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Families of Choice? George Ives, Queer Lives and the Family in Early Twentieth-Century Britain



This article argues that the stark post-Second World War understanding in which ‘straight is to gay’ came to be seen as ‘family is to non family’ has tended to obscure the historical complexity of family life and the ways in which queer men have interacted with and created their families in the past, and used the language of family to conceptualise emotional bonds ‘beyond blood’. Using the well-heeled early campaigner for homosexual law reform, George Ives (1867–1950), as a case study, I show how different rhetorics, ideas and experiences of family allowed for the assertion of gender and sexual identity, gave a framework for campaigning work and provided a means of conceptualising intimacy and companionship. Though family was the cause of considerable angst for Ives, it was, I suggest, something he valued not in spite of his homosexuality but at least partly because of it. It was fundamental to the ways in which he understood and articulated who he was, and how he related to others.