Ten years passed between the publication of the Wolfenden report and the legalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales. The history books usually gloss over that decade, seeming to assume that’s just how long it takes to implement major social reform. Governments aren’t known for acting quickly. (more…)
In 1954, following the high-profile convictions of Lord Montagu, Michael Pitt-Rivers, and Peter Wildeblood for homosexual crimes under the infamous 1885 Labouchere Amendment, and more significantly the turn of public opinion against the prosecutors of that case, the Home Secretary ordered that a committee which had been set up in order to look into the matter of prostitution also consider the criminality of homosexuality. (more…)
The 1950s was a dark decade for queer Englishmen. Between 1945 and 1955, arrests for “gross indecency” soared to over 2,500 a year, with an average of 1,000 men being incarcerated annually. It was a marked increase, seen by many as a targeted persecution, and became known as the “gay pogrom.” Those who believe that narrative trace the cause to the huge number of servicemen, freshly discharged from the war with nowhere to go, unable to find work. (more…)
The concept of romantic friendships has been around since before the days when Plato gave his name to loving somebody without involving sex. To the Greeks (or at least the Athenian Greeks), it was a model of virtue and purity to which many aspired, and classically-educated Europeans for centuries after strove to emulate.
Today, the England of the past has a reputation for stuffiness and repression which the men and women living at the time would struggle to recognise. Partly because homosexuality as a concept and identity didn’t exist until the latter half of the nineteenth century, men in particular were much more tactile and affectionate with each other than, well, today. (more…)
Science is, at its heart, the pursuit of pure knowledge. The earliest sexologists were scientists, working towards an understanding of human sexuality. They were remarkable, in a period now best remembered as oppressive and puritanical, for the objectivity with which they approached their subject. Sexologists like Ellis and Symonds took pains not to cast moral judgment on the men and women they studied: indeed, as their careers progressed they often advocated for legal and medical change on behalf of their subjects. They were among the first campaigners for LGBT rights, and some of the most influential. (more…)
Pretty much everything we know and think we understand today about human sexuality has its origins in the science of sexology, which emerged in Europe in the mid-to-late-nineteenth century. While books about sex have existed through the ages, they generally took manual form — like the Kama Sutra — and were concerned only with the act of sex, and how to have it. (more…)
Although we’ve already discussed that “homosexuality” as a concept didn’t exist prior to the 1860s, queer men have been noted across all countries and societies since the dawn of recorded time. Often, those men migrated towards each other, forming their own subcultures. While the idea that a person’s sexual orientation predisposes them to conform to a certain overall type is relatively recent (and ludicrous: there is no single “gay experience,” although the notion has a pleasing homogeneity which has been effectively used in recent years to win emancipation in the West), there were still various stereotypes through the ages of how queerfolk were supposed to act. (more…)
As part of my Master’s dissertation, I examined instances of the word “sodomy” in the Burney Collection, a database of seventeenth and eighteenth-century newspaper archives named for its curator, the Rev. Charles Burney. My studies focused on the years 1730-1770, and left me with a wealth of short, fascinating articles which I’ve kept hold of ever since, looking for the right time and place to share them.
Mother Clap’s molly house — a tavern for sodomites — was raided in February 1726, resulting in the arrest of forty men. Over subsequent months of the same year, more molly houses were raided. Despite the taverns having rooms with beds available to their patrons, none of the men arrested had been caught in compromising positions (although more than a handful were discovered with their breeches undone), and most were released without charge. (more…)
The Napoleonic Code is the name for a new code of law introduced in France under Napoleon I in 1804, the purpose of which was to replace the patchwork of feudal laws which had previously existed and unify the French legal system under a more democratic form of rule. Most notably, the code prohibited birthright privileges, specified that government jobs should go to the most qualified candidates, and established freedom of religion.(more…)
Ancient Greece stands as something of a shorthand whenever we think today of a “history” or even “origin” of homosexual behaviour. On the surface, the correlation is a fair one. There’s enough in the written record — to say nothing of statues, art, and pottery — to convince us that male same-sex sexuality was known and frequently celebrated. To call such conduct “homosexual” as we recognise that meaning today is, however, not only anachronistic, but simply wrong.(more…)