Queer Domesticities: homosexualities and home lives in twentieth-century London

Lead Research Organisation: Birkbeck College
Department Name: History Classics and Archaeology


The book which will be completed during the fellowship takes queer history indoors to explore the shifting relationship between homosexuality, home and family from the late nineteenth to the early twenty first century. It questions the exclusion of queer men from the narratives of home, domesticity and family which have been so central to British social and cultural history, and extends histories of male homosexual subjectivity, identity and community which have tended to focus on public or semi-public spaces. The book (contracted to Palgrave Macmillan for July 2012) historicises and contextualises recent legal, social and cultural change (and in particular civil partnership and adoption legislation) and draws out shifting ideas and everyday experiences of home over the long century since the sexological and psychoanalytic descriptions of the invert and homosexual. It does not simply look at these 'types' of men in an additional set of spaces, however. Instead it explores the ways in which homosexual subjectivities may have been configured differently within the domestic sphere and considers the impact various domestic arrangements had on political, creative, sexual and social lives. It asks how these arrangements resonated with broader ideals and lived experiences of home and family; considers the significance of class, migration, race, political consciousness, locality, biological kin and friendship networks to the way households functioned; looks at connections with wider queer cultures and 'homes from home' (pubs and hotels, for example); and explores the (often curtailed) options available to queer men in relation to rental and housing markets, social housing, and squats and communes.

The book will be anchored in eight case study households taken from across the period. These will allow for a detailed and contextually grounded exploration of relationships between shifting ideologies of gender, sexuality and domesticity and individual domestic imperatives and choices. The approach facilitates a research conversation with other recent case study rich histories of home and intimacy (Cohen, 2006; Marcus, 2007) and with those queer histories of London which have looked more to the public realm (Cocks, 2003; Cook, 2003; Houlbrook, 2005). The case studies have been selected to illuminate different circulating perceptions of queer home life in relation to lived experience, and especially regarding domestic aesthetics, family, bedsitterland, suburban living, communes and squats, domestic contingencies associated with HIV and AIDS, and the implications of new legislation. They also facilitate consideration of how queer homes have been recorded and represented - privately via photographs, home movies, and diaries, and more publicly in fiction, theatre, autobiography and film. Different sources come into particular focus in relation to different case studies: scrapbooks, letters, diaries, and photographs are to the fore with the earlier households; oral history testimonies (including 25 gathered as part of this research), home movies and actual homes under scrutiny for the later ones. Such different source materials, the book will show, give different kinds of access to intimate lives and histories. Techniques and analytical perspectives from cultural and social history, sociology, cultural geography, and literary and film studies especially are deployed to weave the book's narrative and argument and to explore tensions, disjunctions and intersections between histories of discourse and histories of everyday lives; between indoor domestic spaces and other realms.

Planned Impact

The project is benefiting a network of queer, lesbian and gay, and gender scholars, Birkbeck and the Raphael Samuel History Centre, and the broader academic community, as outlined above. It will continue to do so during and after the period of a fellowship. In addition, and as one of the core objectives, the research project is having and will continue to have an impact on local lesbian and gay community groups, on a broader public, and on archive professionals. The aim is to bridge the gap between popular and academic history-making relating to lesbian and gay identities, and to show the wider relevance of the histories that are being explored. To this end I am writing the book to appeal to a wide readership; giving public talks and convening open archive workshops and a History and Policy debate; engaging gay men in the research process through oral history work; depositing 25 oral history interviews at the London School of Economics Library for wider consultation; and taking part in media and documentary film work relating to project themes. These various activities will give multiple points of access to the research, provide networking opportunities to event participants, and allow for detailed discussion of project findings - including amongst archivists and policy makers.

The 'Pathways to Impact' statement details the talks I have given to date to Age Concern gay groups and the Lesbian and Gay Humanist Association, as part of LGBT history month, and at the London Metropolitan and National Archives. I am in addition using the Raphael Samuel History Centre and the History and Heritage Adult Learning network (which I convene as part of my work for the Centre) as platforms for further outreach work. As part of the Centre's open archive workshop series I will convene three workshops on project themes during the period of the fellowship at the Lesbian and Gay Newsmedia Archive (Bishopsgate Institute), the Hall Carpenter Archive (London School of Economics Library), and the Rukus! Black LGBT collection at the London Metropolitan Archive. Similar workshops conducted to date have attracted a diverse audience, including LGBT youth groups and archivists working with related collections. During the fellowship period I will also convene a debate as part of the Raphael Samuel Centre's History and Policy series, bringing together historians, policy makers and activists to discuss the historical and immediate contexts of recent legal change relating to adoption, civil partnership and inheritance and property rights for gay men. Previous debates in the series - 'Bad Kids' and Madness in the System' - have attracted broad audiences of between 100 - 200 people. These various events, in addition to my media work (see 'Pathways to Impact'), are helping to deepen understanding of the multiple dimensions of queer home and family lives, and are flagging available resources and methodologies for tracking community and individual histories. The book finalised during the fellowship period will consolidate and further extend this impact.

I have in addition sat on advisory and steering groups at the London Assembly, Museum of London, Stonewall Housing (for a HLF oral history project) and the London Metropolitan Archive (LMA). I had a direct impact on the shape and conduct of the oral history project, and the LMAs conference for 2008 centred on lesbian and gay families as a result of my input. I have a longstanding and ongoing commitment to this work beyond the academy and in forums where my research may have impact on archival and broader equality and diversity policy.


