“Desperately Seeking Someone (Non-camp, No-effems)”: The Gay Personal Ad in Mid-1980s Scotland

By the 1980s the personal ad was fast becoming a popular medium for Scots gay and bisexual men unsure, tired, or weary of the ‘gay scene’ to meet others. During the 1980s these short advertisements were relatively free of the acronyms that would come to dominate the medium and lead to much head-scratching and confusion. Knowing your GSOH[1], WLTM[2], NS[3], WE[4], NSc[5], and OHAC[6] would prove invaluable by the 1990s. But the 1980s were a simpler time when acronyms were largely absent and ads were often focused on presenting a clear descriptor of what advertisers sought.

Lonely-heart advertising was far from an exact science; there was simply no way of determining that your respondents would match your idea of the perfect partner, thus ads had to be explicit about preferences and expectations.  What is evident is the explicit articulation of potential friends’/lovers’ qualities, and the dismissal of those men who might not meet the performative expectations the advertiser had set. ‘Straight-acting’ does appear, but infrequently, in 1980s ads, becoming more frequent in ads during the 1990s, but ‘non-camp’ and ‘non-effem[inate]’ crop up in around one fifth of personal ads during the period 1984-86, in Scottish LGBT magazines. This might be simply about personal choice, but history demonstrates the emergence of countercultures of gay masculinities during the post-war period, which rejected the stigmatised ‘effeminate’ identity closely associated in popular discourse with male homosexuality.

I have already written about gay and bisexual men’s attitudes to masculinity and effeminacy, and this demonstrates how men perceived to be effeminate were stigmatised by both heterosexual and homosexual communities. What is notable is that the majority of personal ads did not contain obvious references to masculinity, but where preferences were indicated these tended to be well determined.  This advertisement from May 1985 clearly frames the advertiser as a ‘non-effeminate’ man seeking others of that type.

Shetland (31) non-effeminate seeks others, this area or visiting.

The terms non-effeminate (and variations) and non-camp appear to be interchangeable. This advert also from May 1985 uses ‘non-camp’ to indicate the preferred deportment:

Glasgow Anywhere Dave (26) 5’10” blond non-camp into most things seeks sincere mates. Photo if possible, returned.

The use of ‘non-scene’ appears regularly to denote both the advertiser’s ‘position’ and that of expected respondents. As Alan Davidson has noted, the appearance of terms such as ‘non-scene’ and ‘non-effeminate’ were coded expressions of the rejection of ‘“stereotypical” presentations of self’.[7] The following ad includes a double-barrelled rejection of ‘camp’ and ‘effeminate’, firmly positioning the advertiser’s rejection of stereotypes, real or imagined, and any individuals firmly associated with stigmatised identities.

Is there [sic] any gay folks in Dunfermline ? Sincere, honest guy seeks friendship of same (21-23), non-camp-effeminate.

Similarly, ‘Fife Guy’, sets his requirements clearly even although his appears to be seeking friends rather than a relationship or hook-up.

Fife Guy (33) Seeks friends, straight-looking, non-camp, non-scene, non-smoker. Photo appreciated. No effems.

Notably, the addition of ‘no effems’ at the end of the ad may represent ‘Fife Guy’s’ uncertainty that ‘non-camp’ would exclude all men he deemed to be non-straight looking.

The next personal ad, from May 1985, emphasises the advertiser’s own concept of masculinity, strongly indicating a preference for ‘straight-looking’ men, further underlined by the requirement that he should married.

Glasgow Slim 34 year-old, masculine looking, passive seeks well-hung marrieds, straight-looking types for uncomplicated fun.

‘Durham Area’ (January 1986) takes discomfort with effeminate men a step further, emphasising his hatred of effeminate men, and his enjoyment of masculine pursuits. He aims to meet a ‘sincere lad’ who might appreciate some ‘old-fashioned loving’. Being fair and genuine did not stretch to gay men who, the advertiser believed, were engaging in gender transgressions.

Durham Area I’m just a fair, genuine guy, 40s. Hate effems. Looking for sincere lad who likes the country, pubs, humour, and a bit of old-fashioned loving.

Ads which refrain from anti-camp or anti-effeminate language occasionally refer to presumed facets of masculinity. Terms such as ‘macho’, ‘manly’, ‘fit’, ‘sporty’ and ‘active’ set an agenda for intimate interaction that is rooted firmly in conventional understandings of gender and gender roles.

The issue of normalcy also emerges from some personal ads. ‘Edinburgh’ (November 1985) describes himself as ‘bearded’ and ‘hairy’, signifiers of masculinity, while detailing his requirements for a ‘non-camp guy’. He ends his ad with a plea for ‘a normal gay person’, further distancing the ‘camp’ man from such a concept.

Edinburgh, W. Lothian, Glasgow. 29 year old bearded hairy bisexual seeks non-camp guy for fun, good times, 25-35. All I want is a normal gay person!

Notably, when perusing Scottish personal ads during the 1990s, the ‘no camp’, ‘no effems’ content appears to have largely disappeared. Whether this is the result of editorial policy or the rise of the cover-all term ‘straight-acting’ is difficult to gauge. Yet, despite some obvious hostility to and discomfort with gay men who did not perform an ‘approved’ version of masculinity, there are ads that counter these negatives. ‘Glasgow Area Athletic’ describes himself as ‘lightweight’, and makes clear that he seeks someone similar, rejecting ‘macho’ men:

Glasgow Area Athletic lightweight guy seeks similar 21-32 years for fun, wrestling exchange. Photos. Any colour, non-macho.

 This type of advert is much rarer amongst the collection analysed. The limited space within personal ads led to a form of personal, sexual and social prioritising which meant that the advertiser attempted to fill ads with details and requirements most important in their search for love, sex and companionship. This inevitably led to exacting requirements which appear judgemental, exclusive and quite often prioritised codes of masculinity.

Copyright © Jeff Meek 2014

All Rights Reserved.

[1] Good sense of humour

[2] Would like to meet

[3] Non-smoker

[4] Well endowed

[5] Non-scene

[6] Own House and car

[7] Alan G. Davidson, ‘Looking for Love in the Age of Aids: The Language of Gay Personals’, Journal of Sex Research 28 (1991), p. 132

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