Thursday 9 May 2019

Bisexual Falklands sailor takes action against MOD

Joe Ousalice (right) receives medal from Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, later Chief of Defence Staff.

This is a straight lift of a Telegraph article by Dominic Nicholls. 'Military veterans stripped of medals and discharged from the armed forces for their sexuality could have their honours returned as a bisexual Falklands sailor launches legal bid' appeared 8 May 2019, at 
You can see more pictures are there. I've added sub-headings here for readability.

'Military veterans stripped of medals and discharged from the armed forces for their sexuality could have their honours returned as a bisexual Falklands sailor launches legal bid. Joe Ousalice, 68, served for nearly 18 years in the Royal Navy but was discharged in 1993 prior to the lifting of the ban on LGBT people serving in the armed forces.
The Falklands veteran is taking action against the Ministry of Defence to have his Long Service and Good Conduct (LS&GC) medal returned after it was cut off his uniform following a Court Martial.

Northern Ireland and Middle East duties

An MoD spokesperson said it would be inappropriate to comment as legal proceedings are ongoing, but added, “we are currently looking at how personnel discharged from service because of their sexuality, or now abolished sexual offences, can have their medals returned.”
Mr Ousalice, a former radio operator, served in the Falklands War in which he lost two comrades, did six tours of duty in Northern Ireland and was also posted to conflict zones in the Middle East.
"I loved life in the navy, because of the comradeship," he told the BBC. "It was my life."
His work was praised by his seniors and he was awarded the LS&GC medal in 1991. Royal Navy regulations stipulate that LS&GC recipients must have served a minimum of 15 years continuous good conduct. It can be removed for later poor conduct.

Double life necessary

 However, Mr Ousalice said he knew when he joined up that he would have to hide the fact that he was bisexual.
"It was a double life I was living,” he said. “I was watching every day what I was saying, what I was doing."
He says that when ashore he never visited gay pubs and on board ship he didn't associate with sailors who he knew were gay.
"I knew if I did I would have the SIB (Special Investigation Branch) on my back doing covert operations, shadowing me with cameras, taking photographs of what I was getting up to."

Medal cut off uniform

Cleared at Court Martial of assaulting another sailor in the early 1990s, he was found guilty of being in bed with the other man - something he has always denied - and was dismissed on the grounds that his conduct was prejudicial to good order and naval discipline.
An officer wrote: "He may attempt to corrupt others in the future", adding that "the needs of the service must come first".
Although not official policy at the time, but not unheard of, Mr Ousalice had his LS&GC medal cut off his uniform following the verdict and hopes that the lifting of the ban on LGBT people in the armed forces in 2000 would help him to have his medal returned.

How many more?

The Telegraph understands that the MoD does not know how many individuals may be in the same situation as Mr Ousalice as it does not keep records of such matters, each one dealt with on a case-by- case basis by the respective service.
Amendments to the Policing and Crime Bill for England and Wales in 2017 allowed thousands of gay and bisexual men convicted of now abolished sexual offences to be posthumously pardoned.
The new ruling became widely known as the Turing Law, after Alan Turing, the World War II codebreaker and computing pioneer, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952. Turing received a royal pardon (posthumously) in 2013.
The Turing Law could see military veterans who were previously denied medals have them awarded. The Telegraph understands that no medals have been returned yet or awarded in the wake of the government’s implementation of the Turing Law and that work is still ongoing in the MoD.
Any military veteran is able to apply to the MoD Medals Office, the department based at Imjin Barracks in Gloucester responsible for issuing medals to currently serving members of the armed forces, veterans and MOD employees.

Mod Medal Office, Innsworth, Building 250 Raf Innsworth.27 Nov 2018
Address: Building 250 Raf Innsworth

Next steps

The Medals Office says that individuals should only wear official decorations, medals or emblems to which they are entitled and which have been approved for acceptance and wear. Unofficial medals should not be worn with official orders, decorations and other medals.
It is common practice for the next of kin of a deceased service person to wear their relative’s decorations and medals as a mark of remembrance. It is custom to wear such medals on the right breast in civilian dress only.
The MoD says official approval is not required to wear a relative’s medals, although current serving personnel should not wear relative’s medals or unofficial medals whilst in uniform.
The Telegraph understands that Liberty is setting up a helpline to help other LGBT veterans stripped of their medals to come forward.

See Feb 1919 article about Liberty's general support for service personnel.

