Well, yes, sorta and maybe

‘Iconic gay image’: history of sailors and sex explored in Barcelona exhibition
Catalan city is hosting new show looking at relationships between men who spend their lives at sea

There’s rather more eroticism about it than there was reality.

Hmm, well, being so categorical might not work. But the RN was determinedly against such things. Even back in the Georgian Navy, when on land there were those couple of hundred death penalty crimes, there were really only two that the Navy really did – often that is, not just in the most egregious cases – hang for. Theft and sodomy.

The theft was because it was so disruptive of the necessary cooperation on board. Nothing breaks up a crew faster than not being able to trust after all. The sodomy, well, I’ll not ascribe a reason why. But facing a court martial for sodomy was more likely to bring that dangling from a rope than even mutiny was – mutiny, within certain accepted and known boundaries, being regarded as an entirely reasonable reaction to bad officers. Breach those boundaries and yes, viciousness followed.

16 thoughts on “Well, yes, sorta and maybe”

  1. Am I right in a vague idea that it was generally only officers who were hanged for sodomy? The perceived problem being the risk of favouritism and loss of trust & discipline rather than the act itself?

    Whereas being hanged for theft was generally a lower-deck thing, the perceived problem being, as you say, breaking up trust amongst the crew. The crew minded if one of their colleagues was nicking their stuff, didn’t mind much if two of them were shagging each other, but did mind if one became an officer’s pet?

  2. The problem with academic fields that aren’t about stuff people pay for, or that might kill people, is that it just becomes political.

    It’s like how archaeology is always talking about how many women were on battlefields and you know they’re cherry picking or exaggerating just to please their masters. They weren’t talking about this 30 years ago.

    There’s always this idea that men without women will opt for men, and it’s bullshit. Most men will wait until they get into port. It’s why Portsmouth, Biloxi or wherever are full of whores.

  3. @BoM4 – huh? Biloxi has a huge Air Force base, but no naval facilities at all – it’s a beach, there’s no harbour. You must be thinking of someplace else.



  4. Am I right in a vague idea that it was generally only officers who were hanged for sodomy? The perceived problem being the risk of favouritism and loss of trust & discipline rather than the act itself?

    So I understand. Although from Patrick O’Brian rather than historians.

    I suspect there was more gay action on a Victorian navy ship than in wider society, but if men without women always did opt for men, then groups of D&D-playing geeks would all end up bumming each other.

    Actually, I don’t know any proper geeks. Maybe they are all bumming each other.

  5. “Roger the cabin boy?

    Don’t forget Seaman Staines”

    That old chestnut. Not actual characters in Pugwash.

  6. The fact that the exhibition is taking place in Spain possibly explains a lot about the Spanish navy. Also, Barcelona is not all that far from France, ditto les mariners.

  7. I think Les Mariner may briefly have been manager of Plymouth Argyle, or perhaps it was his brother.

  8. I suspect this is mostly nonsense. “See, homosexuality is quite normal in big beefy matelots.”

    Few voyages were long enough to build up enough frustration to turn men homo. Mediterranean merchant voyages less than a month, fishing fleets (except Labrador) less than a week.
    Exceptions might be the West Africa station, the US embargo, the Atlantic and Pacific treasure fleets.

    In other words, Barcelona is quite the wrong place for this exhibition (ism).

  9. Are they looking at *modern* relationships between men at sea?

    Because I spent 21 years of my life in the US Navy, 12 of those at seagoing commands at least 4 total years of my life underway.

    And I can tell you that the relationships between men at sea are much like the relationships between predominately male-only working environments anywhere – and precious little homosexuality involved.

  10. All part of the everyone is really gay and just doesn’t know it message they have been pushing for years

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