Monday 15 December 2008

Lesbians in Navy: new story

Ex-Wren Jacqui De La Maziere – and over 80 other gay service personnel - fought against unfair dismissal for 16 years. Now they have just lost their case. Jacqui tells her story in an interview she gave me for the Sailing Proud Archive on Nov 19 2008. You can hear it yourself by visiting the Archive at Merseyside Maritime Museum. And read online her letter to the Guardian, Nov 13 2008, ‘Sacked for being gay, we deserve better.’

Really, the early 1990s were the worst time to be a dyke in the Navy. It was bad enough that women were being newly allowed to enter this very male insitution. It was even worse that they were setting foot on men’s hallowed ships. And it was more affronting again if they were not going to be (heterosexually) available.

This ex-Sea Cadet also gives an interesting insight into the puzzle of why some Wrens didn’t grab the chance to sail when it first came in 1991. After 70 years of frustratedly living with the motto ‘Never at Sea’ maybe some did not appreciate that they would get less leave than male shipmates. She wanted to sail with equal rights.

Sunday 14 December 2008

Analysing gay seafarers' representation in museums

Pam Meecham has written an interesting analyis of the Hello Sailor! exhibition. In particular she brings out the difficulties I certainly felt in representing - in a popular site - what might be seen as parodic lifestyles and men adopting anti-feminist 'feminity.' She puts her finger on the problems I never satisfactorily sorted out in helping create that exhibition.
See 'Reconfiguring the shipping news: maritime's hidden histories and the politics of gender display' appeared in Sex Education: Sexuality, Society and Learning, 1472-0825, Volume 8, Issue 3, 2008, Pages 371 – 380.

Wednesday 10 December 2008

Making history accessible

LGBT people's history at sea is fascinating. A ship is such an exceptional space that enables human beings to behave very differently to the way they behave ashore. Queer things do indeed happen at sea. They are not only worth recording - in depth, and ideally multi-dimensionally eg through sounds and images, not just text. Such records also need to widely available.

In the last three weeks I've been reminded of the importance of this at two conferences: the UK Maritime Heritage Forum on Dec 3, and Curioser and Curioser, the LGBT History and Archives conference on Dec 6. After Sir Neil Cosson's inspiring speech at the former, it seemed to me that those of us working in maritime heritage can give a key gift to posterity. We can proudly explain that some ships were spaces where diversity of sexual orientation was accepted, even welcomed, by passengers and crew. And this important social phenomenon occured far more readily than in any other 20th century space, even the theatre.

It was not an unproblematic acceptance. But it was a telling and inspiring proof that human beings can be extraordinarily tolerant of different ways of loving and living life. It's a proof that we humans can transcend our deepest prejudices and embrace the Othered - oddly easily. My view is that the sea and its ships are thus wondrous spaces. And we historians have the privelege of being able to assist people in the important process of wondering at them.

The Curioser conference implicitly demonstrated how remarkable the phenomenon of queer seafarers is. It also impressively showed how many lively projects are being created in the UK to ensure that the on-land history is being recorded and made accessible before it's too late. There's energy and funding - and that's heartening.

Tuesday 25 November 2008

Queer seas in North East

The Hello Sailor! exhibition is travelling to the Discovery Museum in Newcastle, UK. It will be on display there from January 29 until April19 2009. Staff are keen to augment the exhibition with stories and objects about North East gay seafarers and their uses of North East ports.

So please feel free to get in touch with them if you think you might be able to help. Contact: Christine Hutchinson, 0191 277 2261 or

Thursday 20 November 2008


~ If you want to learn more about LGBT seafarers, then hear/read their words and see their photos at the new Sailing Proud Archive in Merseyside Maritime Museum Library and Archives: 0151 478 4424.

Coming soon: our first interview with a lesbian woman in the Royal Navy. Jacqui De La Maziere fought her unfair dismissal dismissal case for 16 years, along with 80 others. They were defeated this summer at the European Court. Hear about the impact on her life.

~ Join in our Sailing Proud seminars on Feb. 10 2009 at MMM and in April at Lancaster University, tba. Or come to our conference, Queered Seas, on Nov 12-14 2009. Contact Ellie Moffatt on 0151 478 4508.