At that point the helpline number was 020 3102 9313. It was open 10 am to 4pm Mon to Fri. Sorry I can't confirm if this is still the correct number. I couldn't get any reply from the Press Office.

Readers may like to also see an article I wrote about the hidden queer history aboard the ships going to and from the  Falklands Conflict, in Polari Magazine, 31.5.2012:

Pictured: Crew enjoying a camp version of the Neptune Ceremony, 1982, aboard the Norland en route to the Falklands. Picture courtesy of Frank Green

Saturday 4 May 2019

Ships as she: anthropomorphism, linguistics and girly vessels

‘Stark staring bonkers...  political correctness gone mad… an insult to a generation of sailors, the ships are seen almost as a mother to preserve us from the dangers of the sea and also from the violence of the enemy”.

If you think these words about officially referring to ships as gender neutral were roared by dinosaurs a century ago, you’re in for a surprise. The comments were made just last week by a fairly progressive retired Admiral, Lord Alan West; see

The hoary ‘Is a ship a “she”, not an “it”?’ debate re-emerged when Glasgow Maritime Museum said it would now be referring to ships as gender neutral. Director David Mann said the museum ‘recognise[d] the changes in society’:

Lloyds List made a similar decision in 2002: these floating bits of real estate are to be called ‘it’. That arbitrating decision brought a huge postbag too. Then thing settled down, although the Royal Navy carried on 'she-ing'.

Silly or?

The usual protesters are naval, not maritime, people – and mostly older males. They’re not anti-women. They just don’t understand that they’re perpetuating old and destructive attitudes that positioned women as - at worst - Jack Tar's totty, incompetent outsiders, sex-providers, objects of up-skirting, and protectees (see images).

And it’s rather silly, ostensibly. Or is it? BBC Radio 4 News Quiz comedian Andy Zaltzman joked that a ship’s determining genitals were usually hidden. So you could only tell and mummy and daddy ships apart when the lady had little baby ships - called ‘submarines’

Behind it

In the last week of April 2019  the matter became transformed into a fuzzy and sentiment-led debate. The words ‘cultural imperialism’ and ‘anthropomorphism’ were not used. But in essence they lay behind the argument: ‘Why shouldn’t we be allowed to call our inanimate things whatever we want?’
The answer is a complex one.  I write about it here now because for years I’ve been collecting stories, funny postcards and tea-towels on 'ships as she' as part of my work on gendered maritime history. 
I would like to highlight the following points. They build up, step by step, what I hope is a sage and fair-minded fresh view on the subject.


Visitors to UK museums are rightly puzzled when they see, as in Glasgow Maritime Museum’s case, labels that refer to a ship as’ she’, and not as a gender neutral ‘it’.
English is not a gendered language, so it does not make sense for us in the UK to gender ships - or bicycles or nail extensions.
So it would be good to hear from experts on gendered languages explain this 'need' to assign gender to inanimate objects, taking a calm, systemic, approach based linguistics and neuroscience.
Mann and un-named colleague with the altered sign: image from Irvine Times 23.4.2019.

Protest and change

An unknown visitor scratched out the ‘she’ and the ‘her’ on Glasgow’s labels: The change was called 'graffiti', and the protester called a ‘vandal’. But actually the visitor-observer had informally made a correction that the museum was anyway going to effect when it could afford to do so.
The useful debate that has ensued brings to our attention two things: widespread, under-informed, deeply-held bigotry; and the fact that museums are too cash-starved to update their displays and descriptions as they wish.
My book on the history of seafaring women (which had an appendix on 'ships as she') was launched on board the Glenlee, a ship moored at Glasgow Maritime Museum - and referred to as 'she' on Wikipedia. So I know the museum well enough to be clear that its ethos is to embrace diversity, which most museums now do.
Australia’s National Maritime Museum was ahead of the all this and switched in the late 1990s. Although the radical move brought controversy, the sky did not fall. Princess Anne and George W Bush still visited; the Sunday Times still put it on their list of ''the world's 10 coolest museums'' in 2010.


Gendering a ship is part of the long-established general practice of attributing human qualities to inanimate objects, and to pets. Psychologists and anthropologists, for example, tend to see this as a creative problem-solving strategy: humanise a significant thing can give us an illusion of having some control over it, as well as bringing us closer to it.
'I love him, my necessary machine.'
Image courtesy of  The Atlantic, Dec 2017,
 by Christopher Delorenzo
Lonely and overwhelmed simple seafarers working on sailing ships, when navigation was less developed, must have especially needed strategies to help them cope with long bleak months of unpredictable and unknowable vicissitudes.
In that loneliness a ship was an intimate companion. Befriending it was a good tactic. And if the seafarer  didn't want to be accused of being homosexual or odd it was clearly politic to call that darling a she.   


