Homosexuality in Great Britain: Section One
This is the first of three sections, Homosexuality in Great Britain. Like other European countries and the United States there was a visible homosexual subculture, due to the rise of the large city in Great Britain, but there were notable exceptions in how homosexuality was expressed and related to the English society. Homosexual acts were illegal and the new scientific field of sexology was less accepted. In Great Britain homosexuality was expressed as the cult of homosexuality. Homosexuality was spread in the public schools, the universities, and the intellectual circles. It became a fashion, a life style, a sign of recognition in certain classes and certain circles. Homosexuality had to be seen in its relationship with the English expression of masculinity. Which resulted in male homosexuality, remaining a phenomenon the state preferred to ignore. Yet, the English society as a whole was well aware homosexuality and homosexual behavior as it was expressed in the daily lives of the citizens. This was as a result of urbanization, the rise of large population centers, the growing cities.
Great Britain differs from the Continental states of Europe
It will be apparent by now that the title of this book might almost have been But Not in Britain. In England especially, sodomites seem to have been treated more harshly than elsewhere. Whatever the causes Protestant morals, the rise of the nuclear family, early industrialization reinforcing the sexual division of labor the main observable difference in English attitudes is the ease with which connections were made between sodomy and other sins. In England, a sodomite was never just a sodomite. (Robb, Strangers Homosexual love in the 19th Century, p. 189)
Continental states affected by the Codes Napoleon were able to tolerate the legality of sex between men on grounds of the right to contract between male citizens. (Brady, Masculinity and Male Homosexuality in Britain 1861-1913, p. 27)
It is arguable that the legal and medical construction of homosexuality in Britain described by Weeks dates from the 1950s, and not from the late Victorian period. The British legislature and British society had stoutly resisted the developments in legal and scientific classification of homosexuality that had prevailed in other states, such as Germany and the United States. In doing so, the British could foster ideals of masculinity and manliness, in which the phenomenon of sex between men was perceived as exceedingly rare, compared societies. (Brady, Masculinity and Male Homosexuality in Britain 1861-1913, p. 115)
Different legal practices and moral traditions have had highly significant effects. In Britain, in contrast to France, homosexual behavior per se (not just prostitution) was regarded as a problem. (Weeks, Inverts, Perverts, and Mary-Annes Male Prostitution and the Regulation of Male Homosexuality in England in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries. p. 116 in Historical Perspectives on Homosexuality editors Salvatore J. Licata PhD and Robert P. Peterson.)
The public and private code in Labouchere’s Amendment marks the fundamental difference between English and French law on gross indecency between men at this time. Whilst in England it was the acts themselves that were at issue, in France it was whether they might be overlooked and cause specific offence. (Cook, Law, p. 73 in Palgrave Advances in the Modern History of Sexuality editors H. G. Cocks and Matt Houlbrook.)
Studies of sex between men proliferated in states such as France, the German Empire, the Austrian Empire and Italy. (Brady, Masculinity and Male Homosexuality in Britain 1861-1913, p. 26)
The new sexology and its categorization of the deviant appeared to many yet another dubious continental import. (Porter and Hall, The Facts of Life The Creation of Sexual Knowledge in Britain, 1650-1950, p.158)
In Britain, however the initial influence of sexology should not be exaggerated; it enjoyed only marginal status in medical circles while Sexual Inversion, the first volume of Ellis’ Studies, was prosecuted as an obscene book. (Waters, Sexology, p. 45 in Palgrave Advances in the Modern History of Sexuality editors H. G. Cocks and Matt Houlbrook.)
