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Increasingly these days the get-up of the gay guerrilla is de regueur. Walk into any gay bar in the country and chances are you’ll see a whole troop of guys dressed in combat gear. The dancing queen has become Action Man. Complete with gripping hands and eagle eyes.So what is it with the army camp? Why are so many gay guys dressing up as squaddies?

Writer and broadcaster John Lyttle says the explanation is in the jeans. Or rather, in the combats. Gay or straight, men like to show their balls. “All males, biologically speaking, have aggression built in, but it’s more valued and prized by gay men simply because of insecurities over their sexual identity brought upon by growing up in a straight society.”

But in an effort to eradicate the psychological pansy some guys over-egg the pudding. “They tend to overcompensate by exaggerating masculinity into a grotesque parody of itself,” says Lyttle. Coming from Belfast, Lyttle finds the squaddie look unsettling. “I think it’s incredibly threatening. On one level it’s like Jews having to see fetishists dressed up in Nazi leather gear.”

Most of the squaddies you see on the scene however are harmless fashion victims as Jeffrey Weeks, Professor of Sociology at London's South Bank University, explains,: “Being an individual is lonely. Most people want to be part of a crowd so you dress to conform with that crowd and you think you’re being individual, but you’re actually reflecting a collective shift in taste.”

But wasn’t being gay all about standing out from the crowd and daring to be different? Isn’t there a contradiction in a culture that emphasises individualism but buys into collectivism? Weeks thinks not. “You could argue that a world of multiplying individualism’s leads to a kind of tribalism.” Er, in other words, when enough gay men start dressing differently in the same way, they inadvertently end up sharing a stereotypical style. And before you can say “Hello Dolly”, a combat clone is created.

For John Huston, (aka Squaddie John), however, there’s more to the army attire than meets the eye. The combat garb embodies a host of hard-core sexual interests, including handcuffs, hog-ties, stainless steel toys, straight jackets, cold showers, correctional custody, escape and evasion exercises and recreational brutality. “Submitting to military type discipline has distinct advantages over your run-of-the-mill master/slave scenario”, says Huston.
“Military uniforms are part of creating an environment built on power structures into which an individual may attempt to lose some of the unattractive features of individual choice and thus individual responsibility, which can be a sexual fantasy. It’s about being the perfect soldier rather than a total slave. You get physical achievement not drug induced loss of control, personal worth not personal denigration.”
So what does Huston make of the designer squaddies mincing along Old Compton Street in their Gap combats? “They’re wannabes. You can dress in any clothes you like but it doesn’t change the man inside.

The guys who dress up to play are just like the guys who wear the uniforms for real - there are no rules and you can't make assumptions.”

It’s all a hall of mirrors and you shouldn't be fooled. The reflection might not match the reality “Everyone thinks that the person they’re attracted to is really hard and masculine and a top, but they’re just as varied and diverse as the person looking," says Weeks.

Uniforms worn by military men present an image of enhanced masculinity and authority that often has a strong sexual appeal to many gay men. People tend to dress like those they’re attracted to, or the people they wish they were. Not as they really are. So while the guy in the combats at the bar may look like Private Ryan, he’s more likely to be Private Pike.

Christopher Kelly

 

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