But attributing (white) female gender to every inanimate object in a category - e.g. vessels - is troubling for our society. It's a sign of the habitual sexist thinking in the old navy.
Auto Trader’s website doesn’t refer to its vehicles as ‘the ladies’. No airport announces of a plane ‘she is boarding now’. 
Understandably, people on a ship come to ‘love’ their 24:7 residential workplace and to esteem its abilities to get them from A to B. Anyone can grasp that. Their collective lives depends on a good relationship with the machine, which some may see as a protective parent (female) – even a kind of god (dess) or simply their dearest pal and pet.
Feminising is not a consequence of the speakers being male. I, myself, a some-time boat-dweller, have called ships ‘she’. So do some seafaring women I know.  However, I’ve usually been fitting in politely rather than feeling convinced.
Individuals have the right to anthropomorphise their personal car, ship, fridge or cat if they want. It’s their private business. I stand back, too, when friends see their car as a naughty child or a treacherous tyrant.   It's their right be irrational – and it doesn’t do systemic harm to an already-oppressed group of humans: women.

Anthropomorphising can assuage loneliness. But is it alright?
Image by MJL,courtesy of

Humanising OK, but...

However, in the anthropomorphising process, people in a gendered society feel they have to decide whether their inanimate object is female or male.
Whatever the choice, it will bring entrenched and overwhelming stereotypes.
The controversy about gendering vessels comes up because some individuals are still basing their views on disrespectful and outdated ideas about women.
This behaviour is part of the climate that led to misogynists, especially under sail, superstitiously hating Woman’s presence on board and sabotaging real women's right to maritime work.  
Humanising should not not mean gendering, nor perpetuating negative stereotypes about one gender, race or class.


In my years of collecting such material, including teatowels like this one, (pictured below, right) no ship is ever seen as male. But women are seen as ships, such as fancy frigates who a swain  proudly parades in port. 

Published justifications for calling a ship ‘she’ range along a spectrum from filial devotion to the patronising.

  • NOBLE: At the one end, the mighty container is something grand: a goddess to be worshipped and placated. Those aboard position themselves as merely devoted minions of the sainted Virgin Mary-like ship, sometimes created as a figurehead. (This may not encourage teamwork because it disables the worshippers’ sense of agency).
  • GIRLY: At the spectrum’s other end, a ship is a demanding, vain flibbertigibbet who asks too much of men – as all women do. An example of this is the saying ‘the outfitting she wants costs more than her hull’.
  • CONTESTED AUTHORITY: Somewhere in between is the view that ‘She won’t be controlled, you have to woo her to get her to bow to your will. Humour her and she’ll eat out of your hand’.

Beyond binarity

The nineteenth-century products of patriarchal societies, who’ve been away in all-male situation since their boyhood, are understandably under-informed about the realities of everyday women and equal, non-dominating comradeship.
They've known women only as idealised personifications of home or workers in the waterfront sex industry. For all sorts of reasons such exiles feel the need to reassure themselves that malestream is still mainstream.
Boys and men were away  for months or years; unrealistic ideas
about distant women developed.
  Illustrated London News. 10.2.1883.

Changed times

But education and the seafaring profession are today much less gender-segregated.
People are actively looking for new, more embracing personal pronouns such as ‘ze’ or ‘hir’, not just 'they'. 
In the West, women’s rights have been on the agenda for nearly 150 years. The past five decades have seen some advances. Women are less often positioned as second-class or treated as jokes - at least in public.
Unacceptably sexist behaviour has never been more discussed than in these #MeToo times. It’s now recognised that society should stop routinely denigrating anything seen as female and locking it in the Bad Corner until it conforms to men’s rules.
The time for placing 'ladies' on fanciful pedestals is long gone too.
We live in a new age. So it’s appropriate that twenty-first century museums, publishers, writers, navies and seafarers move on from routinely ascribing hackneyed gendered characteristics to rectangular vessels.

Respect helps

There is room for acceptance of diversity. This includes people’s personal right to call their cars Fifi or Henry and their right to call their ships ‘her bloody ladyship’ but also ‘his effin nibs’. If such anthropomorphising helps them work in harmony with their machines then it's fair enough.
But no one should impose systemic sexist irrationality across the board and thereby perpetuate negative stereotypes. Respect helps us all.