French and German specialists in the 1880s began to produce more sophisticated interpretations of sexual perversion, a key argument being that the aberrant act simply represented the particular stage of a deviant’s development. These doctors, in regarding the act as a mere symptom and in paying greater attention to the specific type of individual who carried it out, accordingly turned away from biological towards psychological explanations. Whereas it had been once said in a tautological way that a pervert was one who performed perverse acts, now researchers such as Valentine Magnan declared that the importance of such acts was that they were due to a diseased central nervous system and a symptomatic of a morbid category of person. Perverts suffered, claimed the doctors, from congenital rather than acquired illness; they were responsible yet could be cured. Some perverts particular the humiliated fetishists were presented by the doctors as often causing more pain to themselves than to the community. Most importantly, progressive doctors asserted that a variety of deviant practices, once regarded as choices; made by the sinful or immoral, were actually involuntary symptoms of the individual’s entire personality. Thus the sex experts created in the latter decades of the nineteenth century an entirely new nomenclature to describe the species they had discovered: the exhibitionist, the transvestite, the voyeur, the homosexual, the sadist and the masochist. Countless psuedo-scientific treatises popularized the notion that whole subcultures were populated by potentially dangerous others. (McLaren, Twentieth-century Sexuality A History, p. 92)
Homosexuals: Expressing themselves
Besides, homosexual militancy did not really take hold in England and France before the Second World War. Liberation took different forms in those two countries. In England, attempts were made to form homosexual organizations, but they were only a sidebar to the cult of homosexuality which characterized the period. And finally, compared to the democratic and militant German models, France presented an individualistic model, less assertive and centered on exceptional figures. (Tamagne, A History of Homosexuality in Europe Berlin, London, Paris 1919-1939 Volume I, p. 81)
Already in the inner-war period, there were many ways of affirming oneself as a homosexual or lesbian as a militant protestor, as in Germany, through subversive integration, as in England, or via sensual individualism, as in France." (Tamagne, A History of Homosexuality in Europe Berlin, London, Paris 1919-1939 Volume I, p. 144)
Although closely tied to the development of the German homosexual scene, the cult of homosexuality was specific to England, and particularly to the years 1919-1933. The traditional aversion to homosexuality gave way, in certain sectors of the society, to a tolerance that soon shifted to approval, and then to adulation. Homosexuality was spread in the public schools, the universities, and the intellectual circles. It became a fashion, a life style, a sign of recognition in certain classes and certain circles. The cult of homosexuality in England was the basis by which homosexuals gained entry into certain British institutions and began to permeate the literature, thereby imperceptibly molding the society. (Tamagne, A History of Homosexuality in Europe Berlin, London, Paris 1919-1939 Volume I, p. 145)
Masculinity and Homosexuality
Maintenance of masculinity as a social status affected and influenced cultural and social perceptions of the phenomena of sex and sexuality between men. (Brady, Masculinity and Male Homosexuality in Britain 1861-1913, p. 25)
Neither more or less concerned with protecting and bolstering the requirements of masculinity amongst British men than the public, the authorities attempted to resist clarification or investigation of the crimes of sex between men. To allow clarification would have offered official recognition that the phenomenon existed amongst British men at all. (Brady, Masculinity and Male Homosexuality in Britain 1861-1913, p. 103-104)
By 1900, British masculinity was being deliberately projected, by both political parties, as the pre-eminent moral exemplar, throughout the expanding Empire and in comparison to its Continental neighbors. Also, masculinity as a social status had increasingly become an inspiration for and expectation of, enfranchised working-class men. It would have been unthinkable, in this context, to question this image in the kind of debate that would be needed legally to clarify or classify a homosexual type or class. (Brady, Masculinity and Male Homosexuality in Britain 1861-1913, p. 117-118)
Masculinity as a social status required men to undertake onerous and often conflicting responsibilities. Public acknowledgement of the existence of sexuality between men, even in pejorative terms, would have recognized an alternative to acceptable masculinity. This would have threatened and undermined the basis of British society. British politicians and moralists reinforced notions that success of British society and the unparalleled power and extent of the Empire was due, in part, to the moral fitness of its men. (Brady, Masculinity and Male Homosexuality in Britain 1861-1913, p. 214)
