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Remapping the Sites of Modern Gay History: Legal Reform, Medico-Legal Thought, Homosexual Scandal, Erotic Geography

  • Joseph Bristow
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1 Foucault, Michel, The History of Sexuality, vol. 1, An Introduction, trans. Hurley, Robert (New York, 1978), 45. While Foucault published two more volumes in his History of Sexuality, his project remained incomplete at the time of his death in 1984. Much of Foucault's critique of inquiries that uphold the idea of the “triple edict of taboo, nonexistence, and silence” during the Victorian period has a particular target in mind. He is critical of Freudian, Steven Marcus's study of pornography, The Other Victorians: A Study of Sexuality and Pornography in Mid-Nineteenth-Century England (New York, 1966). In this study, Marcus discloses how and why Victorian pornography reveals the supposedly repressive sexual climate of the age. Foucault accordingly introduces volume 1 of his History with a section titled “We ‘Other Victorians’” (3–13). His point is to demystify the belief that “we continue to be dominated … even today” by a repressive “Victorian regime” that produced “our restrained, mute, and hypocritical sexuality” (3).

2 Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky, Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (New York, 1985); Dollimore, Jonathan, Sexual Dissidence: Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault (Oxford, 1991); Sinfield, Alan, The Wilde Century: Effeminacy, Oscar and the Queer Moment (New York, 1994); Dellamora, Richard, Masculine Desire: The Sexual Politics of Victorian Aestheticism (Chapel Hill, NC, 1990); and Dowling, Linda, Hellenism and Homosexuality in Victorian Oxford (Ithaca, NY, 1994). All of these writings, to varying degrees, engage both respectfully and critically with Weeks's and Foucault's works. Dellamora's Masculine Desire, for example, opens by discussing both of these scholars’ writings.

3 Weeks, Jeffrey, Coming Out: Homosexual Politics in Britain, from the Nineteenth Century to the Present (London, 1977), 27. A second edition of Weeks's book, which includes a new chapter on the 1980s, appeared from the same publisher in 1990.

4 Ibid., 1.

6 Foucault, Introduction, 34.

7 Weeks, Jeffrey, Making Sexual History (Cambridge, 2000), 8.

8 See McIntosh, Mary, “The Homosexual Role,” Social Problems 16, no. 2 (1968): 182–91; and Altman, Dennis, Homosexual: Oppression and Liberation (New York, 1971).

9 Foucault, Introduction, 43.

11 Ibid., 18, 154–55.

12 D. H. Lawrence, quoted in ibid., 157.

13 Weeks, Coming Out, 95.

14 Johnson, Pam, “Edith Simcox and Heterosexism in Biography: A Lesbian-Feminist Exploration,” in Not a Passing Phase: Reclaiming Lesbians in History, 1840–1985, ed. Lesbian History Group (London, 1989), 62.

15 Vicinus, Martha, Intimate Friends: Women Who Loved Women, 1778–1928 (Chicago, 2004), 32.

16 Weeks, Jeffrey, “Discourse, Desire and Sexual Deviance: Some Problems in the History of Homosexuality,” in The Making of the Modern Homosexual, ed. Plummer, Kenneth (London, 1982), 102. See also Weeks, , “Foucault for Historians,” History Workshop Journal 14 (1982): 106–19.

17 Weeks, “Discourse, Desire and Sexual Deviance,” 103.

18 Cocks, H. G., Nameless Offences: Homosexual Desire in the Nineteenth Century (London, 2003), 7.

20 Ibid., 6.

22 Ibid., 20.

23 Ibid. 48.

24 Cook, Matt, London and the Culture of Homosexuality, 1885–1914 (Cambridge, 2003), 5.

26 Symonds, John Addington, “To Havelock Ellis” (July 1891), in The Letters of John Addington Symonds, ed. Schueller, Herbert M. and Peters, Robert L., 3 vols. (Detroit, 1967–69), 3:587.

