Hello Sailor

Old-Timey Maritime Museum Decides it’s High Time we Honored Gay Sailors

Before there was the Castro or Chelsea or Boston’s South End, the world’s greatest gay ghetto was the sea.

Vada the new history exhibit at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax: “Hello Sailor: Gay Life on the Ocean Wave.” Based on a book by the same name, the exhibit celebrates the surprisingly open atmosphere on cruise ships and cargo vessels from the 1950s through the 1980s.

Out gay men made marvelous service staff (as the Real Housewives have more recently discovered), while the more technical roles required a measure of closeting.

But even in those conservative times, it was not unheard of for straight crewmembers to protect their queer colleagues. “He may be queer, but he’s our queer,” one sailor once said. Ships even hosted gay marriages, decades before anyone even imagined that such relationships could ever be recognized back on land.

Why was there so much less intolerance out at sea? It’s hard to say. Maybe there’s just something about working in close proximity that makes people appreciate each other. That bodes well for life in the Army post-DADT.

We also highly recommend taking a look at the Merseyside Maritime Museum’s online exhibit, which includes a section on Polari, the secret gay language of the British homosexual. Can we please bring this back into common usage?

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  • chas5131

    The only traditions of the Royal Navy are rum, sodomy and the lash. – — Churchill’s assistant, Anthony Montague-Browne said that although Churchill had not uttered these words, he wished he had.

  • Nick Thiwerspoon

    Have you read George Melly’s Rum, Bum and Concertina?

    A great description of gay life below decks in the Royal Navy in the 40s.

    Apparently the saying was:

    At sea: Rum, bum and concertina
    Ashore: Wine women and song.

    Did a blog post about it, when I talked about having sex with straight blokes.

  • EdWoody

    It was probably for the same reason that people went out onto boats to drink and gamble. The open seas are not considered any one country’s domain, so their laws don’t apply and people can do what they want.

  • Matthew

    @chas5131: And in the late 1800s the Navy slashed the rum allowance – tragic – so they gotta fill their time somehow.

    Also, goooooo Halifax!

  • Pitou

    Polari is still used quite commonly. Looking at the translations, several of the words are still widely useed in todays LGBT (Mostly G) culture, and have the exact same meaning.

    And I LOVE it!

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