The Sodomite Becomes a Molly

Wednesday 22 March 2017.
 

The Sodomite becomes a Molly

The nature of homosexual acts in European society before 1700, as understood by most anthropologists, historians, and sociologists consisted of homosexual behavior in the majority of human societies that was organized by differences in age or in gender. This homosexual behavior was an adult male taking the active role and an adolescent male the passive role. The individuals were notice by their behavior sodomy and neither was given the identity as a ;sodomite;. Nor did either individual loose their masculine status. Homosexual behavior was something that mankind in general was capable of doing. A dramatic change occurred in the beginning of the eighteenth century. Homosexual behavior became associated with a particular group with its own sense of self, an identity or subculture that emphasized effeminacy.

A new kind of sodomite, molly could be identified by name in early 1700 England. This molly was an effeminate man who desired sexual relations only with men or boys. They adopted a woman’s characteristics, speech, walk and even attire. In earlier times a male could have sexual relations with either a woman or an adolescent male. He was not given the specific name a molly. But was notice because of his sexual behavior, sexual relations with both women and adolescent boys and this behavior was characterize as sodomy when it was with another male.

Before this time it was presumed there were three kinds of bodies (men, women, and hermaphrodites), but there were only two kinds of gender (male and female). Now for men there were two kinds of bodies (men and women) and three kinds of gender (male, female and sodomite/molly). The male category consisted of adolescent, adult man, and sodomite. This new gendered system came about because of the sexual relations this sodomite/molly had, sexual desire with other males of varying ages. Although many mollies in their public lives were married and even had fathered children, in their private lives they were mollies.

What brought about this transformation has not been given a satisfactory explanation. One possible factor could be the growth of equality between men and women that came about as part of the emerging modern European culture in northwestern Europe around the 1700. This modernization was an economy based on public credit, religious skepticism and the enlightenment, romantic marriage and the tender care of children.

Previously, to be sexually daring meant having sex with just about anyone (especially, women and adolescent males). By the middle of the eighteenth century, men only desired women. The sodomite became a creature who only desired men and became known as a molly, a word that had originally meant whore. (Naphy, Sex Crimes From Renaissance to Enlightenment, p. 105)

In almost all modern Western discussions of the relationship of biological sex to gender and of the female gender to the male, the presumption is made that there are two biological sexes, man and woman, and two genders, female and male. But this is not so in all cultures, and it has not always been so even in Western culture. The paradigm of two genders founded on two biological sexes began to predominate in Western culture only in the early eighteenth century. It was a product of the modern Western gender system, which makes it peculiarly difficult for Westerners to see that this paradigm is not inherent in the empirical observation of the world. The paradigm of two sexes and two genders can be tied to the beginnings of modern equality between the two legitimated genders. It appeared probably throughout the modernizing societies of northwestern Europe, in France and the Netherlands, for example, and certainly in England, as this essay snows. But the new paradigm of the early eighteenth century was not really one of two genders. There was a third illegitimate gender, namely, the adult, passive, transvestite and effeminate male, or molly," who was supposed to desire men exclusively. (Trumbach, London’s Sapphists: From Three Sexes to Four Genders in the Making of Modern Culture, p.111 in Third Sex Third Gender Beyond Sexual Dimorphism, in Culture and History edited by Gilbert Herdt)

In the course of the eighteen-century, there was an emerging sense of the need to define sexual roles. Anatomical distinctions were not in themselves sufficient, because transgression of sexual roles was mirrored by the affection of behaviour, mannerisms, or luxury of dress which properly belonged to the other sex. (McCormick, editor Sexual Outcasts 1750-1850 Volume II Sodomy, p.3)

In the course of the eighteenth century it was possible to discern an increasing consciousness of the need to define gender differences and sexual subdivisions. A dominant feature of the early eighteenth century was the emergence of the ’effeminate’ man who was not definable merely by his foppishness. The ’molly’ or homosexual represented an aberrant personality, a lifestyle. As a group, their constitution hinged on mimicry of women, affectation and same-sex relationships; such representations placed them beyond natural essentialist categories; they could not be included in the ’system of nature’. Sodomitical practices were, above all, unnatural and artificial. (McCormick editor, Secret Sexualities A Sourcebook of 17th and 18th Century Writing, p. 117)

