Undated, Uncredited photographer | Copyright details being sought | 14185
In 2006 the National Maritime Museum at Liverpool had an exhibition called Hello Sailor about gay life at sea.
“It was a not-so-secret side of seafaring chronicled in private snapshots: male sailors, dressed in beautiful gowns, stockings and heels, mugging for the camera. Others made up as showgirls, revelling in the culture of being openly gay at sea that’s now the focus of an exhibit making its North American debut at a waterfront museum in Halifax. The U.K. component focuses on the life of gay sailors, particularly men, on board passenger and merchant ships beginning in the 1950s. U.K.-based researcher Jo Stanley says decades ago, when homosexuality was illegal in Britain, many homosexual men chose to go to sea where they could be open about their sexuality in a welcoming, liberal environment.
For camp men places such as the dining saloon were their stage, cruising place, playground, club and mini-theatre for informal entertainment all meal long. Gay dining room stewards minced, flirted with passengers and made a camp show of waiting tables.
Passengers, especially regulars, welcomed camp seafarers because they gave good service. Camp seafarers were aware of how far they could go, especially in passenger areas. They were on licence, but often pushed the boundaries.
Camp men adapted their uniforms in feminine ways. Waiters could be sent back by the head waiter if they were dressed too overtly femininely, but they still tried.”
Queen Mary Crew members dressed up | Oral History Unit, Southampton City Council | 14186
Updated 15 Nov 2014: link corrected, additional photo added