the yardarm if anyone reported it. Court-martial records show that a lot of men were actually let off, if it was a first offence. (In fact, the letter of the sodomy law was to outlaw oral or anal penetration- of anyone, man or woman- and there had to be two independent witnesses to both penetration and ejaculation. So if you didn't have sex in front of two onlookers- or found some other activity to perform- there wasn't much the law could do, although some men were convicted of the lesser crime of 'assault with sodomical intent'. The more general law on 'gross indecency'- which could cover more or less any sexual activity- was passed in 1886, after this period ended. On the other hand, it's quite hard to get privacy on a tallship...)
  • Strangely this might be less Truth in Television the further back one goes. In the days of Wooden Ships and Iron Men it was common for sailors' wives, girlfriends, and whores to slip aboard ship whenever the ship was in port for an extended period of time. Leaving port always called for an attempt to run the women off the ship, which was rarely 100% successful.
    • Some women even had licence to be there: it's uncertain how many, as they don't appear in ships' lists, but contemporary artistic representations of shipboard life often show women dressed like servants among the sailors, probably to do that sort of labour aboard. Captains often sailed with their wives (unlike everyone else, they had their own cabin, and the alternative could be to be parted from her for years), and many vessels openly carried such a thing as 'loblolly girls'- ships' prostitutes, in so many words.
  • Discussed in depth in the book Sodomy and the Pirate Tradition (which Johnny Depp read in preparation to play Captain Jack Sparrow): the argument is basically that gay sex actually wasn't nearly as taboo and shocking in the seventeenth century as it is today, and that those who lived as pirates had little regard for societal norms and "rules" anyway, so it wouldn't really have been a big deal for men stuck onboard a ship for months at a time to turn to one another for sex and/or love. There was even a term for a more permanent arrangement: matelotage. Two sailors who were matelots would often share possessions and have some of the commitments of a married couple (sometimes indicated by 'matelot marks', a significant tattoo.) This wouldn't necessarily include sexual exclusivity, however- the 'possessions' shared would sometimes include having a three-way marriage to a woman as well. Tolerance probably varied between cultures and vessels, however. (On the other hand, deep-sea sailors were pretty much a self-selecting group anyway- they might have been men who were less bothered than others about spending a long time in a male-only environment...)
  • The UK Merchant Navy/US Merchant Marine were well known for being (in practice) accepting of homosexuals compared to the permanent branches of the military and even to most of civilian society prior the gay rights movements improving treatment across the board. This meant homosexuals were far overrepresented in the merchant fleets at those times.
  • Gay men were tolerated in the Royal Navy as they made natural nurses and sickbay attendants (known as tiffies) as they were thought of as the nearest thing to a woman's touch for a sick or wounded man.
  • The U.S. Navy once engaged in a somewhat suspicious effort to sniff out this sort of behavior, involving sending out strapping young lads to have sex with men. [1]
    "In the spring of 1919, officers at the Newport (Rhode Island) Naval Training Station dispatched a squad of young enlisted men into the community to investigate the “immoral conditions” obtaining there. The decoys sought out and associated with suspected “sexual perverts,” had sex with them, and learned all they could about homosexual activity in Newport. On the basis of the evidence they gathered, naval and municipal authorities arrested more than 20 sailors in April and 16 civilians in July, and the decoys testified against them at a naval court of inquiry and several civilian trials."


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