How to Spot a Sodomite

Mark Simpson reviews some fam­ous Victorian bum holes in Neil McKenna’s Fanny & Stella (the Independent)

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I had never seen any­thing like it before… I do not in my prac­tise ever remem­ber to have seen such an appear­ance of the anus, as those of the pris­on­ers presen­ted.” So test­i­fied Dr Paul in shocked tones at the trial of Frederick Park and Ernest Boulton, two young, cross-dressing clerks charged with sod­omy in 1870 — a crime that then car­ried a pen­alty of a lifetime’s penal servitude.

Park and Boulton had been arres­ted in the Strand Theatre dressed as their coquet­tish, las­ci­vi­ous alter egos Fanny and Stella. The trial of “The Funny He-She Ladies” as the press dubbed them, was the sen­sa­tion of the age. Largely for­got­ten until now, Neil McKenna’s highly read­able recount­ing brings it roar­ing back to life.

According to the med­ical author­it­ies of the day the signs of sod­omy were eas­ily detect­able. A wear­ing away of the rugae around the anus, mak­ing it resemble the female labia. Elongation of the penis, caused by the “trac­tion” of sod­omy. And dila­tion. Dilation was the big­gie. The way one tested for it was by the inser­tion of a pro­fes­sional fin­ger. Repeatedly. If the sphinc­ter failed to show enough res­ist­ance to the learned finger-fucking then you were deal­ing with a sodomite.

The appalled police doc­tor was as we’ve seen con­vinced he had fingered major sod­om­ites. Six more doc­tors lined up to inspect the upraised rectums of Park and Boulton and insert their digits, repeatedly. After two fetid hours, five declared there were no signs of sod­omy to be found on or in either arres­ted anus.

In fact, both Park and Boulton were guilty as pro­ver­bial sin. Their bot­toms had been rogered sense­less by half of London — though, unlike the good doc­tors, their part­ners usu­ally paid. From respect­able middle-class back­grounds they enjoyed work­ing as brazen, hoot­ing cross-dressing pros­ti­tutes in the even­ing, as you do. The single dis­sent­ing doc­tor had a few years earlier treated Park repeatedly for a syph­il­itic sore in his anus.

But because the med­ical prob­ing had pro­duced the oppos­ite med­ical opin­ion to the one hoped for, and because sod­omy was such a ser­i­ous offence (car­ry­ing a pen­alty of life with hard labour) the Attorney-General had to with­draw all charges of actual sod­omy. Instead Boulton and Park were charged with the vaguer but still ser­i­ous catch-all of “con­spir­acy to soli­cit, induce, pro­cure and endeav­our to per­suade per­sons unknown to com­mit buggery”.

Seventeen dresses and gowns; quant­it­ies of skirts and pet­ti­coats; bod­ices and blouses; cloaks and shawls; ladies’ unmen­tion­ables, all a bit whiffy and worse for (work­ing) wear, were paraded through the court as evid­ence. Although cross-dressing was not in itself a crime, and was actu­ally a pop­u­lar form of bur­lesque enter­tain­ment at the time in which both Fanny and Stella had enjoyed some suc­cess, the Victorian state was keen to make the case — presen­ted by Attorney General Sir Robert Collier him­self — that their cross-dressing was part and par­cel of their abom­in­able sod­omy and the “con­fu­sion” of the nat­ural and godly gender order it rep­res­en­ted. The male anus dressed as a vagina. This approach also back­fired, spectacularly.

Digby Seymour for the defence asked the court, “Would young men engaged in the exchange of wicked and accursed embraces put on the dresses of women and go to theatres and pub­lic places for the pur­pose of excit­ing each other to the com­mis­sion of this out­rageous crime?” In other words, the very obvi­ous­ness and shame­less­ness of Stella and Fanny’s (deli­ciously out­rageous) beha­viour was presen­ted as proof that they could not pos­sibly be guilty. Which, in a strange, 20th-century gay pride sense, was sort of true.

But the defence’s ace in the, er, hole was a final, irres­ist­ible appeal to pat­ri­ot­ism. “I trust that you will pro­nounce by your ver­dict,” intoned Digby Seymour, “that London is not cursed with the sins of Sodom, or Westminster tain­ted with the vices of Gomorrah.”

The jury did its duty and the “fool­ish” young men, as their defence termed them, were acquit­ted — hav­ing fooled most of their cus­tom­ers, the doc­tors, the courts and the imper­i­ous Victorian state.

Is There Sex After Marriage?

A remark­ably, refresh­ingly reas­on­able treat­ment of the Spitzer scan­dal and the indis­pens­able social role of pros­ti­tutes by a woman, Minette Marin, in The London Times (if a straight man had writ­ten this he would prob­ably have faced a lengthy free sex ban):

Right up and down the scale, a man can rent a girl a great deal bet­ter and more coöper­at­ive than the woman he lives with. She will be prob­ably be much more sexu­ally exper­i­enced and more accom­plished than most wives too. In plain English, or so I am told by per­fectly nice men, pros­ti­tutes tend to be bet­ter at it. They tend to be younger and more ener­getic. They are also pre­pared to do things which her indoors might draw the line at. Some pros­ti­tutes provide tender lov­ing care, too; the fam­ous madam Cynthia Payne provided her sub­urban cli­ents with com­fort food after the act in the form of poached eggs on toast.

The other awk­ward fact, which most people must know, but some­how prefer to ignore, is that men often prefer sex without a rela­tion­ship. Perhaps that is wrong of them, but one must con­cede that rela­tion­ships can be wear­ing, par­tic­u­larly mar­riage, and some­times a man just wants time out, and sex without strings is clearly a source of great pleas­ure, at least for men. If you were an evol­u­tion­ary bio­lo­gist you might argue that unfettered sex is entirely nat­ural to men. One might at least agree that hogam­ous higam­ous, man seems to be a bit polygamous.

Prostitution, like cruis­ing, is some­thing that makes the insti­tu­tion of mar­riage tol­er­able for many men who oth­er­wise wouldn’t be able to meet its rather exact­ing stand­ards. No strings, slutty sex out­side mar­riage might, for many men, be the only kind of sex there is. For them, sex inside mar­riage is per­haps the abnor­mal­ity. ‘Where they love they do not desire and where they desire they can­not love’, as Dr Freud put it. Such is the nature of much male sexu­al­ity — for which, of course, quite a few women wish to con­demn men as a species.

Gay mar­riage may have had a lot of press lately, along with the con­sol­ing idea that homos are becom­ing home­bod­ies, but what is rather less pub­li­cised is that gay male mar­riage is, by defin­i­tion, a much more ‘real­istic’ arrange­ment than the tra­di­tional vari­ety. Because it involves two men, they usu­ally don’t hold each other up to such exact­ing sexual stand­ards. They can’t kid them­selves — or each other. Truth be told, the easy­going atti­tude of many gay part­ners towards sex out­side the rela­tion­ship — and the use of online cruis­ing sites like Gaydar — would be intol­er­able for most het­ero­sexual women, and many het­ero­sexual men for that matter.

Male cruis­ing pro­duces even more hys­teria and hypo­crisy than pros­ti­tu­tion — when it involves a man mar­ried to a woman. In the midst of all the loudly pro­claimed sanc­ti­mony over Spitzer’s use of call girls, no one is sug­gest­ing that the former NY Governor is obvi­ously a con­gen­ital vis­itor of pros­ti­tutes and this this is the truth of who he is and hence his mar­riage must have been a com­plete sham from day one and in fact his whole life has been a lie.

No, that’s some­thing reserved for Senators bus­ted in dubi­ous air­port rest-room entrap­ments.