The existence of sex and sexuality between men created a dilemma in a society that placed so much emphasis on the family and the responsibilities and expectations of individual males heads of the household. (Brady, Masculinity and Male Homosexuality in Britain 1861-1913, p. 25)
To the British, sex between men threatened the structure of the family and flouted the work ethic. If recognized and tolerated, the phenomenon had the potential to tempt some men away from their procreative duties to their wives. Sexuality between men and its communitarian overtones also threatened the ability of independent men to maintain work, trade, commerce and politics. (Brady, Masculinity and Male Homosexuality in Britain 1861-1913, p. 214)
Institutions of British authority, such as national newspapers, government, the legislature and profession of medicine, place so much emphasis on this expectation of masculinity and masculine behaviour, that it had a direct effect on how British people regarded sex between men. As the following chapters demonstrate, sex and sexuality between men were tactily well-understood phenomena. Nonetheless, it is striking in comparison to Continental states, how little public discourse of this matter was conducted or tolerated. Discourse of this nature was ignored or suppressed in order to preserve and present masculinity in this country as free from unnatural practices between men. (Brady, Masculinity and Male Homosexuality in Britain 1861-1913, p. 26)
Homosexuality and the Government
The entire matter of sex between males remained a phenomenon the state preferred to ignore. Policies to distinguish between crimes of bestiality, sodomising of boys and sodomy between men, were only conducted when the Home Office was forced to do so. (Brady, Masculinity and Male Homosexuality in Britain 1861-1913, p. 217)
The medical professions, the judiciary, the police and the government went to considerable lengths to suppress and resist any form of learned discussion of the matter of sexually between men. Historiography in this field has argued that medicine and law constructed, in apparent harmony, a pejorative category of the male homosexual in these years. This may be the case, up to a point, in states such as nineteenth-century Germany or Austrian Empires. However, in Britain, the medical professions and judiciary colluded to ensure that not even the articulation of a pejorative concept of the homosexual existed. (Brady, Masculinity and Male Homosexuality in Britain 1861-1913, p. 154)
The awareness demonstrated before 1885 of sexuality between men and its guises are indicative of a pervasive and tacit culture understanding. The levels of indictments for the crime in the nineteenth century indicate urban dwellers were willing to use the justice system to punish these outrages against what was considered masculine. The justice system and the law, on the other hand, demonstrably lagged behind or attempted to ignore this cultural development. (Brady, Masculinity and Male Homosexuality in Britain 1861-1913, p. 103)
Similarly, Weeks emphasis on a single Home Office series of files results in a misinterpretation of state control of sex between men and the shaping of a prejorative homosexual identity in the late nineteenth century. Weeks’ presentation of his historical evidence asserts that a pattern of development in the Home office then translated into legislation in 1885. This fits the argument for the legal construction of the homosexual category in the late nineteenth-century Britain, which in turn crystallized notions of this category in the public imagination in the late 1880s and 1890s. However, the examination of much broader evidence indicates that perceptions of sexuality between men were much more developed amongst urban populations throughout the second half of the nineteenth century than this historiography suggests.; (Brady, Masculinity and Male Homosexuality in Britain 1861-1913, p. 102)
Whilst in many cases the legal, medical and scientific fields of knowledge complemented each other, they also frequently jostled for position. The emergent science of sexology in the late nineteenth century, for example, presented theories of homosexuality as pathology or intrinsic condition which were incompatible with the judicial conception of criminal sexual acts rather than identities. The uneasy relationship between the two was compounded by the sexologists intent to speak candidly about sex and sex problems in ways which could be seen to contravene English obscenity legislation. The embryonic sexology movement in England was partly stifled by the prosecution of George Bedborough for selling Havelock Ellis’s Sexual Inversion in 1897 and by the restrictions place on the English translation of Iwan Bloch’s Sexual life of Out Times in 1908. Such cases were a deterrent to other writers and publishers, and sexology remained chiefly a continental science until at least the First World War. (Cook, Law, p. 79 in Palgrave Advances in the Modern History of Sexuality, edited by H. G. Cocks and Matt Houlbrook.)
