Matt Houlbrook: mobile historian; beard growing, head shaving; occasional cycling.
Something I found a few years ago and never got round to using… In the 1920s and 1930s queer urban life was usually drawn into the public gaze and the columns of the popular press through reports of sensational arrests and prosecutions. This ‘exclusive’ from the Empire News is interesting as one of the very few examples of a investigative expose that journalists undertook on their own initiative in the period. The only other parallel I can think of is a series of articles on the ‘Painted Boy Menace’ in the muckraking weekly John Bull in 1925.
‘“Nancy” Males Ape Females’, Empire News, 18 May 1919, 9.
‘Made Up’ Men on the Promenades
WOMEN AS VALETS!
Powder Puffs and Massage Brigade
By a Special Commissioner
One has only to walk along the promenade at Brighton or any other fashionable watering place on a fine Sunday morning to be sickened by the number of men paraders who ape women in voice, dress and manners.
Their faces have been careful massaged. Their cheeks still bear traces of the powder puff. Their eyebrows are pencilled, their lips reddened with carmine and their hands manicured.
I saw a “man” apply a powder puff to his cheeks while seated on the crowded lawns at Hove as calmly as a chorus girl would do.
You can see the same thing at almost any other fashionable seaside resort, particularly on Sundays, then the weekend ‘bloods’ flock there—men with ‘made ‘ faces, wearing corsets, their feet squeezed into small whose which a healthy-minded land girl could turn down with scorn and socks which cry aloud for recognition.
When addressing each other they use terms of endearment which remind one of the language employed to each other by a bevy of extravagantly minded girls who constantly worship at the shrine of fulsome flattery.
On the following days I went into a fashionable hairdresser’s for the purpose of getting a shave. Quite a crowd of mincing men was waiting and I was told that unless I wanted a face massage it was no use my staying.
When I was making the searching investigation which it is essential to make before one presumes to write an article of this nature I encountered an experience which is almost beyond belief.
I met at the seaside resort I have mentioned a man of the ‘Nancy’ type. I accompanied him to his furnished flat for which he pays 18 guineas a week rent. He was the soul of affability and the only think I objected to was that he kept calling me ‘Dearie’.
Still, I stood for it, for I knew if I followed my natural inclination to punch him on the nose the best portion of this article would never have been secured.
When we were seated in the bower of luxury which for convenience sake is called a flat he touched an electric bell. A middle-aged woman appeared. My host ordered liquors. In the court of the next few minutes I referred to the serving woman as ‘your housekeeper’. The reply staggered me.
‘Goodness gracious!’ minced my hostess, ‘that is not my housekeeper, dearie! That women is my valet’.
When I investigated this astounding statement later I found that among these apes the custom of having an elderly woman for a personal servant is far from being unknown.
Just as humanity loves womanly women, so it loves manly men, and the less we see of men dressing up in the fashionable clothes of women the better it will be for the world at large.