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Hello, Sailor!

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"You come up on the poop deck often?"

"Don't talk to me about naval tradition. It's nothing but rum, sodomy, and the lash."
Misattributed to Winston Churchill, and 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 centuries, men would be left alone together on ships for weeks on endnote . Sexual needs and desires were still present, and that meant a lot of men turned to one another for comfort. This has led to sailors (or seamen of any stripe) 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.

Since homosexuality was stigmatized (and even illegal) until the 1960s, gay sailors knew they had to be discreet when talking about gay lovers. To keep their conversations off the radar, gay sailors spoke in Polari, a form of slang or cant. Examples of Polari include "bona", "drag", and "dish" (buttocks). An example of it in use is "so", which means "homosexual" (e.g. "Is he 'so'?").

A somewhat outdated trope nowadays, thanks to sailors having access to modern hardcore pornography, and modern ships not needing to spend as much time on open water. Plus, most military fetishists today lean towards the gritty and permastubbled look. Still, jokes about men in the Navy being friends of Dorothy persist in military culture. Many sailors, even the 100% straight ones, aren't above having fun with this perception.

Regarding the page quote, 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), so the modern Navy runs on sodomy, and sodomy alone. QED.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In the Area 88 TV series, former US Navy pilot Mick Simon is seen reading a Playgirlnote  magazine in the cafeteria.
  • Kurogane Pukapuka Tai fills the Indian Ocean with lesbian sailors during World War II.
  • KanColle has several lesbians among the ship girls. Ooi and Kitakami are most prominent, along with Fubuki's crush on Akagi. The game the series is based on goes a bit easier on the Les Yay.

    Comic Books 
  • In Circles, Paulie's father apparently 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!"
  • 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 Empowered, a whip-wielding villain introduces himself as by the name "Rum, Sodomy and The Lash". He explains that previously he was simply "The Lash" — part of a Terrible Trio with his teammates "Rum" and "Sodomy". Unfortunately, the team fell apart: Rum was always too drunk, and Sodomy, well... he was too busy.
  • 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.

  • Bill Burr has a bit on his podcast that devolves into a discussion of this after someone wanted to join the Coast Guard to escape their mother, with Bill remarking he'd get a lot of women, only for his wife to get the Coast Guard and Navy confused as they have a debate about it, with Bill remarking they've had some left turns on his podcast but they've never gotten that off-tract.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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. Nobody's actually confirmed to in a relationship with their buddies, but the film is brimming with Homoerotic Subtext of such.
  • 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.
  • The "No Dames" musical number from Hail, Caesar! has a ridiculous amount of homoerotic subtext, although it's unclear if the filmmakers within the film realize it.
  • Joked about in Titanic (1997). The two lookouts in the Titanic's crow's nest observe Rose and Jack making out on the deck below them. When one of them notes that the young couple must be a lot warmer than the two of them, his crewmate retorts that if that's what it takes, he'll have to pass.

  • Jean Genet's Querelle De Brest, later made into a film by Rainer Werner Fassbinder.
  • Temeraire: Laurence, a former Navy captain in 19th-century Alternate History Britain, reflects that many sailors' (and officers') dalliances were an open secret despite their illegality. He assumes it to be a matter of Situational Sexuality, but reconsiders when a Straight Gay friend outside the Navy comes out to him.
  • 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.
    • Aubrey himself is the subject of an inferred crush by an older man, the Sailing Master on his first command. Nothing specific happens but it is remarked upon by certain crew members who know the Sailing Master from previous service.
  • Gentleman Bastard: The morning after the newly-initiated crew on Zamira's pirate ship have a roaring party, Jabril mentions a few of the more interesting people he went to bed with, including a very nimble male boatswain.
    Locke: I didn't know you, ah, stalked that particular quarry.
    Jabril: Yeah, well, seems I'll try anything once. [Grins] Or five or six times, as it turns out.

    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 Michael Palin saying, "And we can't show you the rest of that letter."
    • A philosopher set to wrestle a bishop to settle the issue of the existence of God (who exists, by two falls and a submission) is described as having written a book with the trope name as its title.
  • 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.
  • In the The Big Bang Theory episode "The Bon Voyage Reaction", Sheldon, in an effort to convince Penny to join him in objecting to Leonard's planned North Sea expedition, suggests that Leonard will cheat on Penny with other men during the expedition because he'll be at sea.
  • Referenced in Three's Company. Jack Tripper, a Navy veteran, pretends to be gay so he can share an apartment with two women but he's actually straight.

  • 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, 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.
    • Also, given one of the members is dressed as a soldier, at times the fatigues were the Navy's (particularly in Village People imitators).
  • 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...."
    • Memorably recorded by Iggy Pop as "Asshole Rules the Navy" on the modern sea shanty covers album Son of Rogues Gallery.
  • 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.
  • The Pogues album Rum Sodomy and the Lash used the painting Wreck Of The Medusa as a sleeve design. This refers to a wreck involving a French troopship, so has no relevance to the title.
  • The infamous Bawdy Song "So What", originally by British punk band The Anti-Nowhere League, and one of a tiny number of sound recordings ever declared criminally obscene by the British courts, later covered by Metallica, has two guys performing Serial Escalation telling the nasty stuff they did. The first one is "Well, I've been to Hastings, and I've been to Brighton, I've been to Eastbourne too". All are coastal cities, and the same guy later says "I've even sucked an old man's cock", so that might be an allusion to the Navy's habits...
  • Kevin Ayers recorded a film sequence, a prototype video, for his 1974 hit Carribean Moon. The video presents a young-looking Kevin, in a sailor suit and a fetching pageboy haircut, performing the song while behind him, three very fey and somewhat under-dressed male dancers, whose only clothing appears to be very minimal loincloths and strategically placed bananas, camp it up to a ridiculous extent just behind him. The video has justly been described as the gayest thing ever committed to film for a musical video.
  • "Captain Jack and the Mermaid (the real tail)" is a Filk Song parody of Meg Davis' folk song "Captain Jack and the Mermaid", by Bob Kanefsky (who is openly gay himself and often references LGBT issues), about the real reason why Jack asked his crew to tell his arranged fiancée that he'd gone off with a mermaid.
    My friend, you're well loved by each man in your crew.
    And you know they'll do just what you order them to.
    And the land folk believe all our old sailor's lore.
    It was problems like this we invented them for.

