The Empire may have been built by men and women trying to escape Britain’s terrible weather — or even, as Cecil Rhodes once said, to avoid the lamentable cuisine — but it was kept fully staffed by refugees from the conservative sexual code. Accounts of life in colonial Bombay, for example, read as if the entire subcontinent was managed as a sleazy gentleman’s club, with enterprising local agents procuring a series of “native wives” and “colored sisters” to warm the bed of every newly-arrived heterosexual army officer and bureaucrat. Gay men, meanwhile, quickly became addicted to the freedom in the colonies, which lured writers such as E. M. Forster and Somerset Maugham.

 

These impulses were certainly not just British. In French slang, faire passer son brevet colonial — “to give a man the test for his colonial diploma”… More…