Through the reporting and editing of court cases, the newspaper press produced a version of the homosexual and revealed the places he frequented¸ his putative domestic arrangements and his concomitant disregard for a middle-class ordering of public and private realms a disregard tacitly legitimated by the wording of the Labouchere Amendment itself. However, the relationship between homosexuality and the city as described in these accounts was also fraught with contradictions. In the major scandals, which endured in the public memory, and minor cases, which came as weekly reminders of them, there was the sense of a highly sensitized and vigilant public and police force on the one hand, and on the other of an embedded subculture which was tacitly accepted and even approved. The courts and the newspapers suggested purges and the scope for eradication, yet also revealed an entrenched network. Such dichotomy indicated the unacceptable nature of these activities whilst also advertising their existence as an integral part of city life. This was vital to the maintenance of the status quo. (Cook, London and the Culture of Homosexuality, 1885-1914, p. 71-72)
The courts and press were largely uninterested in the arguments about inherent sexual identity being propounded by sexologists. (Cook, London and the Culture of Homosexuality, 1885-1914, p. 59)
Contrary to what many historians claim, legislative developments in late nineteenth-century Britain did not construct a legal category of the male homosexual or all male homosexuals as a class. Similarly, science and medicine in Britain did not construct a pathologised category of the homosexual. These disciplines distinctively eschewed attempts to develop inversion theorization and rejected Continental developments in this field. This notwithstanding, historians have emphasised that the legal-medical classification of male homosexuality prevalent in Britain in the 1950s originated in the late nineteenth century. The concept of the male homosexual pathology or normality amongst many British doctors in the 1950s can be traced to nineteenth-century developments in sex-psychology. This concept amongst British psychiatrists and a grudging acceptance of the ideas of Feud and Ellis, was a development of the years following the Second World. This book has attempted to demonstrate that the pejorative medico-legal construction of modern homosexual identities was a Continental European and North America development, stoutly resisted in Britain. Nineteenth-century British society could not contemplate permitting discussion of the phenomenon, even in pejorative terms, for fear of giving credence and admitting that the phenomenon existed among British men at all. (Brady, Masculinity and Male Homosexuality in Britain 1861-1913, p. 157)
Similar ambivalence is detectable in the attitudes of Britain’s scientific community towards the matter of sexuality between men. In many respects, British scientists had the potential to be at the forefront of the quest to understand the phenomenon in scientific terms. British philosophers ad scientists fostered the intellectual conditions for a science of inversion theorization. The ideas of Malthus and Darwin had a direct effect in stimulating and expanding an already extant scientific enquiry of same-sex sexuality on the Continent. Darwin’s thinking, in particular, provided the analytical basis for the discipline of inversion theorization. However, Continental inversion theorists worked in societies where the milieu of the homosexual was, more or less, acknowledged. The ideas of theorists, such as Ulrichs and Kraft-Ebbing, were controversial, but tolerated and widely disseminated. (Brady, Masculinity and Male Homosexuality in Britain 1861-1913, p. 217)
Urbanization: Rise of cities
Whatever secrets about emerging same-sex roles the molly houses may deliver will come from examining the social conditions involved in London’s rapid growth, from 200,000 in 1600 to slightly less than 600,000 in 1700 and 675,000 by 1750, as a key node for English naval commerce. Despite high mortality and overseas emigration rates, London grew at England’s expense as agrarian enclosures pushed rural plebeians into the city to service the harbour trades. (Shapiro, Of Mollies: Class and same-Sex Sexualities in the Eighteen Century, p. 160 in In a Queer Place Sexuality and belonging in British and European contexts, editors Kate Chedgzoy. Emma Francis, and Murray Pratt.)
By the beginning of the eighteenth century the picture had changed, especially in the capital. In 1700 London had a heterogeneous population of nearly 700,000. There were therefore enough homosexuals to form corteries. They found one another in up to twenty cruising grounds scattered across the town from Wapping to Westminster, making themselves know to each other by signs, such as using handkerchiefs and patting the back of the other’s hand. The convenient assumption disappeared that confirmed sodomites were solitary beings, maybe spawned by the Devil, hardly ever encountered by the majority of the population. In a climate of heightened interest in everything to do with sex, English heterosexuals looked around them and discovered the mollies. The word molly described an effeminate homosexual, who liked dressing up in women’s clothes and was possibly known by a girl’s name Kitty or Mary, or fancifully grand ones such as the Countess of Camomile and the Queen of Bohemia. There were also molly houses, which were not brothels but clubs, some of them with several dozen members who met, in various venues all over town, to hold parties and make love. (Goldsmith, The Worst of Crimes Homosexuality and the Law in Eighteenth-Century London, p. 6)