  • Bend over for the Golden Rivet!: The punchline to a specifically Royal Navy joke not about rum or the lash. something of a catch-phrase on The Goon Show until the BBC Moral Guardians realised the inference.
    • was "But you're a sailor and sailors don't care!".
  • The Ricky Gervais Show episode from April 12th, 2002 had them talk about a botched interview they had with The Guardian where they refer to Stephen Merchant as "Stephen Mitchell". Also among the errors made in the article was them misinterpreting Ricky's favorite track by Bob Dylan, "If You See Her, Say Hello", as "If You See A Sailor".
    Stephen: "If You See A Sailor". Ooh, hello. Fruity.

    Video Games 
  • In 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! For instance, when he makes a particularly large deposit, the Banker is likely to ask if Hasan has met their son, and the other playable characters inquire if he's had any success searching for his... brother.
  • The trope name is actually a recurring catchphrase 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!"
  • This trope is subtly referenced in chapter 1 of Red Dead Redemption II when the Camp Cook Pearson first brings up he was in the Navy.
    Pearson: When I was in the Navy...
    Arthur: I-I do not wish to hear about what you got up to in the navy Mr. Pearson.
  • Despite the numerous Shallow Parodies assuming otherwise, the accidentally homoerotic implications of Ryo's search for sailors early in the original Shenmue do, in fact, get pointed out by some of the NPCs you can ask about it:
    Bartender: You say "sailors", but you don't mean just any kind of sailor, do you?
    Ryo: (flustered) Um...

    Web Comics 
  • Apparently referenced in this Crew Dogs strip by an Air Force member.
  • Starfighter is a Space Opera set on an all-male spaceship. Almost all of the characters introduced are sleeping with or lusting after each other. Space Is an Ocean, after all.
  • Curvy: In Water World, the ship Wexler rides on has all the male crewmembers sleeping with each other. A woman on board says that Wexler being attracted to women is "a longshot".

    Web Original 
  • The Nostalgia Critic references this stereotype (via a clip from the Village People's video for "In The Navy") in his old-versus-new comparison of King Kong (1933) versus King Kong (2005), joking that this might be why Jack Driscoll is reluctant to bring a woman onto his ship in the original movie.
  • Zig-Zagging Trope on the Pirates SMP, where the cast runs the whole gamut of the attraction spectra: first, unlike many other examples on this page, the gender ratio is somewhat equal; but then, a significant portion of the cast experiences same-gender attraction and can be found flirting with each other and/or with NPCs of the same gender. On the other hand, two of the pirates are confirmed to be straight and another is confirmed to be aromantic asexual, and a handful of the creators are uncomfortable with their characters being shipped (or labelled) at all, which takes them safely off the board when it comes to relationships.

    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.
    • "Homer's Phobia" has Homer reference this trope while on a homophobic rant, commenting how gay men "turned the Navy into a floating joke" among other things.
  • 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 because he turns into a ship. He is also explicitly gay for Galvatron.
  • Shore Leave a walking stereotype from The Venture Bros., a parody of Shipwreck from the G.I. Joe cartoons, though he's also quite a competent agent.
  • 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, to the tune of "I Am the Captain of the Pinafore"
      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
  • Mission Hill: Openly gay Gus quite enjoyed his navy days.
    Gus: Three squares a day and all the gay sex you could handle.

    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!"
    • Also, if a new enlistee comes onboard and exhibits homophobic behavior, many crews have have been known to have the entire crew troll the newcomer with Gay Bravado until they either get over the homophobia or break under the strain of being tormented by the entire crew acting as camp as possible.
    • Of course, the crew may fall afoul of the law over such practices, especially in countries which have explicit prohibitions on homosexual acts under any circumstances in the military.
  • 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 such 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 license 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 Royal Navy officially legalised homosexuality (subject to general rules against sexual connections of any type within the chain of command) along with the other British armed forces in 2000.
  • 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."
    • The Naval Investigative Service (now NCIS) always had the reputation for being the most vigorous at rooting out suspected homosexuals of any of the branches before open service was allowed. In one particularly bizarre instance, NIS investigators encountered the phrase "friend of Dorothy". Unaware that this is slang for a gay man (a reference to Dorothy as played by Judy Garland) NIS launched a huge multi-state hunt for "Dorothy" and her massive network of homosexual contacts.
  • Downplayed by Youtuber The Mighty Jingles (ex-Royal Navy) when this trope was brought up in viewer mail, pointing out that a modern warship doesn't take that much time to transit between ports and that you should never, ever underestimate a sailor's ability to find a brothel or hard pornography.
  • The Other Wiki's page on "Sex in the American Civil War" notes that while no Union army soldiers were disciplined for homosexual activity, "three pairs of Union Navy sailors" were.
  • Ferdinand Magellan triggered a mutiny early on in his famous circumnavigating voyage by sternly disciplining two crew members for sodomy, which, while in accordance with the law, was highly unpopular with the crew.

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Video Example(s):


"Camp. It. Up!"

In the big Monty Python reunion, they show us life in the British Navy.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / HelloSailor

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