Sodomy in the Land of Magna Carta

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gay history of britainA Gay History of Britain: Love and Sex Between
Men Since the Middle Ages

by Matt Cook with Robert Mills, Randolph Trumbach, and H. G. Cocks Greenwood World Publishing
256 pages, $49.95

 

the gendering of menThe Gendering of Men, 1600-1750: Volume 2: Queer Articulations
by Thomas A. King University of Wisconsin Press
583 pages, $65.

 

 

 

THE FRAUGHT legal and social history of same-sex male relations in Britain over the last thousand years should naturally be of interest to us. Much of American law and cultural practice derive from the mother country. The Puritanism that crossed the sea from England remains a deeply embedded strain in the American psyche.

To be sure, the traffic in queer mores and legal proscriptions has more recently run in both directions. England’s Wolfenden report of 1957 advocated the decriminalization of homosexual acts between adults over 21. This did not immediately lead to parliamentary reforms (that would wait for the Sexual Offences Act of 1967), but the nascent American “homophile” movement would have kept close watch on progress across the Pond. As for issues on the ground, the influx of American “Yanks” during World War II “exposed British men to … the sexual ease of some of the American GIs,” as we learn in the first of Matt Cook’s two articles in A Gay History of Britain. No less an expert than Quentin Crisp “waxed lyrical about the availability of the North American soldiers: ‘…words of love began to ooze from their lips, sexuality from their bodies and pound notes from their pockets.’”

Edited by Cook, A Gay History of Britain: Love and Sex Between Men Since the Middle Ages covers a lot of territory in little more than 200 pages.

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