This year’s Being Human festival runs 14 – 23 November, on the theme ‘Discoveries & Secrets’, includes the performance Classified: A performance of queer dating ads, using real dating ads uncovered in the National Archives.
Led by the School of Advanced Study, University of London in partnership with the Arts & Humanities Research Council and the British Academy, the Being Human festival is the UK’s only national festival of the humanities. The nationwide festival, now in its 6th year, brings together universities, museums, galleries, libraries, community and commercial partners to stage stimulating and engaging activities that make research accessible and relevant, strengthen community identity, and increase understanding of the relevance of the humanities to everyday life.
This year includes a research project from the National Archives, looking at LGBT dating ads from the early 20th century. The research rediscovered personal ads posted in a lonely-hearts style publication called ‘The Link’, where people had up to 25 words to describe themselves and what they sought.
In 1920s Britain homosexual acts between men were criminalised. Despite criminalisation of their love, queer people nonetheless strove to find ways to meet and defy the law. The Link provided them one means of doing that. This can be inferred from some of the coded language of this publication; “artistic”, “bohemian” and “unconventional”. Examples include:
- Young Gent (Bristol), 26, good-looking, would like correspondence with own sex, 18-26. Must be well-educated, of good appearance. Photos appreciated. All letters answered. (940.)
- Jimmie (Bath), 25, artistic, affectionate, lonely, desires correspondence, own sex, under 35. Same district preferred, but all answered. Photos appreciated. (941.)
- Ted (London, W.), 26, jolly, affectionate, musical, athletic, would like male chum, same temperament. Cycling, swimming, and week-ends occasionally. Please state age. (951.)
As part of this year’s Being Human event, the National Archives and Bishopsgate Institute seek to celebrate and reclaim these voices 100 years on. These underground, coded classified adverts will be brought to life at an event at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, Classified: A performance of queer dating ads on 23 November.
For event details and tickets, and for a full listing of the Being Human festival, visit beinghumanfestival.org.