Friday 18 December 2015

How homosexuality was made a crime

Since the publication of the Boyle Review by the Cabinet Office early in January 2013, I’ve been blogging pretty intensively – inspired originally by the great Roy Lilley at I’ve enjoyed it enormously and felt I was playing a useful role – talking about public services from a human point of view, and economics from a Liberal point of view, in the days when Liberals preferred not to think of anything quite so grubby.

It has been pretty intense. I’ve settled down to posting about four times a week, week in week out, except for a period in the summer and at Christmas. I still have much to say but I’ve also been afraid that, in a number of ways, I am at least in danger of repeating myself.

I’m not going to stop but I have decided to calm down a little, at least for a while. At the same time, I am reserving my energy to transform The Real Blog into a new venture that tries to use the same mixture of history, politics and economics – with a human and maybe metaphysical twist – in a new way.

I’m therefore going to cut down my blog posts to weekly or bi-weekly and to concentrate for the next few months on launching The Real Press, an ebook publishing venture dedicated to the same ideas.

I’ve very much enjoyed the debate and the people I’ve met online as a result of this blog and I hope that interaction can continue. I’m already in the middle of publishing our first titles – they will be available as very low-cost ebooks and as print-on-demand titles, from various different platforms. This blog will provide some news of them, and I’m very excited about some of the people who have agreed to write for us. More on that in due course.

The first title will be formally launched early next year, but it is available on Amazon already – it will be available in other places shortly.

This is Scandal: How homosexuality became a crime, and it is a response to the growing role of gender and identity politics in the UK, realising that – despite the furore about Alan Turing and the abolition of most homosexuality laws in 1967 - nobody had really explained how the criminalisation had originally taken place, so suddenly and unexpectedly in the summer of 1885.

The answer is unexpected, and was particularly unexpected for me, as it turned out. The roots of the new law, the Labouchere amendment – pushed through the Commons at dead of night in just a few minutes – lay in Irish politics, an attempt by the nationalists to regain the moral high ground after the Phoenix Park murders. This led to the largely forgotten events, the first political sex kerfuffle, known as the Dublin Scandal of 1884.

What was unexpected for me was the role my own family played in those events, leading to the escape in disguise from Dublin of my banker great-great-grandfather in July 1884 ahead of the arrests. My family hasn’t lived in Dublin since.

I discovered how he came to live, estranged from his family and in what would now be called a gay relationship, in London’s Denmark Hill – and became a stained glass artist. But it was what happened later in 1895, when he was forced to disappear again during the Oscar Wilde trial, that was the real revelation for me: a unique moment of fear in the modern British story that has been erased from our collective history.

The book recreates that strange chapter in forgotten history. You can download it here, or buy a print version here. Other versions will follow after the book is officially launched in the New Year.

I will still be blogging in the usual way next year, but less exhaustingly (for me at least), so I will see you then. Thank you so much for reading during 2015 and have a very merry Christmas.

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Anonymous said...

Wasn't it only "gross indecency" between men that was criminalised in the 1880s? I thought anal intercourse had been illegal since Tudor times.

David Boyle said...

Yes, but anal intercourse is extremely hard to prove so normally nobody tried, whereas gross indecency covered practically whatever anyone wanted it to.