Notably, Trumach asserts that emergence of a Third Sex revolutionized the whole gamut of sexual and social relations in Enlightenment England: the new form of exclusively male desire transformed notions of masculinity, since men now sought to distinguish themselves from unmanly sodomites. As a consquence, the mollies helped to crystallize heterosexuality, with its concomitant rise in male adultery and female prostitution. (Puff, Sodomy in Reformation Germany and Switzerland, 1400-1600, p. 4-5)

Randolph Trumbach, who for the past thirty years has been the major contributor to empirical findings about homosexuality in eighteenth-century England, continues to claim that, "in the first decade of the eighteenth century ... a profound transformation had occurred in the nature of sexual attraction in the societies of western Europe." Before this time, he claims, the model was that of the bisexual libertine whose relationships were age-structured; afterward, it was that of the effeminate "molly," who was exclusively homosexual, and whose relationships were mostly with similar-age adult partners. But Trumbach remains unconvinced by the theories whether of the economic, psychological, or postmodern varieties put forward to account for this change, concluding that "no one at the present moment has any satisfactory explanation as to why this transformation occurred." At the present time, many issues that the more doctrinaire theorists claimed to have resolved a dozen years ago are being subjected to more nuanced reconsideration and revision. (Norton, Homosexuality, p. 60 in A Cultural History of Sexuality in the Enlightenment edited by Julie Peakman.)

“What remains is to bring the threads of the argument together. In his now classic article “The Birth of the Queen: Sodomy and the Emergence of Gender Equality in Modern Culture, 1600-1750,” Randolph Trumbach argued that “in traditional European societies, men who did not restrict their sexual experience to marriage usually had sex with both adolescent boys and female whores.” However, a change took place in the sex/gender system after 1700, he posited, as modern society evolved, and “the appearance of the English molly and his European counterparts would therefore indicate that male and female roles had begun to grow more nearly equal. Building on the work of Lawrence Stone, Trumbach contented that this development represented a major shift in attitudes toward male homosexuality and that it occurred within the context of the emergence of companionate marriage and the domesticated family in western culture. Now “the molly could find partners among a majority of adult males. The molly was therefore a wall of separation between genders rather than bridge.” Finally Trumbach suggested that society perceived the molly as a “new kind of sodomite who was identified principally by his effeminate manner.”
Gert Hekma in a recent essay, “Homosexual Behavior in the Nineteenth-Century Dutch Army,” challenged aspects of Trumbach’s finding. He suggested that evidence or the “queen model” was only to be discovered in the last decade of the nineteenth century in the Netherlands and that it was only one of “a variety of forms. Gay history has been preoccupied with general trends, such as making of the homosexual or the queen model, where specific and historical and local trends are disregarded”
(Fout, Forbidden History The State, Society, and Regulation of Sexuality in Modern Europe., p. 208-209)

’Molly’ is the word that most gay men used to refer to one another for more than 150 years a longer period of usage than that enjoyed by the quasi-scientific modern term ’homosexual’. The nearest modern equivalent to the word ’molly’ is the word ’gay’. In a study of social interactions in which sex played only a part, albeit an important part, such terms as ’molly’ and ’gay’ are preferable- to ’homosexual’ because they have a greater resonance, and encompass a wider range of ambiguous references which are appropriate to the wider issues of social rather than specifically sexual behaviour. Other modern words that have the same meaning as ’molly’ are ’queer’, ’fairy’, ’faggot’ and ’queen’. During the eighteenth century, the terms used most frequently for gay men were ’mollies’, which derives from slang for a female prostitute, ’sodomites’, ’buggerers’ and ’indorsers’, which derives from boxing slang for ’to cudgel on the back’. All these terms were used interchangeably, just as in modern times the labels ’homo’, ’queer’, ’poof/pouf were applied indiscriminantly, depending more on the class of people who used the term than on the people to whom they applied the term. (Norton, Mother Clap’s Molly House The Gay Subculture in England 1700-1830, p. 14)