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Description My Queer Domesticities project resulted in a monograph, three peer review journal articles, two book chapters, several academic conference papers and a series of impact events including public debates and open archive workshops. Overall the project has taken queer history indoors and drawn out the complexities of the relationship between queer men and home and family from the late nineteenth century to the present. It traced the path of trenchant stereotypes about such men being both 'exiles from kin' and 'sissy home boys', and illustrated how individuals have negotiated these and other presumptions in their everyday lives.
Exploitation Route I am already taking forward methodologies for working with everyday life and broader social and cultural life in my work on the impacts of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.
Sectors Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description As a result of the research i now sit on the London School of Economics archive advisory group, the London Metropolitan Archive archive conference steering group. I have also been invited to lead and advise on community archive workshops at the GALA (LGBT) archive in Johannesburg in South Africa.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Title Oral history interviews 
Description I undertook c.20 oral history interviews with older gay men. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The interviews provided fresh insights into the home lives of gay men between 1950 and the present. They are due for deposit with the LSE's Hall-Carpenter collection in2015. 
Description Academic lectures and conferences papers 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Invited lectures and papers
• University of Helsinki, Finland, Nov.2014. Invited lecture - 'Queer Domesticities' - for the 'Gender, Culture and Society' programme.
• University of Westminster, Jan.2013. Invited keynote lecture - 'Local Lives in the Queer Metropolis' - at the 'Queer London' conference.
• University of Western Sydney, Feb.2012. Invited lecture - 'Local Queer Histories' - as part of the 'Histories and Geographies of Sexuality' series.
• University of Antwerp, Mar.2010. Invited paper - 'Squatting in Brixton' - at the 'Rethinking European Homo(sexual) Modernity' conference.
• University of Manchester, Nov. 2008. Invited paper - 'Squatting in History' - at the 'Making History Personal: Celebrating the Work and Contribution of Jeffrey Weeks' symposium.
• National Archive, Kew, 2008 & 2009. Invited lectures: "Families of Choice? George Ives and the Family' and 'Losing Orton in the Archives'. Subsequently podcast at: http://media.nationalarchives.gov.uk/index.php/author/dr-matt-cook/
• London Metropolitan Archive, Dec.2008. Invited lecture - 'Queer Families' - for their "Let's Pretend: LGBT History and Archives' conference.

Invited seminar papers
• Birkbeck, 2013. Temporal Vertigo symposium. Paper: 'At Home with Derek Jarman'.
• University of Nottingham, 2013. Invited by Dr H.G.Cocks. Paper: 'Squatting in Brixton'.
• University of Reading, 2012. Invited by Prof. David Stack. Paper: 'Rex Batten and the Evidence of Experience'.
• University of Hull, 2011. Invited by Prof. Ann Heilman. Paper: 'Queer Domesticities'.

Conference papers - national and international
• Bartlett Institute of Architecture, UCL, Dec.2012. Sexuality at Home conference. Paper: 'Derek Jarman and the Queer Domestic'.
• University of Melbourne, Australia, Feb. 2012. 'After the Homosexual: the legacy of gay liberation' conference. Paper: 'Taking Sexual Politics and Home'.

Questions, discussion, request for further talks and presentations
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012,2013,2014
Description Archive workshops 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact I ran a series of three open archive workshops at the Bishopsgate Institute, London School of Economics, and London Metropolitan Archive. these explored archival resources used in my research. They were all sold out and received positive feedback.

Several participants were inspired to consider materials they had at had at home which might be worth depositing in archives or be of interest to historians of queer life.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011,2012
Description Community groups talks 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I gave a series of talks relating to my queer domesticities project to local community groups - including:
South London Gays
Opening Doors - Age UK's Camden gay group
The Lesbian and Gay Humanist Association

The talks sparked questions and discussions and also resulted in audience members asking if they could be interviewed as part of the research.

See above
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011,2012,2013
Description Media Interest - Queer Domesticities 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact • Radio 4
o Thinking Allowed. Aug. 6th 2014. I was invited for a live discussion of Queer Domesticities (2014).
o History of Friendship. April 2014. I contributed to two of the programmes in this series devised and presented by Dr Thomas Dixon (QMUL).
o Today programme. Jan. 22nd 2013. I was invited for a live discussion of the history of transvestism.

• News and current affairs
o BBC World News. Feb.5th 2013. I was an invited panellist for a live discussion on gay marriage. It was broadcast worldwide with an estimated global audience of 200 million.
o HRT (Croatian TV channel). May 2013. I was interviewed for historical perspectives on gay marriage and equal rights for HRT's lead current affairs programme 'Parallels' (viewing audience: c.2 million).
o Gaydio community radio. July 2013. I was interviewed live about historical contexts for gay marriage and equality. Estimated UK audience 80,000.

The contributions yielded a large number of enquiries about my research from various members of the public.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013,2014
Description Talks and lectures 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I convened a series of events drawing together scholars from across the humanities and social sciences to reflect on themes relating to my research on queer domesticity:
o 'Queer Families'. British Library, Dec. 2012. Papers and panel discussion with myself, Prof. Sasha Roseneil (Bikrbeck), Dr Kath Weston (UWE), and Prof. Alison Oram (Leeds Beckett).
o 'Queer Homes'. Geffrye Museum, June 2013. Papers and panel discussion with myself and Dr Brent Pilkey (UCL) and Dr Amy Tooth Murphy (Roehampton).
o 'Uncle Denis': Quentin Crisp and his 'family'. Birkbeck, Feb.2014. A film screening and discussion with myself, film-maker Adrian Goycoolea (Sussex), Dr Daniel Monk (Birkbeck), Dr Andrew Gorman Murray (University of Western Australia), and Prof. Lynne Segal (Birkbeck).
o 'Adoption', June 2015. I am working with Dr Monk on a symposium exploring adoption in historical and legal perspective.

Lively discussion at each event and contact from audience members wanting to know more.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012,2013,2014