Homosexual acts and someone’s sexuality were very much a secret throughout the 18th and 19th century, for safety purposes at the very least. It wasn’t until scandal hit the truth came out. Then it was the act of buggery that was the scandal, not someone’s sexuality. Places such as Molly houses only came to light when raids and ultimately court cases occurred.
One young man: Thomas White was only 16 when he was sentence to the gallows, spending a year in prison beforehand. White was literate, some ‘diaries’ were seized belonging to him. In these diaries he wrote about a gent who lived with his ‘wife’ and family, when in London used to stay at the Molly house for days at a time, almost like using them as hotels.
Molly houses were also a safe haven for young men who by todays standards may think themselves as transgender, but these men again would be sentenced for the act of buggery, not for being transgender, as no one really understood this in the west at this point.
Also looking back it wasn’t clear who was truly homosexual and who would consider themselves as bisexual, due to many homosexual men marrying to carry on the blood lines and keeping up appearances. Such an admittance would ruin yourself and others round you. Naturally it would be easier for bisexual and gay men to marry, have ‘affairs’ with men at this point in history.
We also know that it was common for straight men to use prostitutes prolifically due to the amount of prostitutes in London, which was a bigger issue of the day. Some didn’t view it exactly like that.
One in five women were known to be prostitutes in London in this time period, the highest in Europe. Heterosexual prostitution and brothels were very visible, unlike homosexual ‘Molly houses’ and gay brothels, only becoming known when raided by the police.
There was also a very big problem with child prostitution. It is known that young girls could have their virginity sold at a high price. The age of consent was 12 at one point, raising up to 13 and ultimately 16 in 1885.
However there was a brief period in Victorian times when homosexual and trans females who would day to day have to live life as Victorian males were becoming more visible, just before the changed of law in 1885. This didn’t mean that they were not subjected to prosecution as many were. It was also the period when hangings were replaced with lifetime imprisonment and pillories had already been outlawed for all.
Granted it was a dangerous time for gay, transgender and bisexual men, it was also clear that these men had to hide or risk prosecution. When the law was changed in 1885 matters got worse, as this law meant that anyone who was caught (and not always caught in the act) could be sentenced for any homosexual act that the courts deemed ‘gross indecent’. Under this law it made prosecution easier. It also made blackmail common place. In fact the Amendement was known to be called the blackmailers charter.
Its easy to understand why there is not many accounts of bisexuality through this time period, because the lack of understanding about sexuality. Similar to transgender, similar to homosexuality. It was a clear case of blurred lines. Something we can learn from now its clear how vast the gender and sexual spectrum truly is, understanding more about the needs of others in our LGBT family.
Taking this a stage further, it is only recently that asexuality as become to the forefront. No one really understanding or knowing what asexuality was. Thanks to the birth of the Internet and pioneers such as David Jay who felt frustrated about the lack of knowledge out there and so created AVEN the first asexual website, more knowledge is out there and more openness as emerged since
I found this article very interesting.
Its worth also remembering that termology was much different over time. A good example is the use of the bisexual. Although Bisexual and Pansexual where both coined in the early part of the 20th century it was not untill the 1970s that bisexual was beginning to become popular and much later for Pansexual. That of cause doesn’t mean that bisexuals were not active when looking at lgbt activistm, far from it.
Opening our eyes up to the issues of the past will help us to define where we wish to be in the future.