Queer Belfast during the First World War: masculinity and same-sex desire in the Irish city

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Queer history is still in its infancy in Ireland, with political approaches and the more recent past, and the gay rights movement particularly, providing the primary focus so far. This article takes a different approach by investigating the everyday experiences, identities and policing of men who had sex with men in the early twentieth century. Using two extraordinary case studies from Belfast during the First World War, I explore different lives - from youth to adulthood, sexual encounter to arrest, and trial to life afterwards. I argue that queer culture in Belfast shared aspects with other western metropolises, particularly in terms of urban cruising, payment for sex and relationships structured by class. Public responses too, from newspaper to courtroom, were articulated through transnational formulations of respectability and masculinity. At the same time, however, Belfast’s queer men were shaped by their movement within a peculiarly Irish network of places, both in and beyond the country’s borders. Religious and political structures specific to Ulster also effected how such men fared in the legal system and in their lives following their trials. By detailing both the similarities yet divergences of queer experience in Belfast, I thus aim to raise a new agenda for studying male sexuality in the north of Ireland.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)239-261
Number of pages22
JournalIrish Historical Studies
Issue number168
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021


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