The material from 1709 makes it even clearer that contemporaries were beginning to see a kind of sodomite different from the men who frigged and sodomized boys and advised them to try lewd women. The new sodomites met as clubs in taverns, and they called themselves (according to Ned Ward) mollies. It is a word probably related to molly, which meant a female prostitute; it starts a long tradition in English language usage whereby the slang terms for prostitutes in one generation subsequently are appropriated for sodomites (e.g., queen, punk, gay, faggot, fairy, and fruit). It makes clear that the sodomite viewed himself, and was seen by others, no longer as a rake but as a species of outcast woman. (Trumbach, The Birth of the Queen: Sodomy and the Emergence of Gender Equality in Modern Culture, 1660-1750 in Hidden From History Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past, p. 137)

Among the men who participated in social networks forming in early modern England and Europe, one finds a phenomenon present in some bands and tribal societies as well as in classical antiquity but seems to have largely disappeared for a thousand years: male effeminacy joined with homoeroticism. Medieval and Renaissance sodomites did not generally cross-dress, or adopt women’s mannerisms.

The re-emergence of male effeminacy is best documented in England at the beginning of eighteenth century, where effeminate men were sufficiently well-known to be given a specific name, mollies. They gathered in taverns, where they crossed-dressed and mimicked women. (Greenberg, Transformations of Homosexuality-Based Classifications p. 186 in The Gender/Sexuality Reader Culture, History, Politico Economy, editors Roger N. Lancaster and Micaela di Leonardo.)

A revolution in the gender relations of Western societies occurred in the first generation of the eighteenth century, and it is the purpose of this book to describe its consequences for the sexual behavior of most men and women. Around 1700 in northwestern Europe, in England, France, and the Dutch Republic, there appeared a minority of adult men whose sexual desires were directed exclusively toward adult and adolescent males. These men could be identified by what seemed to their contemporaries to be effeminate behavior in speech, movement, and dress. They had not, however, entirely transformed themselves into women but instead combined into a third gender selected aspects of the behavior of the majority of men and women. (Trumbach, Sex and the Gender Revolution Volume One Heterosexuality and the Third Gender in Enlightenment London, p. 3)

In the thirty years after 1700 it becomes possible to identify a new kind of sodomite in English society who (in the slang of the streets) was called a molly. A molly was an effeminate adult man who desired to have sex only with men or boys. His speech and gait were similar to a woman’s; his clothes tended to be elegant and he occasionally dressed as a woman, for a ball. Among his fellow mollies, he was often known by a woman’s name. Some men like the Princess Seraphina always dressed as women, they were; referred to by everyone as she and her, and they lived by prostitution. All mollies differed from the effeminate men of both traditional systems. They were closest in role to someone like the North American berdache. But whereas it was legitimate for the Native American berdache to be penetrated by the men and boys from the majority, in the modern system the molly was supposed to be strictly avoided by the men and boys from the majority. The molly did desire such men, sometimes as their only object, but the men who yielded were concerned to hide this very carefully since any contact with a molly could be used to put them into that despised category. Mollies also had sex (and perhaps mainly) with each other, whereas the berdaches strictly avoided each other. Mollies also differed from the two types of passive men in age-structured systems because it was no longer the case that most sexual acts between males were between men and boys. It is true that adult mollies sometimes pursued boys and that for a while in the early eighteenth century there continued to be men who desired both women and boys. It was also the case that throughout the next three centuries some men in totally male institutions such as prisons or ships at sea satisfied themselves with boys who were present. But it was no longer acceptable for a boy to be passive. Boys among themselves talked with constant horrified fascination about mollies, but a boy approached by such a man tended to panic. Masturbation was severely discouraged with threats of mental and physical debility because it led males to a fascination with their penises instead of with women’s bodies. (Trumbach, The Heterosexual Male in Eighteenth-Century London and his Queer Inactions p. 105 in Love, Sex, Intimacy, and Friendship Between Men, 1550-1800 editors Katherine ODonnell and Michael ORourke.)

