Before Grindr, or, The Dangers of the “Gay Bachelor”

October, 2014 · By Justin Bengry

In June 1967, opposition Conservative UK parliamentarians encountered a new and threatening queer danger. They feared that the Sexual Offences Bill then before them — a measure that would partially decriminalize male homosexual acts — might appear to sanction, and even promote, homosexual activity. Conservative MP Sir Cyril Osborne therefore proposed an amendment that would make publicizing and publishing lists of homosexuals, in other words printing “gay bachelor” or queer personal ads, a new “serious punishable offence.”

Even if the government was on the verge of partially decriminalizing male homosexual acts, Osborne’s proposed amendment would nonetheless criminalize what he saw as the commercial promotion of homosexuality.It demanded that,

Anyone who indulges in activities tending to promote acts of homosexuality between consenting adults through the publication of lists of names and addresses of known homosexuals or otherwise, shall be guilty of a criminal offence and shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of five years or a fine of £5,000.

In other words, were the act to pass, anyone who “promoted” entirely legal acts of consensual homosexuality would themselves be committing a criminal offence. Punishment for this new commercial crime would in fact be even more stringent than existing laws for most homosexual offences; acts of gross indecency were then punishable by up to two years imprisonment.

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This post was originally published at “NOTCHES: (re)marks on the history of sexuality” on 7 October 2014.


The Erotics of Shaving in Victorian Britain

April, 2014 · By Justin Bengry

Beardedness, or alternatively clean-shavenness, has long been an important signifier of manliness, inscribing crucial gender and sexual meanings onto the male body. But fashions in shaving are notoriously unstable, even in the nineteenth century, that idyll for the hirsute among us. Beardedness in nineteenth-century Britain, in fact, only reached its zenith in 1892, while the frequency of clean-shaven faces, lowest in 1886, continued to increase in popularity for the next 80 years. The necessity and expense of daily visits to the local barber, however, prohibited many from indulging in such luxury and before savvy marketers rooted the fear of the five o’clock shadow into men’s minds, a few days’ growth was often acceptable. Indeed, before the advent of the safety razor, many men might have agreed with the proverb: “It is easier to bear a child once a year than to shave every day.” Beardedness, and its intermediate variations, nonetheless had (and continue to have) definite implications for manliness and sexuality.

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This post was originally published at “NOTCHES: (re)marks on the history of sexuality” on 10 April 2014.