The recent annual spectacle of shirtless cadets from the U.S. Naval Academy climbing up a giant, greasy phallus got us thinking about other homoerotic military initial rituals.
It’s hardly surprising that the U.S. military has such rituals. For one, the military is an intensely homoerotic place. Many straight, gay and bisexual men have said that the shared showers, latrines and changing areas; the pent-up horniness and need for sexual expression all make the military a place that awakens same-sex desire.
And yet, the military is also a rigidly masculine place that values strength and stoicism along with submission to the chain of command. Thus, homoerotic initiation rituals allow servicemembers to inflict the abuses they’ve endured and also test new members’ willingness to submit to tradition and group-think without succumbing to emotion or “destructive” homosexual desires.
Jane Ward, author of Not Gay: Sex between Straight White Men, says that the thinking surrounding these rituals is, “If you endure together this kind of mortifying, humiliating and embarrassing homosexual act, then that not only toughens up your body, but it will also build and strengthen that bond around you.”
That sounds like toxic heterocentrist masculine bullshit to us, but here’s five homoerotic military initiation rituals we’ve heard of all the same:
1. Forced nudity
The tamest ritual we’ve heard of involves forced nudity and drunkenness. Basically initiates are made to strip down and then socialize as a way of demonstrating their sub-ordinance and sexual inferiority. The thinking here is that only experienced officers deserve the dignity of clothes and the higher ups can literally dress down inferiors, ogle them or make them undergo other indignities if they so choose. Newbies are treated as less than human.
Some also think that nudity removes one’s social armor and makes one utterly vulnerable, psychologically and socially bonding lower-ranking servicemembers through a shared experience of physical exposure and light humiliation.
2. Body buffet
Carol Burke, author of a book subtitled Gender, Folklore and Changing Military Culture, told Salon.com of two food-based rituals: In one, “they sprayed whip cream on a freshman’s genitals and another freshman would have to lick the cream off him,” and, in the Colorado Air Force Academy, “one guy would tightly hold an apple in his rear end and another guy had to eat the apple out of his rear end.”
Burke says the apple ritual was discontinued after the public caught wind of it.
3. The Elephant Walk
In a public talk, Ward discussed a well-known and long-practiced hazing ritual known as The Elephant Walk, “where lines of males walk while grabbing the penis of the male behind them with one hand and [then] use the other hand to grab the sphincter of the male in front of them.”
We’ve heard variations of this where men simply hold onto the penis of the man walking in front of them or insert one thumb into the preceding man’s anus, putting the thumb in his mouth if it ever slips out. The mens’ hunched over bodies and extended arms are said to resemble elephants connected tail to trunk.
4. Crossing the Equator
Also known as “Neptunus Rex ceremonies,” these naval ceremonies commemorating the passage of crews over the global equator harken back to the 1940s and possibly earlier. First time sailors (polywogs) are led by seasoned sailors (shellbacks) who temporarily “seize control” of the ship and begin all manner of prankish tomfoolery.
Typically, one experienced sailor will dress as King Neptune, god of the ocean, and oversee the hijinks (led by the older sailors) which can include stripping down and shaving sailors, forcing naked polywogs to run a gauntlet of abuse, public-style kangaroo courts with sexual interrogations, nude physical examinations and something called “Kissing the Royal Belly” or “Royal Baby”:
The ritual calls for initiates to kneel before a senior member of the crew, who wears a mock diaper. This “Baby” usually has a huge stomach covered with greasy materials ranging from cooking oil to mustard, shaving cream, eggs, and oysters. Junior sailors must lick the Baby’s navel area, while the Baby grabs and shakes their head to better smear the goo onto their faces…
5. Spankings, floggings and forcible sodomy
There’s a thin (perhaps nonexistent) line between initiation rituals, hazing, sexual assault and rape. While we’ve heard about paddling the exposed buttocks of new recruits, we’ve also heard of simulating anal intercourse between members as a “horseplay” way of establishing dominance and humiliating newcomers.
These rituals can bleed over into hazing and assault, particularly when they involve actual bodily harm and physical insertion. Sadly, male recruits are less likely to recognize and report such incidents as “rape” because the assaults are more about power than sexual gratification and because reporting such incidents can get one branded as a crybaby and an outsider.
(Featured image by powerofforever via iStock Photography)