27 Cook, London, 44.

28 Weeks, Coming Out, 22.

29 Brady, Sean, Masculinity and Male Homosexuality in Britain, 1861–1913 (Basingstoke, UK, 2005), 93.

30 Weeks, Coming Out, 16, and Sex, Politics and Society: The Regulation of Sexuality since 1800 (Harlow, UK, 1981), 103.

31 Brady, Masculinity and Male Homosexuality, 93–94. Brady notes that the silence in The Times was likely precipitated by the overexposure of the scandal featuring cross-dressers Ernest Boulton and Frederick Park in 1870–71. I return to Brady's and other recent analyses of the arrest, arraignment, and trial of Boulton and Park below.

32 See Foucault, Introduction, 17–35.

33 Weeks's comments on the Home Office files appear in Sex, Politics and Society, 102.

34 Houlbrook, Matt, Queer London: Perils and Pleasures in the Sexual Metropolis, 1918–1957 (Chicago, 2005), 242.

36 Ibid., 245. All of these observations complement the astute analysis that Frank Mort made in 1980 about the ways in which the 1967 act constructed “a new type of homosexual subject, understood as operating in the private sphere; a subject who in matters of sexuality and morality is defined as consenting, privatised and person-focused.” While Mort recognizes that it is in the interests of sexual minorities to defend the rule of reformist legislation, he also stresses that gay people should not be “‘transfixed’ by its operation.” See Mort, Frank, “Sexuality: Regulation and Contestation,” in Homosexuality: Power and Politics, ed. Gay Left Collective (London, 1980), 43, 41.

37 Houlbrook, Queer London, 271.

39 Ibid., 265.

40 Houlbrook takes “homosex” as “an amalgam” that “indicates sexual activities of various sorts between two males” from Howard, John, Men like That: A Southern Queer History (Chicago, 2001), xviii. One trusts that the term might describe participation in all-male group sex as well.

41 Houlbrook, Queer London, 36.

42 These figures appear in Waters, Chris, “Disorders of the Mind, Disorders of the Body Social: Peter Wildeblood and the Making of the Modern Homosexual,” in Moments of Modernity: Rethinking Britain, 1945–1964, ed. Conekin, Becky, Mort, Frank, and Waters, Chris (London, 1999), 137.

43 Croft-Cooke, Rupert, The Verdict of You All (London, 1955), 26, 151, reprinted in Waters, “Disorders of the Mind, Disorders of the Body Social,” 266.

44 Houlbrook, Queer London, 14.

45 Ibid., 36.

46 It is valuable to compare Leslie J. Moran's comments on how critics might connect the rise in arrests in the years leading up to reform and changes in policing practices, since this topic preoccupied the Wolfenden Committee. As Moran says, “many factors were at play in the statistical representation of homosexuality.” Such factors included “the intensity of the ups and downs of public indignation or pubic annoyance caused by the behaviour of the offenders” and “the outlook of senior police offices.” See Moran, Leslie J., The Homosexual(ity) of Law (London, 1996), 199–20. Moran's discussion is not confined to the policing of London.

47 Houlbrook, Queer London, 37.

48 Moran, The Homosexual(ity) of Law, 22–28, 48–59, and 102–17; Waters, “Disorders of the Mind, Disorders of the Body Social”; and Mort, Frank, “Mapping Sexual London: The Wolfenden Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution, 1954–1957,” New Formations 37 (1999): 92113.

49 Mort is quoting Wildeblood's testimony to the Wolfenden Committee (“Notes of a Meeting,” 24 May 1955, National Archives, Public Record Office, Home Office, 345/13, 1–4), in “Mapping Sexual London,” 109. Waters makes a comparable point about Wildeblood's disidentification with effeminate queers in Against the Law (“Disorders of the Mind, Disorders of the Body Social,” 146–47).

50 Mort, “Mapping Sexual London,” 110.

51 Ibid., 101.

52 Cook, London, 7.

53 Ibid., 85.

54 Ibid., 91. Cook implies that the exclusive Cannibal Club was a feature of the 1880s; by comparison, Dane Kennedy points out that the club was “at its height” in 1865 in The Highly Civilized Man: Richard Burton and the Victorian World (Cambridge, MA, 2005), 170.

