In the 1870s, Paris’ police and civic leaders railed against what they considered a significant problem: men soliciting sex from other men at public urinals. While consensual homosexuality was not illegal in France (it had been decriminalised during the Revolution), public displays of homosexual behaviour were nevertheless prosecuted as “offences against public decency”.
Between 1870 and 1872, more than 100 men were arrested for loitering or acting suspiciously around street toilets in Paris. In 1876, police even found Count Eugene de Germiny, a conservative member of the city council, in a lavatory clinch with a young man named Pierre.
After de Germiny’s arrest, the concern about nefarious activities in public toilets reached fever pitch. One Paris physician, Maurice Laugier, attempted to penetrate the hysteria with an 1878 essay titled Du role de l’expertise médico-légale dans certains cas d’outrage public a la pudeur (“The role of forensic evidence in certain cases of outraging public decency”). Dr Laugier described several cases where men with verifiable medical conditions were unfairly dealt with by police, including one man:
“…suffering from a urinary tract infection… who was observed and questioned by the police [for his] very prolonged stay in a urinal and the manoeuvres that he was exercising on his penis.”
Men suspected of dubious activity in or around public toilets, wrote Laugier, should be questioned about their medical history and afforded a full medical examination before being charged or presented for trial.
Wilhelm Stekel (1868-1940) was an Austrian doctor and psychologist who specialised in sexuality and fetishism. In the first decade of the 1900s Stekel became a disciple of Sigmund Freud; both men lived in Vienna and participated regularly in discussion groups and lectures.
Writing in 1914 with Dr Samuel Tannenbaum of New York, Stekel argued that an individual’s sexual preference was “betrayed” by their choice of position:
“In many cases homosexual betrays itself in the mode of intercourse adopted by the patient. [Homosexual men] prefer to take the position normally occupied by the woman… [Homosexual women] show similar tendencies; they experience an orgasm only when they are on top… Some of the perversions, e.g. fellatio, cunnilingus, are indicative of homosexuality…”
He also described more gender-specific signs:
“Suddenly, and for no apparent reason, a [homosexual] man has his beard shaved off, or he suddenly begins to take an active interest in sports as permit him to see naked men. He becomes passionately fond of prize-fighting, boxing, sunbaths, Turkish baths, gymnasia…”
Homosexually-inclined women will also:
“…begin to take an interest in the movement for women’s rights. In a very large percentage of active suffragettes, the driving force is unsatisfied sexual desire… Only very rarely, if ever, do women whose libido is satisfied take any interest in the suffragette movement.”
Dr Stekel committed suicide in 1940, taking a fatal dose of aspirin to relieve chronic pain caused by his inflamed prostate.
In July 1822, Percy Jocelyn, Bishop of Clogher and son of the Earl of Roden, was arrested for sodomy. At least two others caught Jocelyn “deep in the act of buggery” with a young soldier behind the White Lion in Westminster. According to these witnesses, Jocelyn was still wearing his bishop’s cassock, which was hitched up around his waist.
Another report says Jocelyn tried to make a getaway but was foiled by his own undergarment:
“The affair of the Bishop has made a great noise. The people of the public house have made a good deal of money by showing the place [where they were discovered]… The Bishop took no precautions and it was next to impossible he should not have been caught. He made a desperate resistance when taken and if his breeches had not been down they think he would have got away.”
Jocelyn was dragged through the streets and beaten up then handed over to city authorities, who released him on £1,000 bail. He immediately fled to Scotland, where he worked as a servant under an assumed name. John Moverley also absconded and was not heard of again under that name.
The 1822 incident was not Jocelyn’s first brush with accusations of sodomy. In 1811, one of his brother’s servants, James Byrne, attested to “indecent acts and propositions” made to him by the bishop. Byrne was sued for defamation and found guilty; he was fined heavily and publicly flogged.
Writing in 1619, Pedro de Leon reports a recent incident in Madrid. City authorities there had broken up a fistfight between a local student and a barber, arresting both men. Under questioning, it was soon discovered the student had entered the barber’s shop with “a large basket tightly fitted to his buttocks”. When the barber asked the reason for this, the student replied:
“These are dangerous times, what with the city full of Italian sodomites. I find it prudent to wear the basket as a preventative measure.”
The barber, who was Italian, naturally took umbrage at this provocation and threw the first punch. De Leon reports that both men escaped punishment and when the student was released, he was “still wearing his defence”.
In 1574, the city fathers of Treviso, a few miles north of Venice, initiated a crackdown on sodomy. These campaigns were not uncommon in Renaissance Italy, though the Treviso statutes were unusual in that they also targeted women:
“If any person has sexual relations with another – that is, a man with another man (if they are 14 years old or more) or a woman with another woman (if they are 12 years old or more) then they have committed the vice of sodomy…”
As might be expected, the punishments were severe. The 1574 edicts ordered that female sodomites (fregatores, or ‘friggers’) be tied naked to a stake in Treviso’s Street of Locusts. After a full day and night they were to be taken down and burned alive beyond the city walls. For males (buzerones, or ‘buggerers’) the punishment was similar, though with a painful addition:
“[He] must be stripped of all clothing and fastened to a stake in the Street of Locusts, with a nail or rivet driven through his private male member. There he shall remain all day and all night, under guard, and the following day be burned outside the city.”