"'The most pressing problem'" for homosexuals in early- to mid-eighteenth -century England: 'not physical persecution; in the end only a minority had to face that. It was rather in the confusion and guilt that had to be faced in the conflict between homosexual desire and the manifest disapproval of the world about the frightened individual.'"1

--Alan Bray's observation from Homosexuality in Renaissance England


More men were prosecuted for sodomy between 1700 and 1850 than any other time in the previous 600 years. Much of this was due not only to the strict religious climate (Catholicism considered sodomy to be a sin), but also because of the threat that the heterosexual population felt that the homosexual minority posed. Particularly after 1730, the male reputation was dependent on one's ability to prove that he was strictly attracted to women. While whoremongering could be extremely damaging to a man's reputation, it was considered to be better for a man to be known as a whoremonger (thus, a practicing heterosexual), rather than to be suspicioned as being a homosexual.

Sodomy was considered a crime both against society and against religion. Both considered sodomy as socially/sexually deviant because of the Catholic belief that sex should be for procreative reasons, and therefore, it should be performed solely with a women. Incidentally, masturbation was also discouraged and often linked to a man's possible sexual ambiguity. Masturbation was often taught to a boy between the ages of eleven and seventeen by an older brother, within a circle of friends, by a servant or by an older man/acquaintance. The homo-erotic and homo-social undertones of the teaching of boys in the art of masturbation caused fears about influencing a young boy towards a homosexual preference because, in order for a boy to learn the act, he had to be taught by another man. Because of its fears, 18th-century England attempted to make both sodomy and masturbation equally taboo so that "an exclusive adult heterosexuality would eventually be achieved in which neither his own penis, nor the penis of another boy, but only a woman's body became the source of all sexual excitement in an adult man." 2

Adolescent boys had to be conditioned by these taboos to inevitably choose heterosexuality over any other lifestyle. They were told stories about the disgusting practices and habits of sodomites, and socially judged by their reactions towards adult men who tried to seduce them.

"Popular perceptions, at least about the existence of a homosexual underworld, were in fact correct. In Italy and Spain sodomitical subcultures seemed to be flourishing by the fifteenth century; in London, the Netherlands, and France strong evidence for the existence of such fully formed subcultures appears in the late seventeenth century. Most evidence supports the probability that a distinct homosexual subculture had existed in many large European cities by 1650. By 1700 in London, Amsterdam, and Paris such subcultures could claim defined meeting places--parks, latrines, public arcades and certain taverns." 3

Homosexuals could also meet in molly houses for finding sexual partners or for homoerotic social interaction.

Despite the prosperity of molly houses, homosexual men did live in long-term relationships and practiced monogamy.

Many people believed that homosexuals of the time had a specific manner of dress. Sodomites often dressed fashionably, not unlike aristocrats--with extravagant attire. This "mocking" of aristocrats spawned further ill-will towards sodomites. "The reaction of the populace to fashionably dressed nobles was, however, often quite different from its reaction to fashionably dressed sodomites: 'to people of the lower classes, a noble--powdered, pomaded, refined--was both elegant and effeminate,' but 'if someone on a lower scale...assumed this costume...not only did he betray his social condition, but in addition, his effeminacy, by losing its accepted associations with elegance and the upper class, became an indication of the wearer's real effeminacy'" (Michel Rey, "Police and Sodomy in Eighteenth-Century Paris: From Sin to Disorder," in The Pursuit of Sodomy: Male Homosexuality in Renaissance and Enlightenment Europe). 4 Some people believed that this form of attire signified the corruption of aristocracy, ignoring the fact that homosexuals came from a variety of social classes.

There were a few unique risks of being homosexual or of being perceived as being homosexual in this society. Documented criminal cases detail sodomites in their attempts to seduce boys, or to solicit sex from other men. Homosexuals or men with effeminate characteristics could often be blackmailed--extortionists would threaten to publicly expose men of being sodomites (often claiming that the victim had approached them in an inappropriate manner) unless a certain sum of money was paid.

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