Sodomy is being used as a general term of censure for perverse sexual pleasures. Yet the mutation of new sexual identities was central to the grotesque sexual dynamic that playfully subverted categories, confronting the dull standard with the exciting hybrid. In Alan Bray’s analysis of homosexuality at the beginning of the eighteen century, There was now a continuing culture to be fixed on and an extension of the area in which homosexuality could be expressed and therefore recognized: clothes, gestures, language, particular buildings and particular public places. (McCormick, editor Sexual Outcasts 1750-1850 Volume II Sodomy, p. 9)

Michel Rey has contended that some of these sodomites developed a distinctive life-style by the mid-1700s. They formed a community of men from all social classes whose sexual orientation shaped and defined a collective identity. The men cruised for sex in streets and parks and met together nightly in taverns. They mimicked aristocratic refinement by adopting effeminate mannerisms and sometimes took female nicknames. (Merrick & Ragan, Homosexuality in Modern France, p. 80)

Recent studies dealing with sodomy in pre-industrial England have usually focused upon the development of a sodomitical subculture within the lower and lower-middle classes. Mary McIntosh, Alan Bray, and Randolph Trumbach, while disagreeing over the timing, concur that by 1700 there had developed in London a reasonably well-developed sodomitical culture replete with special walkways, parks, and molly houses (inns in which the almost exclusively subculture was tolerated in part or all of the premises). Some molly-house patrons employed a special vernacular and displayed deviate mannerisms, usually of an effeminate nature. London, with a population of a half-million, was unique among English cities in being able to provide the anonymity seemingly required to create a subculture. (Rubini, Sexually and Augustan England: Sodomy, Politics, Elite Circles and Society, p. 349 in The Pursuit of Sodomy: Male homosexuality in Renaissance and Enlightenment Europe edited by Kent Gerard and Gert Hekma.)

Early modern historians have taken Focault much more to task. Alan Bray, working on seventeenth-century London argued that spaces such as taverns and molly houses made deviant practices comparatively safe. They enabled men to identify each other and themselves through specific culture habits and practices, many of which diverge from standard expressions of masculinity and sexuality. Pet names, sartorial markers, rituals (sometimes mocking social dominant ones), contributed to men being able to recognize each other. Recognition was crucial to sexual identity formation. (Crawford, European Sexualities, 1400-1800, p. 200)

As a molly, the early eighteen-century homosexual rendered himself monstrous by importing qualities that properly belonged to the other sex; either he monstrously erased his sexual organs, making it redundant to his preferences, giving up his manhood and turning to foppish effeminacy; or using his orifice improperly, he became more monstrous still, as a sodomite. (McCormick, editor Sexual Outcasts 1750-1850 Volume II Sodomy, p. 9)

As a ’molly’, the early eighteenth-century homosexual rendered himself monstrous. He erased his productive sexual organ; he made it redundant to accepted preferences; gave up his manhood; turned to foppish effeminacy. Alternatively, in using his orifice ’improperly’ he became more monstrous still, a sodomite, and a forerunner of the homosexual. (McCormick editor, Secret Sexualities A Sourcebook of 17th and 18th Century Writing, p. 121)

The category of the Molly lacked the copia of sodomy; it updated the grotesqueness of its self-definition by building on more modern anxieties about mixture, the shifting, and the unstable. According to Michel Foucault, Homosexuality appeared as one of the forms of sexuality when it was transposed from the practice of sodomy onto a kind of interior androgyny, a hermaphrodism of the soul. The sodomite had been a temporary aberration: the homosexual was now a species. Although the theory is superficially attractive, it takes little account of the heterogeneous explanatory discourse which went into the construction of the hermaphrodite. Rousseau and Porter are nearer to the available historical evidence in their conclusion that official attitudes to homo-eroticism harden, turning the occasion sin of buggery into the more terrifying stereotype of the sodomite. Grotesque sexuality blended the categories of male and female, constructing a perilous gender hybridization. How could this shifting category be described in such a way to identify, control, and prohibit it? The grotesque notion of the sodomite as demonic beast belonged to a grotesque idiom that was rather outdated and outmoded; yet the older form persisted throughout the period (McCormick, editor Sexual Outcasts 1750-1850 Volume II Sodomy, p. 5)

