From toilets to Tinder

How dating has changed for LGBT+ Brits

From the news that schools will now teach about LGBT relationships, to the imminent banning of gay conversion therapy, for the most part, I think life as an LGBT+ Brit may be nearing the best it’s ever been.

I write this as a bi woman who has just written and narrated a history of getting it on, The Curious History of Dating: from Jane Austen to Tinder for Audible (https://adbl.co/2LrQUfc). The book partly charts straight courtship rituals, but what it also uncovers is a parallel narrative of LGBT+ dating habits that celebrates both our creativity and humanity in a country that took a while to wake up to the logic of equal love.

Of course there’s still work to be done – on everything from LGBT+ sexual health services to negotiating the tension around the Gender Recognition Act. But the shift in just over 100 years has been seismic.

From the gay Victorian men who used discreet, carefully-worded and circulated personal ads to evade prosecution under the Criminal Amendment Act, to the bi and lesbian women who were left of the statute books in the 1920s because the House of Lords didn’t want women in general to ‘get ideas’, it’s a credit to the LGBT+ community that it never stopped finding an inventive way around the law to love who they wanted to love.

Nichi Hodgson

Take the pen pal columns of Hollywood fan magazines in the 1930s: they were occupied by LGBT+ men and women looking for like-minded ‘pals’ to mutually fawn over icons such as Bette Davis or Lana Turner. Or the publication in 1937 of For Your Convenience – the ultimate guide to cruising London’s toilets. Credit to the wit that dared to take the proverbial piss with that title – and those who defiantly bought it.

Years later, it would take a Tory cabinet minister to hold the government inquiry that began the process of decriminalising homosexuality. Jack Wolfenden was the man in charge. The fact his son was gay might have inspired his empathy, but that inquiry was about more than gay rights. It did something really monumental for everyone – it established that, whatever the consensual, adult sexual encounter, the State wasn’t invited – and it’s a principle that straight people have benefitted from ever since.

When you take the long view, it’s actually pretty straightforward to plot out the trajectory of increased legal equality, greater visibility and decreasing violence and discrimination towards LGBT+ people – even if there are repeat spikes in abuse, pressing health problems and discrimination issues to keep working out – and that is massively uplifting.

Yet as a country, we’re at a pivotal moment in our LGBT+ history. As Meghan and Harry prepare to head out to the Commonwealth, will we finally have the allies we need to advocate for all those suffering under homophobic and anachronistic colonial era laws? It’s a long shot on their part, but also a new opportunity to volley the issue up the news agenda. And whether you’re a public protester or a quiet rebel, learning about the courage of our predecessors can help us keep faith in a better future.

They say that those who do not study history are condemned to repeat it. But when it comes to LGBT+ dating, the courage, tolerance, passion and playfulness we’ve had to cultivate along the way to rights and respect have steered the course of true love for everyone. Here’s to another one hundred years of that, at the very least.

Nichi Hodgson is an author, broadcaster, and journalist, specialising in civil liberties, technology, dating, and LGBT rights.

From court-reporting gay obscenity trials to interviewing the international Bi community, Nichi is a regular presenter, paper reviewer and commentator for Sky News and the BBC. Take a look at the showreel below. She’s awfully good!

A runner-up for DIVA LGBT journalist of the year 2018, her latest book, ‘The Curious History of Dating, from Jane Austen to Tinder’, which traces the trajectory of heterosexual and LGBT dating, is out now in hardback and released on Audible on 25 July. 

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