Monday 25 August 2008


Do you want to be involved in discussions about how gay seafarers can be included in museums? In Hull on 16th September 2008, there is a one-day seminar: Effectively Engaging Maritime Collections and the Community. It will include my session Looking for queer histories: lessons learned from exploring gay seafarers' lives .

My presentation is based on what I found from co-curating the innovative Hello Sailor! Gay Life on the Ocean Wave travelling exhibition for Merseyside Maritime Museum. I will explore:
  • some of the processes and obstacles surrounding the uncovering of occluded lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LBGT) histories for the exhibition, mainly using oral history
  • how to work to work collaboratively with gay ex-seafarers, sharing authority and enabling agency e.g. creating imaginative maps of foreign and domestic ports as an adjunct to memory
  • the process of consciously expanding beyond an exhibition, to include the setting up of the Sailing Proud Archive; a series of seminars on the subject; a possible international conference on queer seafaring.
  • issues around representing a ‘non-family friendly’ subject in a maritime museum, and visitors’ responses in Liverpool and Southampton

Funded by Renaissance, the whole seminar's aim is to 'look at how regional and national museums are effectively engaging maritime collections with their communities. The day will encourage delegates to share ideas about how they work with their collections to inspire diverse audiences. It will examine potential techniques to integrate our communities’ stories within museum interpretation .'

It takes place at the Ferens Art Gallery, Hull, from 10.00-16.00. Free event, including lunch and refreshments.

Wednesday 20 August 2008


Come and join in series of seminars where people will speak about queered seas. Seminars are being organised by Merseyside Maritime Museum and Lancaster University.

Topics are likely to include:

  • displaying lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered history in museums
  • homosexuality in the Royal Navy
  • cinema about gay seafarers
  • representations of gay seafarers in art/queer artists' interest in the sea
Sailing Proud seminars are planned to take place in Nov 20008 and Jan, March, May 2009, at MMM and Lancaster University. Free.

For the latest information contact Elle Moffatt on 0151 478 4598 or email

Monday 28 July 2008


Have you ever wondered what it's like to have a partner in the Royal Navy? Now you can find out, via the Royal Navy Museum. In June and July I recorded 18 interviews with partners for the museum's web-based resource and the archive. They include:
  • wives of submariners and men on surface vessels from the 1950s to today
  • a member of a gay male civil partnership
  • a male partner of a naval woman. He copes with the kids while she's at sea
  • naval personnel from the Caribbean, which is one of the new places where the navy recruits

Images, and extracts from their stories, will soon be available on-line within the Family Matters section of Sea Your History at

And you can listen to entire interviews by visiting the Royal Naval Museum, Historic Dockyard, Portsmouth, PO1 3NH. Phone 02392 727 562. . Make an appoinment, to be sure the information is ready to be accessed. It's just being processed as I write.

What interested me most in recording the interviews? It was finding out about the way wives were so incredibly supportive of seagoing husbands. I can't see how the Royal Navy could survive without this dedicated back-up.

Sunday 6 July 2008


One of the most interesting things about my current research on women at sea in waritime is finding out how similar and different the situation was in other countries. At the big international maritime history conference in June, I was fascinated to hear from a German colleague. Christine Keitsch. She said:

1. German women worked as stokers (the very demanding job of shovelling coal to fuel the ships' engines) in WW1
2. Although in WW2 the German equivalent of Wrens were not allowed to sail, Hitler allowed one woman to be a dee-sea Merchant Navy captain: Captain Anneliese Teitz. There were also women on coastal vessels.

Christine Keitsch runs the German Women and the Sea Network, Frauen zur See.

Sunday 25 May 2008

Learn about women and the sea, at a maritime conference in June

Come to the 5th International Congress of Maritime History, at Greenwich, UK, which runs from 23 June - 27 June. For details see:

There are three papers on gender:

  • On June 24, come to 'A Place to Freely Change Identity: the Sea Voyage as Space/Time of Change for 20th Century Seafarers and Passengers' by Dr Jo Stanley. This explores the idea that a sea voyage can enable voyagers to step out of their usual identity and try on fresh identities (gender, class, sexual orientation, - even race. (See pictures above for fancy-dressed stewardesses changing time and class, and stewards playing with gender identity). Essentially the point is that this particular type of physical mobility could facilitate a psychic motility and mobility for the people in between lands. That is, the sea is a metaphor for freedom. What is interesting is how people differently availed themselves of the opportunity to explore new ways of being – or not.
  • On June 24, come to 'Gender, Class and Shipboard Authority on the 18th Century Atlantic Crossing from the Passengers' Perspective, by Lisa Norling, June 24
    'Little historical work has critically examined the physical embodiment of movement at sea and its meaning for different historical actors on shipboard. Based on ... travel accounts of fifteen English, Irish, and Anglo-American travelers – eight women and seven men – who crossed the North Atlantic ... between 1742 and 1803, I examine the strenuous efforts by these passengers to reconstitute their identities and reassert familiar status hierarchies in the radically decontextualized shipboard environment. Gender and class, like other elements of identity, are constituted and enacted through performance, contextual reference, and location, including movement through space. The passengers found themselves figuratively as well as literally at sea: disoriented and challenged by the unfamiliar social organization and disciplinary regime of seafaring; the restrictiveness, instability, and discomforts of their accommodations; and the alien seascape lacking in reassuring geographic reference points. ... The women ....[experienced] increased restrictions and deprivations. Men repeatedly expressed surprise at the presence of women on shipboard, continually reinforcing the definition of women’s sea travel as dislocation. Drawing on geographer Tim Cresswell’s insight that “bodily movement…is one of the key ways in which power is constituted,” I argue that the ways in which identity and authority were defined and deployed by 18th-century men at sea fundamentally relied on the reification and reinforcement of emergent concepts of sexual difference emphasizing women’s presumed delicacy, sensibility, and dependency in contrast to men’s assumed strength, rationality, and individualism.'
  • On June 25, come to ' Fighting Winds and Waves: Women Seafarers in China Since 1949.' by Dr Minghua Zhao. She will examine women’s participation and role in the Chinese merchant fleets since new China was established.... references will also be made to women at sea in other cultures during the same period.

Latest review: Grace Darling:

Want to read about the latest book on the world's most famous heroine of the sea?

See my review of Grace Darling: Victorian Heroine, by Hugh Cunningham. It's just come out in Women’s History Magazine, no 58, Spring/Summer 2008, p.38. If you want to get the magazine, the url is
Here's a taste of the review:

" The Grace figure was used as exemplar of admirable behaviour, particularly in moral tracts for children, as Cunningham shows. As someone working on gender and the sea, I see this ‘story’ as also subtly highlighting issues about female mobility and women’s use of the sea. The real Grace shows that women were:
  • part of family labour in lighthouse keeping
  • perfectly capable of rowing competently, and therefore had both motility (a sense that one could be mobile) as well as mobility, rather than staying at the hearth.

" The iconic ‘Grace’ showed that society could accept women’s mobility if it was rare rather, and if it women were mobile for supportive reasons than just seizing the freedom of the waves for themselves. Read against the grain, Grace’s brief voyage was very public proof that women and water were not antithetical. Indeed, she may have inspired thousands of women mariners, as did Arthur Ransome’s fictional Nancy Blackett. "

Tuesday 18 March 2008

Women in maritime jobs still exceptional

It shouldn’t be the case but it is. Women in – some categories of – sea work are rare beings. And it’s great when they get jobs that utilise their abilities. In a Lloyd’s List article, ‘Ability matters, not gender’ about the appointment of the new – and first female - president of the Norwegian Shipowners’ Association, Elisabeth Grieg [above].
Journalist Michelle Wiese Bockmann argues that Grieg’s gender shouldn’t be remarked upon – her achievements are the point. [6 March 2008] Yes, but….It’s still a remarkable breakthrough, though it shouldn’t be. And it deserves celebration as well as comment: ‘How come, chaps, that it’s taken you so long to get to this point?’
Better still, Bockman’s article brought in some useful stories of other unique women on the seas. Ecomments included a reference to Mrs Sumati Morarjee, who was President of Indian Shipowners Association years ago. Captain Doctor Ivica Tijardovic, wrote that ‘RCCLhas its first female captain…There was a female captain on a small casino boat which used to sail from Port Canaveral - In Norfolk eight years ago I met an apprentice pilot female - In the Caribbean a few years ago I met female second officer from Canada on a containership - On a Polar Tankers vessel, the second and the third mate were both female’;jsessionid=CB74091F16DF867A71CDEE58CB1208A2?blogId=20001005221