The molly can in some respects be considered the product of a natural and inevitable mutation within the prevailing culture. If identity and behaviour could be fashioned or constructed and then naturalized (as in homo economicus) then it followed that other reconstructions, at the fringes, might also seek to naturalize themselves. In a passing reference to Sodomy, Swift ad suggested in Gullliver;s Travels that sodomy was entirely the production of art and reason. Sexually was increasingly constructed not on the basis of sex but on the ground of self-legitimation and pluralizing of desire. (McCormick, editor Sexual Outcasts 1750-1850 Volume II Sodomy, p. 8)

In the texts chosen for this volume we can discern the continuing presence of a sodomitical subculture throughout the later eighteen and early nineteen-century. Attitudes to sodomy hardened in terms of an offence to manners and morals; but increasingly its regulation was as much social ostracism as prosecution. The changing nature of marriage was one factor. (McCormick, editor Sexual Outcasts 1750-1850 Volume II Sodomy, p. 11)

This new four-gender paradigm helped lead to the beginning of distinct sexual identities. It does not mean that the sodomite and sapphist were like late-nineteen-century inverts or late twentieth-century gays and lesbians. But, especially in the case of sodomites, they began to see themselves as being different from other people. With the birth of the new sodomite, sodomitical subcultures developed in many Western European cities, including Paris. (Merrick & Ragan, Homosexuality in Modern France, p. 12)

Moving into the public sphere of sexuality, the available literature indicates that a diversity of sexual practices was available. Yet the mutation of new sexual identities was central to the grotesque sexual dynamic that playfully subverted categories, confronting the completeness of taxonomy with the exciting hybrid. In Alan Bray’s analysis of homosexuality at the beginning of the eighteenth century, there was now a continuing culture to be fixed on and an extension of the area in which homosexuality could be expressed and therefore recognised; clothes, gestures, language, particular buildings and particular public places. (McCormick editor, Secret Sexualities A Sourcebook of 17th and 18th Century Writing, p. 120)

These changing concepts do not mean, of course, that those who engaged in a predominantly homosexual life style did not regard themselves as somehow different until the late nineteenth century. There is evidence for the emergence of a distinctive male homosexual subculture in London and one or two other cities from the late seventeenth century, often characterized by transvestism and gender-role inversion. By the mid-nineteenth century, it seems the male homosexual subculture at least had characteristics not dissimilar to the modern, with recognized cruising places and homosexual haunts, ritualized sexual contact, and a distinctive argot and "style." (Weeks, Movements of Affirmation: Sexual Meanings and Homosexual Identitie, p. 72 in Passion and Power Sexuality in History editors Kathy Peiss and Christina Simmons with Robert A. Padgug)

From about 1700, a well-organized homosexual subculture became evident in the city of London. It was patronized by men who used specialized slang (for instance, "picking up trade"), frequented homosexual cruising areas, and engaged in effeminate behavior among themselves. They socialized in coffeehouses and taverns called molly houses, where they sang and danced together, behaved in a disorderly fashion, and sometimes got "married." In Britain, molly houses seem to have been established only in London though there were networks of homosexuals in cities such as Warrington and Bristol. (Norton, Homosexuality p. 63 in A Cultural History of Sexuality in the Enlightenment edited by Julie Peakman.)

“In the early eighteen-century homosexual subculture drew together a number of characteristics that typified the grotesque’s relation of heterogeneity to the main or ‘official’ culture: the grotesque and ridiculous of dress and pantomime; the definition of spaces and subsequent encroachments upon them; Grub Street threatened threaten official literary culture in a way that the ‘molly houses’ threatened traditional sexual mores. The city, itself often characterized as grotesque, provided a site for these exchanges.” (McCormick, editor Sexual Outcasts 1750-1850 Volume II Sodomy, p. 10-11)

This book is a history of the emergence and development of the gay subculture in England, from the late seventeenth century through the early nineteenth century. The first organized gay community seems to have grown up within the remarkably short period of a single generation. Though homosexuals have existed during all periods of history, it is not until about 1700, at least in England, that we learn about gay men gathering together within a structured social organization that can properly be called a subculture. (Norton, Mother Clap’s Molly House The Gay Subculture in England 1700-1830, p. 17)

