The First Argument in favour of Homosexuality
I have decided to begin my chronicle in the year 1749 which saw two pamphlets directly deal with the topic of homosexuality published in England. They both come to very different views on the topic with one of them reflecting popular opinion at the time which was that sodomy, male effeminacy and female and male same-sex relations were immoral. However, the other is the first known argument in favour of homosexuality, published in English.
The first pamphlet I would like to discuss is the one which expressed the contemporary views of homosexuality- ‘Satan’s Harvest Home: or the Present State of Whorecraft, Adultery, Fornication, Procuring, Pimping, Sodomy, And the Game of Flatts, (Illustrated by an Authentick and Entertaining Story) And other Satanic Works, daily propagated in this good Protestant Kingdom.” or ‘Satan’s Harvest’, of which the authorship remains unknown. Satan’s Harvest was not a particularly groundbreaking piece of work. In fact, it plagiarised previous pieces of work and the parts I will be describing are stolen verbatim from a similar pamphlet published in 1731- “Plain Reasons for the Growth of Sodomy”. However, this lack of originality is another reason why I mention this pamphlet. Satan’s Harvest gives us a good picture of what the general perception of homosexuality was at the time and the typical arguments which were being thrown around at the time.
In Satan’s Harvest, the author presents the reasons for the growth of sodomy listing several perceived moral decay in society. The shocking amount of familiarity in many of the reasons it lists reveals just how unoriginal homophobes are with their arguments and the time period they belong in.
Reason 1- “The general Contempt of Learning, and Abuse in the Education of our Youth.”- In the good old days, boys were raised by men to be men. They were taught how to be strong and respect authority and be good Christians. Now, boys are taught to be girls by women. They are weak and spoilt. When they finally settle down with a woman, she will be unsatisfied with him and any children they have will also be weak. Thus men become effeminate under the yoke of female supremacy.
There is a slight argument here that homosexuality is genetic in some way because effeminate men are likely to have effeminate children.
Reason 2- “The Effeminacy of our Men’s Dress and Manners, particularly their Kissing each other.”- The way that some men dress could not be any more feminine. They look like commoners, they comb their hair and they wear makeup. However, the worst thing young men do is kissing one another, just like they do in Italy and France. This normalises male intimacy and should instead be replaced with a handshake which contains “more Friendship than Ten Thousand Kisses could express.” Overall, men should act like men and women should act like women for they are fundamentally different.
Reason 3- “The Italian OPERA’S, and Corruption of the English Stage, and other Publick Diversions.”- Italy is a sinful place where men casually have sex with both men and women. Effeminacy is what allowed the Greeks to fall to Rome and caused the Roman to fall apart themselves. The import of Italian Opera into Great Britain is an import of the sinful ways of Italians and is feminising men. Pantomimes are particularly evil for their extravagance.
Reason 4- “The Persecution of Prudes, and Barbarity of Women one to another.” -Women are not innocent either. Many of them will shame other women for having sex while being hypocritical. A man and woman should raise a child together if they accidentally have one for the sin of letting a child be uncared for is worse than the scandal they may face.
The implication presumably here is that people have homosexual sex in order to avoid the scandal of a pregnancy.
Reason 5- “Of the Game of Flatts.”- Here we are told a story of how in Turkey, women will often bathe together in public baths and fall in love with one another. It then goes on to tell us of an old woman, in Istanbul, who pretends to be a man to marry one of the young women there she had fallen in love with. When she was caught she was drowned by the city officials.
Finally, the pamphlet included a poem which condemns men who dress like women- The Petit Maître- The Little Master. I include it here for you to read-
Tell me, gentle hob’dehoy!
Art thou Girl, or art thou Boy?
Art thou Man, or art thou Ape;
For thy Gesture and thy Shape,
And thy Features and thy Dress,
Such contraries do express:
I stand amaz’d, and at a Loss to know,
To what new Species thou thy Form dost owe?
By thy Hair comb’d up behind,
Thou should’st be of Womankind:
But that damn’d forbidding Face,
Does the charming Sex disgrace;
Man, or Woman, thou art neither;
But a blot, a shame to either:
Nor dare to Brutehood, even to make Pretence;
For Brutes themselves, shew greater Signs of Sense.
By thy Jaws all lank and thin;
By that forc’d unmeaning grin:
Thou appear’st to human Eyes,
Likesome Ape of monst’rous Size;
Yet an Ape thou can’s not be,
Apes are more Adroit than thee;
Thy Odditties so much my Mind perplex,
I neither can define thy Kind or Sex.
Art thou Substance, art thou Shade?
