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How to Spot a Sodomite

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

“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 cooperative 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.