55 Brady, Masculinity and Male Homosexuality, 11.

56 Ibid., 8.

57 Foucault, Introduction, 43.

60 Halperin, David M., “Forgetting Foucault: Acts, Identities, and the History of Sexuality,” Representations 63 (1998): 97.

62 Brady, Masculinity and Male Homosexuality, 14.

63 This was a translation of the seventh German edition undertaken by C. G. Chaddock and published by F. A. Davis & Co., Philadelphia and London.

64 Weeks, Coming Out, 26.

66 It is interesting to see that Oosterhuis's study of Krafft-Ebing's sexual radicalism objects to Weeks's apparent belief that doctors were “powerful agents in the organisation, and potential control, of the sexual behaviors they sought to regulate” (Oosterhuis, Harry, Stepchildren of Nature: Krafft-Ebing, Psychiatry, and the Making of Sexual Identity [Chicago, 2000], 7). What Oosterhuis fails to observe is that in the same sentence that he has quoted from Sex, Politics and Society, Weeks takes care to note that the “early sexologists” were “by and large … also conscious sex reformers” (145). On this basis, it looks as if Brady has taken on trust Oosterhuis's somewhat selective criticism of Weeks's thoroughgoing understanding of how sexologists could both pathologize and affirm homosexual identities.

67 Weeks, Making Sexual History, 32.

68 Elsewhere, Brady finds it convenient to talk loosely about “historians in the Weeks/Foucault tradition” who “argue that ‘homosexual identity’ was constructed by medical and legal classifications of this ‘species’ of abnormal male in the late nineteenth century” (Masculinity and Male Homosexuality, 40).

69 Ibid., 13, 159.

70 Ibid., 22.

71 Ibid. Tosh, as I mention below, discusses “hegemonic masculinity” in his Manliness and Masculinities in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Harlow, UK, 2005), 44, 45. Connell, R. W. expounds the concept in Masculinities (Berkeley, 1995), 7778.

72 Brady, Masculinity and Male Homosexuality, 23.

73 Ibid., 28. Tosh advances his innovative argument in A Man's Place: Masculinity and the Middle-Class Home in Victorian England (New Haven, CT, 1999).

74 Tosh, Manliness and Masculinities, 44.

75 Ibid., 45.

77 Brady, Masculinity and Male Homosexuality, 81.

78 Ibid., 82.

79 Ibid., 89. Douglas's famous phrase first appeared in his poem, “Two Loves,” in Francis, John Bloxam's homophile journal The Chameleon (Oxford, 1894), reprinted in Reade, Brian, ed., Sexual Heretics: Male Homosexuality in English Literature from 1850 to 1900 (London, 1970), 162.

80 Cook, London, 5–6.

81 Jackson, Holbrook, The Eighteen-Nineties: A Review of Art and Ideas at the Close of the Nineteenth Century (London, 1913; repr., London, 1926), 116.

82 Weeks, Coming Out, 47.

83 Ibid., 48. Smith, Timothy d’Arch, Love in Earnest: Some Notes on the Lives and Writings of English “Uranian” Poets from 1889 to 1930 (London, 1970).

84 Cook's position counters the immense amount of scholarship on the Wilde scandal—which began in 1911 with the first purported transcript of the trial, intensified in 1948 with H. Montgomery Hyde's derivative version of the events, and then flourished when Richard Ellmann published his fine but flawed biography of the Irish author in 1987. Ellmann, While's biography, Oscar Wilde (London, 1987), remains the definitive work of its kind; it follows in a long tradition of mythmaking and error-ridden speculative studies of Wilde's personal and professional life. There are numerous errors of fact in Oscar Wilde, as Schroeder, Horst has shown in Additions and Corrections to Richard Ellmann's Oscar Wilde, 2nd ed. (Braunschweig, 2002).