Throughout this study, I will be using the term ’subculture’ in its sociological meaning, to define a body of social institutions and patterns of behaviour shared by a group of people who identify themselves as part of that group, who have several significant factors in common, and who are viewed as ’deviant’ or significantly different from those in the mainstream of a larger, enclosing culture. Such subcultures usually have the following major characteristics: (1) social gatherings attended exclusively by members sharing some significant factor, (2) a system of communication between members which is not generally recognized by the larger society; (3) specialized vocabulary or slang, used to reinforce a sense of membership in the group or to establish contact secretly; (4) self-identification with other members in the group, reinforced by common patterns of behaviour which distinguish the members from society at large; and (5) a self-protective community of shared sympathy caused by being ostracized by society for being different. (Norton, Mother Clap’s Molly House The Gay Subculture in England 1700-1830, p. 13-14)

One of the most interesting subjects in the history of sexuality is the sudden appearance, about three hundred years ago, of a well organized gay subculture in the city of London. This was patronized by recognizably modern gay men or, to use the term they used themselves, mollies who used gay slang amongst themselves, who frequented specialized gay cruising areas, who engaged in campy behaviour amongst themselves, and who developed an extensive network of gay clubs, where they socialized with one another, singing and dancing together, and otherwise behaving in a disorderly fashion. All of this is documented by a substantial body of historical data, especially the records of the Old Bailey, which contain about 85 trials for homosexual offences and about 50 trials for, homosexual-related blackmail. To this we can add hundreds of newspaper reports and dozens of satirical pamphlets. This material has been used by gay historians as a resource for situating modern gay culture within a historical context, and even for establishing ’roots’ or anchoring modern gay identity on historical foundations. It is also used by historians of sexuality in general, for understanding the changing historical contexts in which sexuality is experienced and regulated. (Norton, Mother Clap’s Molly House The Gay Subculture in England 1700-1830, p. 13)

I have avoided doctrinaire theorizing about why the gay subculture emerged when it did. It may be sufficient to see it as a natural result of urbanization. At the beginning of the eighteenth-century London had become, the largest city in Europe, the result of a dramatic rise in population during the last quarter of the seventeenth century and the first quarter of the eighteenth century. There are no reliable statistics before 1800, but the population is believed to have reached about 750,000 by 1725; this was large enough to accommodate specialized subgroups of many sorts, and to provide greater opportunity for men of shared interests to associate with one another. (Norton, Mother Clap’s Molly House The Gay Subculture in England 1700-1830, p. 18-19)

The other factor that helped to develop the gay subculture so rapidly was its unified class structure. The urbanization of this period, and especially the expansion of commerce, facilitated the creation of a lower middle class of small shopkeepers and tradesmen, and the artisans and working class that served them. Although I will not ignore the role played by artistocrats and gentlemen, the gay subculture throughout most of the eighteenth century consisted almost entirely of members of these working classes, as illustrated by a list of their occupations: servants (messenger boy, chairman, coachman, footman, waiter, waterman), artisans or skilled craftsmen (cabinet maker, gilder, peruke maker, tailor, fan maker, upholsterer), tradesmen (fruit seller, butcher, hardware dealer, woolen draper), suppliers of services (barber, tavern keeper, porter, postboy), workers of various skills (candle maker, wool comber, silk dyer, blacksmith), and not a few soldiers, but relatively few schoolmasters or gentlemen of independent means. Some degree of class exploitation undoubtedly took place, particularly on the fringes of the royal court, and soldiers have always prostituted themselves to gentlemen with money, but the molly houses themselves catered almost exclusively for what are now called the respectable working classes. (Norton, Mother Clap’s Molly House The Gay Subculture in England 1700-1830, p. 19)

Almost all of the men who participated in the subculture of molly houses were small-time tradesmen and artisans: brewers, candle-makers, cabinetmakers, grocers, publicans, tailors, wig-makers, upholsterers, drapers, coachmen, and servants of various sorts. A large majority of men who were prosecuted for having sex in a public place exhibited ordinary masculine demeanors and had masculine-type occupations (such as butchers or coal merchants). Most of these men were part of the respectable working class who had found their social and sexual center in the molly house. However, once inside these establishments’ relative privacy, they dropped their social facades and adopted camp or effeminate mannerisms, mimicking the voices of women and having mock "bitch" fights. (Norton, Homosexuality, p. 67 in A Cultural History of Sexuality in the Enlightenment edited by Julie Peakman.)