As a number of critics and historians have shown, the rise of the city increasingly provided a network large enough for secret sex to become organized. G. S. Rousseau (1985:143) has pointed to this expansion within the city, concluding that Earlier the outcry had been directed at the stage as a spawning ground for this detestable breed, but in the 1720s, the fields for breeding has diversified. The fear of the increased occurrences of sodomy (among other vices) led to the creation of societies for the reformation of manners and the Society for promotion of Christian Knowledge. These were to play an active role in bringing sodomy to light in a range of prosecutions at the beginning of the eighteenth century. They published manuals for the collection of information and the presentation of it to magistrates in such a way as to guarantee prosecution (Norton 1992; Bristrow 1977). (McCormick editor, Secret Sexualities A Sourcebook of 17th and 18th Century Writing, p. 51-52)
London had undergone massive expansion in the seventeen century, and by 1700 had a population of around 600,000, twenty times more than the next largest town in England. By the time on the raid on the White Swan in 1813, one and a quarter million people lived in the city. This meant that a greater degree of anonymity could be maintained as men moved between places and identities. The growth of the city also meant there were increasing numbers of men who might take part in homosexual activities, allowing a subcultural network to become more organized and integrated into city life – and for a series of places to gain a reputation for their popularity with Mollies and sodomites. (Cook, London and the Culture of Homosexuality, 1885-1914, p. 9-10)
Homosexual behaviour was thus incorporated into the visual economy of the city during the eighteen century. Parks, churchyards, places of commercial exchange and the Molly clubs were marked out as meeting places, and effeminacy and theatricality observed as defining characteristics of men seeking sex with other men. (Cook, London and the Culture of Homosexuality, 1885-1914, p.12)
The real and fictional paths of Boulton, Park and Saul trod, together with those of the men discussed earlier, indicates an entrenched relationship between the city and homosexuality well before 1885. (Cook, London and the Culture of Homosexuality, 1885-1914, p. 22)
Homosexuality was woven into the fabric of urban culture. Depictions of homosexuality activity involved the centers of leisure and entertainment, spaces of masculine and social reform, and symbols of urban innovation, like stations¸ trains and trams. (Cook, London and the Culture of Homosexuality, 1885-1914, p. 39)
It is remarkable also, in the context of its European neighbours, how little legislative arrangements for punishing sex between men changed in Britain in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. However, British society did experience profound structural transformations during the century. After 1850, Britain became the first predominantly urban society. Britain also was the first industrial nation. (Brady, Masculinity and Male Homosexuality in Britain 1861-1913, p. 27)
Reproach towards sex between men after 1861 was ambivalent and often contradictory. There was an increasing willingness, particularly in urban spaces, to report sexual acts between men to the authorities. Urban dwelling had become, after 1850, the mode of living for the majority of the population. (Brady, Masculinity and Male Homosexuality in Britain 1861-1913, p. 51)
The nineteenth-century urban dweller would undoubtedly have understood the modern meaning of bestiality. Instead, the urban dweller differentiated this crime from sex between men, not through alienation from animals, but for specific social purposes. Tacit awareness of the existence of sexuality between men was widespread in society, particularly amongst urban dwellers, and an established notion before the Stella and Fanny trail in 1987. In a predominately urbanized society that, increasingly, expected men to marry, irrespective of class, there was little room for the toleration of sexual between males. The uxorious focus of masculinity as a social status excluded and characterized masculine traits that threatened its stability. The man, who engaged in sex with other men, was arguably the most destabilizing of all. (Brady, Masculinity and Male Homosexuality in Britain 1861-1913, p. 52)
Metropolitan sodomy indictments did not abate in this period and the earliest evidence of modern homosexual self-making emanates from these years, so sex and sexuality between men clearly did not disappear. (Brady, Masculinity and Male Homosexuality in Britain 1861-1913, p. 53)
The Times reporting of cases of unnatural crime throughout the 1860s provides valuable insights into the level of understanding of sex between men, at least amongst its journalists and readership. Also, the participants in the reported trials tended to be among the lower or middling social ranks, indicating understanding of sex between men lower down on the social scale and a willingness to report incidents to the authorities. The Times demonstrate no discernable pattern in the reporting of unnatural crime in the 1860s other than that the abhorred unnatural crime referred exclusively to sex between men. (Brady, Masculinity and Male Homosexuality in Britain 1861-1913, p. 63)
However, there are fundamental problems in the research and analysis of the development in legal control of sex between men in nineteenth-century. Significant recent specialist works, such as Cock’s, challenges the assumptions inherent in Cohen’s and Weeks’ studies, that prosecutions of sex between men somehow exploded in proportion and meaning in the late 1880s. Cock demonstrates that sodomy indictments in England increased significantly after 1800 and that the interpretation of sodomy in urban indictments meant, almost exclusively, sexuality between men throughout the nineteenth century. (Brady, Masculinity and Male Homosexuality in Britain 1861-1913, p. 86)
This chapter confirms Cock’s basic argument and critically examines the research and interpretation offered by Cohen and Weeks of the legislative changes surrounding sexuality between men. Both historians present their analysis of legal developments and their implications, in a highly mechanical framework of historical change. (Brady, Masculinity and Male Homosexuality in Britain 1861-1913, p. 86-87)
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