85 Cook, London, 52.

87 Cocks, Nameless Offences, 105.

88 The Boulton and Park scandal has absorbed a great deal of scholarly energy during the past twenty years. Neil Bartlett was the first to examine in detail the trial transcript held at the Public Record Office (together with press reports) in Who Was That Man? A Present for Mr. Oscar Wilde (London, 1988). Cook provides a cogent summary of the scandal surrounding the arraignment of Boulton and Park (London, 15–18). Morris B. Kaplan, as I clarify below, has recently offered by far the most thoroughly documented account of the scandal to date in Sodom on the Thames: Sex, Love, and Scandal in Wilde Times (Ithaca, NY, 2005), 19101.

89 Cocks, Nameless Offences, 106.

90 Sinfield recognizes Weeks's more qualified assertions. When debating Weeks's and Bartlett's reflections on the Boulton and Park trial, he suggests that “it does not follow that the courts were able to recognize this behaviour”—i.e., interpret cross-dressing as a sign of homosexual identity. Importantly, Sinfield concludes that when we read about the trial we are faced with a possible indeterminacy whereby “some people heard same-sex passion loud and clear, whereas others could not conceive of it.” Sinfield certainly does not give unqualified support to Bartlett's belief that through the acquittal “the existence of a homosexual subculture was effectively denied.” See Sinfield, The Wilde Century, 7–8; and Bartlett, Who Was That Man? 148.

91 Weeks, Sex, Politics and Society, 101.

92 Weeks, Coming Out, 14.

93 Ibid., 37.

94 Cocks, Nameless Offences, 113.

95 Upchurch, Charles, “Forgetting the Unthinkable: Cross-Dressers and British Society in the Case of the Queen vs. Boulton and Others,” Gender and History 12, no. 1 (2000): 142.

96 Ibid., 150.

97 Kaplan, Sodom on the Thames, 96.

98 Cohen, William, Sex Scandal: The Private Parts of Victorian Fiction (Durham, NC, 1996), 96.

99 Ibid., 96.

100 Ibid.

101 Cocks, Nameless Offences, 116.

102 Ibid., 153.

103 Geertz, Clifford, “Thick Description: Toward an Interpretative Theory of Culture,” in The Interpretation of Cultures (New York, 1973), 3–32; Kaplan, Sodom on the Thames, 265, 7.

104 Kaplan, Sodom on the Thames, 6.

105 Ibid., 182. Kaplan is quoting Harris, FrankMy Life and Loves (1922–27; repr., New York, 1991), 640.

106 Kaplan, Sodom on the Thames, 259.

107 Bray, Alan, Homosexuality in Renaissance England (London, 1982); Norton, Rictor, Mother Clap's Molly House: The Gay Subculture of England (London, 1992); and Chauncey, George, Gay New York: The Making of the Gay Male World, 1890–1940 (New York, 1994). Cook acknowledges the significance of these studies (London, 5).

108 Quoted in Cook, London, 17.

109 Ibid., 20.

110 Ibid., 21.

111 Ibid.

112 Ibid., 39.

113 Hirsch's memoir of this episode, which first appeared in his 1934 French edition of the supposedly “correct” edition of Teleny, or the Reverse of the Medal, which had been published in England (and, according to Hirsch, in radically edited form) in 1893 by Leonard Smithers, has been translated by Mendes, Peter (Clandestine Erotic Fiction in English, 1800–1930: A Bibliographical Study [Aldershot, 1993], 447–49).

114 On the myths surrounding the green carnation, see Beckson, Karl, The Oscar Wilde Encyclopedia (New York, 1998), 122–24.

115 Cook, London, 33.

116 On Toynbee Hall, see Maltz, Diana, British Aestheticism and the Urban Working Classes, 1870–1900: Beauty for the People (Basingstoke, UK, 2006), 6797.

117 Quoted in Cook, London, 38.

118 Koven, Seth, Slumming: Sexual and Social Politics in Victorian London (Princeton, NJ, 2004), 63.

119 Ibid., 73.

120 Houlbrook, Queer London, 51.

121 Ibid., 91.

122 Ibid., 92.

123 Ibid.

124 Quoted in Kaplan, Sodom on the Thames, 260.

125 Ibid., 153.

126 Ibid., 163.

127 Ibid., 164.

128 Ibid., 165.

129 Cocks, Nameless Offences, 160.

130 Ibid., 161.

131 Ibid., 186.

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