All we can really say for certain is that around 1700 the British gay subculture was discovered and revealed in the public prints: it was not ’born’, it was exposed. What is spoken of as ’the birth of the queen’ by the historian Randolph Trumbach and others should really be recognized as merely the beginning, of public knowledge about the queen and his subculture. Or, to put it another way, the alleged birth of the subculture may be nothing more than the birth of efficient policing and surveillance, and also the birth of the popular press. (Norton, Mother Clap’s Molly House The Gay Subculture in England 1700-1830, p. 107)

The widespread appearance of gay subcultures across Europe around the year 1700 is almost certainly linked not to the rise of ’capitalism’ or ’modernity’, but to the rise of surveillance. Efficiently organized ’police forces’ hardly existed before then. The subculture was uncovered as a result of new social regulations rather than created by some tenuous link with economic structures or changing gender conceptions. The discovery of the homosexual subculture of Paris is due entirely to the use of mouches (agents provocateurs) and pederasty patrols, (patrouilles de pederastie) by the police in the early 1700s. (Norton, Mother Clap’s Molly House The Gay Subculture in England 1700-1830, p. 108)

Yet it was important to realize that the construction of the category of the homosexual was a brutal matter. The category of the molly was not merely anomalous, it was an outrageous and offensive departure from official norms, undermining the characteristic; manliness of the nation. Many felt that insufficient action was being taken against those who were undermining moral and social values. The sodomy associate with being a molly led to organized action of the Society for the Reformation of Manners. (McCormick, editor Sexual Outcasts 1750-1850 Volume II Sodomy, p. 7)

What we know about homosexual history depends very much upon who tells us about it. Virtually everything we know about homosexuals during the first third of the eighteenth century can be linked directly to the activities of the Society for Reformation of Manners. (Norton, Mother Clap’s Molly House The Gay Subculture in England 1700-1830, p. 106)

The Society for Reformation of Manners played an important role in simultaneously revealing and suppressing the gay subculture during the opening years of the eighteenth century. Phrases such as ’the birth of the queen’ or ’the birth of the gay subculture’ somewhat overstate the case, because the phenomenon before us may represent not the sudden appearance of the mollies, but their sudden discovery. "Without the existence of the Society for Reformation of Manners, modern historians would have virtually no knowledge about the world of the eighteenth-century mollies. (Norton, Mother Clap’s Molly House The Gay Subculture in England 1700-1830, p. 68-69)

I do not believe that a changing conceptualization or ’ideology’ of homosexuality has much to do with this ’birth’, except in so far as this public exposure was usually connected to the activities of a moral reform movement. The evidence does not warrant an inference that around 1700 there was a sudden change either in any alleged ’roles’ played by homosexuals or in the social perception of homosexuality. The simple fact of the matter is that around 1700 there was a sudden formation of affiliated Societies for Reformation of Manners and these Societies actively searched out and revealed and prosecuted homosexual behaviour. Our knowledge of molly behaviour exactly parallels the activities of these Societies. The ’shift’ is not a shift in homosexual ’role’, but a shift in prosecution practices. "We know hardly anything about homosexual subcultures before 1690 when the Societies for the Reformation of Manners were formed. (Norton, Mother Clap’s Molly House The Gay Subculture in England 1700-1830, p. 107-108)

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Trumbach, Randolph. The Heterosexual Male in Eighteenth-Century London and his Queer Inactions. p. 99-127 in Love, Sex, Intimacy, and Friendship Between Men, 1550-1800 editors Katherine ODonnell and Michael ORourke.

Weeks, Jeffrey. Movements of Affirmation: Sexual Meanings and Homosexual Identities, p. 70 to 86 in Passion and Power Sexuality in History editors Kathy Peiss and Christina Simmons with Robert A. Padgug.


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