Based on oral history research with gay seafarers, this paper examines how the exceptionality of a ship at sea allowed an extraordinary tolerance and freedom. Using the idea of a voyaging pleasure vessel as liminal zone (Van Gennep), ludic and transgressive borderland like Brighton or Blackpool (Hetherington, Shields, Walton) carnivalesque space (Bakhtin) and refuge (Bachelard) the focus is on:
- how could so much ‘criminal’ activity and its associated culture be permitted and indeed actively welcomed by shipping companies, passengers, and straight crew in a traditionally macho and misogynist place? ‘He may be queer but he’s our queer’ and ‘We couldn’t have done without them.’
- how was bisexuality and fluidity of sexual orientation over life course so readily possible, especially for ‘straight’ married seamen? ‘He had a wife ashore and a “wife” on ship.’
- the queer officers would be sacked if they were out: what conventions of class permitted.
- why the ship did not similarly function as a permissive space for lesbian women