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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, crossdressing 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.

Straights Go Gay

On the anniversary of the reform that (partially) decriminalised male homosexuality Mark Simpson argues Wolfenden would have been horrified by what has happened. To heteros 

(The Guardian, 30/7/07)

Sometimes you can estimate the popularity of a thing by its illegality. Illegal drugs, for example are extremely popular, even with Cabinet Ministers. In the 18th Century when starvation was rather more common than it is now, stealing bread was punishable by death. And before July 1967 all forms of sexual contact between males whether in private or public were completely illegal.

But contrary to the current depiction of that time as one of total persecution and horror of man-lurve, there may have been even more of it around than there is now. Something which may be difficult to believe possible, especially if you live in Brighton.

Joe Orton’s and Tom Driberg’s diaries offer a glimpse of a pre ’67 world where homosexual encounters were as available and convenient as public lavatories used to be. Matt Houlbrook’s recent history ‘Queer London’ shone a Bobby’s torch behind the pre-Wolfenden bushes illuminating an illicit (homo)sexual economy that involved queers, queans and rather a lot of sailors, soldiers, young workingmen – and sailors again – most of whom who were not themselves queer.

Just a few years ago it emerged that the Navy hastily abandoned a witch-hunt into sodomy in its ranks in the 1960s when it became apparent that ‘at least 50% have sinned homosexually.’ When ‘Dr Sex’ alias Alfred Kinsey visited the UK in the ‘repressed’ 1950s he found that one in five men admitted an adult same-sex experience – only a slightly lower figure than those admitting visiting a female prostitute.

Male homosexuality and female prostitution may seem odd bedfellows today, but it wasn’t always so: they were once the mainstays of recreational sex. Ironically, the word ‘gay’, today’s preferred carefree term for ‘homosexual’, was in the England of Oscar Wilde a euphemism for ‘whore’. The Wolfenden Committee set up to investigate possible reform of the impressive array of laws against male-on-male sex after the Montagu Scandal of 1953 – and which ultimately led to the 1967 reform – was also an enquiry into prostitution (and actually stiffened the laws against it). Wolfenden was effectively an enquiry into better ways of regulating the ‘problem’ of sex outside marriage.

And in pre-Pill, pre-Beatles, pre-feminist, pre-alcopop England where good girls didn’t put out, the problem with homosex was that it was free sex. Quentin Crisp and the Dilly queans excepted, queers generally didn’t expect to be paid, nor, back then, given a white wedding. What’s more, in the 1950s they were likely the only enthusiastic players of the hairy oboe in town. No wonder they were so popular at closing time.

Wolfenden didn’t dispute the ‘immorality’ of homosex but argued that the Law should not criminalise ‘congenital inverts’ – homosexuals who couldn’t help their homosexuality – so long as they conducted themselves with domesticated discretion. Instead the Law should focus its attentions more usefully on the ‘real perverts’ – the ‘otherwise normal men’ who took part in the semi-public homo demi-monde for cheap thrills and no-apron-strings sex.

This philosophy was etched into law. When decriminalisation came in 1967, the ‘over 21′ stipulation, the exemption of the Armed Forces, the hygienic insistence on ‘in private’ – not in a locked public toilet cubicle, not in a park at night, not in a hotel or boarding room, not in a prison cell, not in your own house if someone else was present (even if downstairs watching Songs of Praise) saw to it that most of the non gay men involved in gay sex would remain outlaws (including ‘at least half’ of the randy Royal Navy). Gay sex seems to have been considered such an irresistible, inflammatory temptation that it still had to be generally proscribed.

Even the Montagu scandal that originally sparked the reform would still have been a scandal after 1967 as it involved Airmen and was not in private. Cottaging convictions also doubled in the decade after ‘decriminalisation’. In a sense, the Wolfenden reforms decriminalised being homosexual but not homosexuality.

Forty years on these proscriptions have been dropped and the law has lost interest in trying to quarantine homosexuality. But then, apparently, so have straight men lost interest in having sex with other men. Hardly surprising though, since today even receiving a drunken blow job from another male means you have to move to Soho and have your own float at Pride.

Nevertheless, ‘gay sex’ is now clearly even more popular with non-gays than it was in the illicit 1950s. In a development that would have horrified Wolfenden, women have entered the public houses and, with gusto, the sexual fray. Sex outside marriage and Biblically-sanctified orifices has become almost compulsory. Men can now have ‘gay’ – no baby, no strings, no fee, no gag-reflex – sex with women. Often in nightclub toilets.

In this metrosexual world of straight gayness, dogging has replaced cottaging, swinging parties and ‘roastings’ have replaced a quiet night in the Dog and Duck, and fashionable female bisexuality has replaced synchronised swimming.

The ‘real perverts’ of the 1950s, far from being beaten down, have taken over.

This essay is collected in ‘Metrosexy: A 21st Century Self-Love Story’

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