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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.

Slick Willy – A Bite-Sized History of Fellatio

Mark Simpson on why God gave (most) men backbones longer than their penis

Once upon a time, becoming a rock star was the only way a young male could be assured of getting free blow-jobs from females. This, not private jets or yachts or tax havens or leather trousers is the reason why so many young men aspired to be Mick Jagger.

Or so it was until Monica Lewinsky got under President Clinton’s desk to do some French polishing, and the Oval Office became the Oral Office. Since then, teenage boys everywhere are practising making speeches, shaking hands with bewildered people in shopping malls and kissing babies

Fellatio is the way to a man’s, well, if not exactly heart then at least his gratitude. Even if, as many women will tell you, men are not always grateful enough to actually return the favour. The ‘sixty-eight’, or I’ll owe you one’, is apparently a very popular position with straight men. (Come to think of it, it’s a very popular position with me.)

But learn to suppress your gag reflex and you will be invited to all the best parties, even if no one will share your glass.

Most sex surveys show that the favourite sexual practice for straight men is receiving head. This is slightly odd, since it’s not ‘normal’ – it’s passive and it’s perverse. Not to mention lazy. Biblically speaking, oral sex is ‘sodomy’ as it doesn’t make babies. Legally speaking, oral sex of any kind was until very recently technically an offence under the Puritan anti-sodomy laws of many US States. J. Edgar Hoover apparently kept a list of public figures who were suspected of engaging in ‘oro-genital’ contact because he considered it a sign of subversiveness – and in case he found himself at a loose end of a Saturday night.

To some people a bit of a lick round the family heirlooms can be more shocking than other, more pungent perversities. After a surprisingly frank sex education class for the 1970s, in which we’d been told ‘what gays do in bed’, including ‘sucking one another’s penises’ (I think our biology teacher had a bizarre view of homosexuality as some kind of mutuality), my best school chum Jim, sputtered: ‘It’s so, so, so… dirty! I mean, I can understand putting it up someone’s arsehole,’ he said shaking his head in disbelief, ‘but… THAT!

Looking back on it, his remarks made a certain kind of sense. Willies are dirty, bums are dirty, so: a bum + a willy = something still dirty. On the other hand, mouths are supposed to be clean, so a mouth + a willy = angry mummy.

Perhaps it was the ‘now wash your hands’ dirtiness of pee-pees that caused the lad that used to toss me off in the Fifth Year in a darkened deserted Geography classroom every Tuesday afternoon after Games to make an intriguing offer. ‘I’ll suck it for you next time,’ he promised, in response to my increasingly frantic suggestions. ‘But only,’ he added, ‘if you bring some toothpaste to put on it.’ Maybe I just hadn’t yet got the hang of foreskin hygiene. Whatever, to this day I still get an erection every time I brush my teeth.

The idea of what is natural and what is perverse is not always as obvious as a knob in your gob. In Renaissance Florence they encouraged their citizens to denounce one another for crimes against God and Nature anonymously on bits of paper slipped into a ‘sodomy box’ (today, of course, this would be the name of a fashionable restaurant). Tens of thousands of denunciations were made every year. Apparently most of the population of Florence, male and female, was accused at some time or other. Clearly Renaissance Florence was a little bit like being in today’s US Republican Party.

Some academic who doesn’t get out much has spent years sifting through the records and discovered that there was a hierarchy of sodomy back then. Interestingly, and contrary to the mores that hold sway today (Presidents excepted), it was thought a greater offence and shame to receive a blowjob than to give one – whatever the sex of the participants. Being a suckee rather than a sucker is what really sucked.

Gore Vidal would have agreed. He mocked the fond notion that the sailor receiving a bj from a fag is in control. In fact, Vidal observes, the ‘subservient’ fag literally has the sailor on the tip of his tongue. And this is a very vulnerable position to find yourself in, bearing in mind how sharp the tongues of fags in general – and Gore Vidal’s in particular – can be.

Interestingly, until the Seventies, homosexuals in the US tended to be known as ‘cocksuckers’. Which suggests that a) American women were even less interested in playing the hairy oboe in those days than they are now, and that b) fags were probably much more popular after closing time than they are today – ‘cocksucker’ being less a term of abuse perhaps than a user’s guide.

The great and incontrovertible truth of oral sex that many find difficult to swallow is that no man, however adamantly hetero he may be, would turn down the opportunity to suck his own penis. Which is, of course, exactly why God placed it where most men can’t reach it with their own mouth. Homosexuality is a sin because it’s a form of cheating. Getting your cock sucked isn’t supposed to be so easy.

In his Infinite Wisdom Our Lord gave every man except Jeff Stryker a penis shorter than his backbone to make sure that men expended an awful lot of energy doing other things to get blow jobs, things that would seem rather daft and pointless otherwise, but without which the world would be a duller place. Things like rock ‘n’ roll, politics, cunnilingus and odd-jobs around the home.

If homosexuality hadn’t been discouraged, most of human history would have been nothing more than a man leaning against the wall in the back-room of a gay bar in San Francisco with his leather flies unbuttoned.

This 1998 essay was collected in Mark Simpson’s Sex Terror: Erotic Misadventures in Pop Culture

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