William Merrilees and the Gay Love Letters of Interwar Edinburgh

William Merrilees, the late former Chief Constable of Lothian and Peebles, undertook a ‘war against homosexuality’ in Edinburgh during the interwar period. Single-handedly, or at least that’s how Merrilees’ reminiscences seem to suggest, he embarked on a ruthless attempt to put away as many homosexuals as his workload allowed. In his autobiography The Short Arm…

Risk, Embarrassment, Democracy! Glasgow’s ‘Queer’ Scene, 1955-2008

By the mid 20th century Glasgow was home to a growing non-heterosexual population, and wherever such groups exist there are platforms for social engagement. When I interviewed 2 dozen gay and bisexual men in the mid 2000s, stories emerged which detailed the history and development of the queer scene in Glasgow. I have already produced…

Gay Men, Cults of Toughness and Masculinities in Scotland

I recently revisited some of the interviews I undertook with gay and bisexual men from Scotland while putting together a postgraduate seminar on masculinities. One theme emerging from these interviews related to masculinity and effeminacy. Some of the men I spoke to remarked on the powerful cultural concept of the ‘man’, of the ‘otherness’ associated…

Same-Sex Partnerships, Families & Heteronormativity

I recently spoke at the ‘A History of Working-Class Marriage in Scotland, 1855-1976’ Spring Workshop held at the University of Glasgow, in conjunction with the Centre for Gender History. The Workshop – ‘Beyond Tradition?: Non-traditional marriages, partnerships and families in Scotland: Past and Present’ –  explored continuity, change and the multiple forms of partnerships and…

What Ever Happened to Red Harry?

Harry Whyte, who was born in Edinburgh in 1907, has chiefly one claim to fame: in May 1934, when employed by the Moscow Daily News, he wrote to Joseph Stalin to enquire whether it was possible to be both a homosexual and a Communist Party Member. What prompted Whyte’s appeal to Stalin was the decision…

Buggery, Body Snatchers and Bewitchings

Throughout early modern and modern history homosexual acts have been the focus of condemnation, religious outrage, penal sanctions and considerable suspicion. In the 16th century further connections between the act and sinister superstition were made, contradicting earlier works which suggested that even demons drew the line at buggery. The new narrative claimed that witches, in…