That thus monst’rously array’d,
Walking forth in open Day,
Dost our Senses quite dismay?
Unghastly yet, thou only can’st provoke,
Our Rage, our Detestation, and our Joke.
If thou art a Man, forbear
Thus, this motly Garb to wear;
Do not Reason thus displace,
Do not Man-hood thus disgrace;
But thy Sex by Dress impart,
And appear like what thou art:
Like what thou art, said I, pray pardon me;
I mean, appear like what thou ought’st to be.
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The Pamphlet has several interesting takeaways. Firstly, the pamphlet claims there is a clear link between effeminacy and sodomy. Secondly, the pamphlet claims there is a link to effeminacy and foreign countries. Particularly Catholic countries. Finally, the pamphlet acknowledges the existence of same-sex behaviour between women as well as men. The Pamphlet argues that homosexuality is caused by a society suffering from moral decline.
The next pamphlet is “Ancient and Modern Pederasty Investigated and Exemplify’d”, by Thomas Cannon, which argued in favour of homosexuality. Initially, because of the suppression of the pamphlet at the time following the arrest of Cannon, it was lost to historians. However, many sections of the book were rediscovered by Dr Hal Gladfelder, in 2007, in the court documents of the trail Cannon faced which he has since published.
Firstly, what is Pederesty? Well, it refers to sex between two males with one normally being a minor and was very popular in Roman and Greek society. However, in the context of this book, Cannon used the term Pederesty to refer to all homosexual male sex. This equation of homosexual sex between an older man and a younger teenager with any kind of male homosexual relationship was also present in Satan’s Harvest in which male prostitutes are referred to as Catamites.
Ancient and Modern Pederaty is essentially many writings combined into one book with the overall theme being a defence of male homosexuality. Much of the book covers pederasty in Romans and Greek society(European societies have been obsessed with trying to emulate them ever since the fall of the Western Roman Empire)and I will discuss his writings below:
Cannon translates two conversations from Dialogues of the Gods, by Lucian of Samosata. The first is a conversation between, Ganymede and Jupiter (Zeus) in which Jupiter wooes Ganymede. The second conversation is between Juno and Jupiter in which Juno is jealous of Ganymede being favoured by Jupiter. He also translates a rather homoerotic part of Satyricon, by Gaius Petronius, in which Eumolpus describes his sexual encounter with a young man.
He includes an anecdotal story of a man named Amorio who fell in love with a woman. However, when he went to bed with her, he discovered that she was actually a man named Hyacinth. Amorio then discovered the wonders of anal sex. Hyacinth is more than likely a crossdresser but they could be a transgender woman.
However, the book takes an unexpected turn when Cannon translates part of Amores (attributed to Lucian but could be a fake) which contains arguments between two men, one prefers woman and one prefers men and in an attempt to persuade Lucian, the Pederast engages in some misogyny about the superiority of men towards women.
In another discordant section, Cannon presents the most interesting part of the pamphlet. Here he offers a really interesting argument in favour of homosexuality (but can be applied to many things) which has been abandoned in its use today.
He says ‘Unnatural Desire is a Contradiction in Terms; downright Nonsense. Desire is an amatory Impulse of the inmost human Parts: Are not they, however constructed, and consequently impelling, Nature? Whatever Modes of Thinking the Mind from Objects receives, whatever Sensations pervade the Body, are not the Mind and Body Parcels of Nature, necessarily receiving those Thoughts, necessarily pervaded by these Sensations?’
Basically what Cannon argues here is that homosexuality cannot be unnatural because it makes no sense for a desire to be unnatural and if a desire is natural why is acting out on this desire, not a natural thing to do? What he argues here is that while there could be a moral issue with homosexuality, there is nothing unnatural about it.
The final writing Cannon is another translation from a section of Satyricon in which two male lovers embrace each other in a storm thinking they may die.
The mere existence of this book is quite revealing because Cannon must have been writing for some kind of audience. It seems unlikely he published this book in an environment in which homosexual sex between men was unheard of. Therefore, one can speculate that in the 18th century, homosexuality must have been common among the upper classes of British society and there could have been a hidden gay community which was organised enough for Cannon to spread his book too. If this community did indeed exist, it seems to have been patriarchal since many of Cannon’s defences are translated words about the superiority of men towards women and the idea of female homosexual sex is not mentioned by him.
So what is significant about the year 1749? Well, it is the first time we see a defence of homosexuality. Although it had been presented in entertainment, Cannon was the first person to try and defend it in a sea of homophobia. His treatment by authorities and the heavy censorship of the book has led Dr Gladfelder to describe it as paving the way for over 200 years of queer oppression and that Cannon was a martyr of his time.