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Review: Before Wilde: Sex Between Men in Britain's Age of Reform

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Before Wilde: Sex between Men in Britain's Age of Reform
by Charles Upchurch
University of California Press; (April 22, 2009), 288 pages

This is a very important book. It may even be a historic book, one with which gay history can arm itself with more sufficient factual veracity as to start vanquishing at last the devil known as queer studies. Queer studies is that stuff that is taught in place of gay history and which elevates theory over facts because its practitioners, having been unsuccessful in uncovering enough of the hard stuff, are haughtily trying to make do.

Well, here is a healthy dose of the hard stuff. Charles Upchurch, an assistant professor of history at Florida State University, and an American, has spent ten years of his life researching this book. It shows it. It overflows with case after case of hard, factual, irrefutable evidence that Englishmen did with other Englishmen pretty much what same-sex couplings do with each other all over the world to this day. The big difference here is that Upchurch begins his extraordinary documenting of these cases with the early nineteenth century, i.e. 1800 onward, heretofore not known as a time in history where such undeniable facts have made themselves known in such a crystal-clear way. (Upchurch reports to have collected over 1000 published newspaper articles documenting cases.)

Certainly nothing like this has appeared in America, thus allowing queer and gender studies to pretty much swamp, nay drown, the gay history field with their gobbledygook theorizing of what might have happened. This ludicrous state of affairs prohibits making statements such as: "they did then what we do now," without the wrath of queer theorists raining down insults of an uncommonly vitriolic nature. You don't have a right to say that! say they. You can't prove it! say they. It's been here all along since the beginning of history, say many others of us. Well now it can be said, and proved, in Britain at any rate, thanks to Upchurch. Indeed, "an aching gap has been filled," British sexual theorist Jeffrey Weeks, proclaims in one of the blurbs on the back cover. Indeed.

One reads this book with grateful amazement. Here is a scholar, an academic, who has really done his homework. He has read, it would seem, almost every applicable British newspaper and court record from the early 1800's until about 1870. The amazing thing, of course, when his "findings" are excavated and exposed to the bright air of daylight, it can be seen that all this information has been there since it was created, in the files of The Times, in the court records of cases that The Times and other papers reported, quite often rather non-judgmentally, it is also interesting to note. Men accused of sodomy, attempted sodomy, of "indecent assault," at various times punishable by death, of cross dressing, of hustling, of cruising, of trying to set up house, of cohabiting in any way, of trying just to say Hello, oh all those things that gay men know all about and take for granted today.

It is not only breathtaking to read this all in a work the likes of which so many Americans long to have written about our own gay history, but when one finishes reading it, one utters an audible huge sigh of relief. Of course this is how it was! Why did we all not know and accept this instinctively without having to create and/or buy into the Foucaultian and Butlerian (to name but two) nightmares with the obtuse vocabularies they invented and demanded be utilized to pierce their dark inchoate spectacles of a world of their own imaginings. Homosexuality did not exist because there was no word for it, say they. What bushwa.

Well, one hopes, those days are fading fast. With more books like this one and more scholar/academics like Upchurch, we might one day even be able to say, unapologetically, and very out loud, that George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, to name but two, were our brothers in love. Would that American academics would hit those stacks like Charles Upchurch did.

(For futher elucidation on these arguments, see my essay on Huffington Post "Homo Sex in Colonial America" and my essay on The Daily Beast, "Yale's Conspiracy of Silence.")