When talking about the trials of Oscar Wilde at the time, many people said how fortunate the country was to have been purged of the horrible corruption that had been going on for so long. What they failed to realise was that it had been going on since time immemorial and that it was universal and not a product of the country or the time. Many people still think that trial to have been a product of Victorian prejudice and hypocrisy and people talking about it today often say that it would never happen again. It can. It does and Harford Montgomery Hyde in his splendid book on the subject of Homosexuality tells how and why.
With such a difficult subject to approach without prejudice, it is refreshing to find a writer who simply presents us with the facts and leaves us to draw our own conclusions. On the other hand it is perfectly obvious that he has a.very strong bias towards a more tolerant society, who do not prejudice people because of their sexual inclinations. The history of Homosexuality is dealt with in detail and is mainly recorded in the trials that have punctuated our history- It rarely concerns women as they seldom seem to fall foul of the laws dealing with anal penetration or sexual acts with animals – these acts covered by the blanket legal term of buggery. These trials are set out in the sections dealing with the historical survey, but are of more interest to the historian. The more relevant parts are those describing the ‘contemporary scene.’
Mr. Montgomery Hyde relates in a matter-of-fact way, defines his terms and clears misconceptions. There he covers all ground, from the idea that this century has seen a massive increase in homosexual activity, to its ‘treatment’ as a curable disease, and the ‘homosexual professions.’
“Another widely held but erroneous belief that homosexuality is peculiar to members of particular professions and trades such as actors, boxers, interior decorators, sailors waiters. Turkish bath attendants and musicians …..”
The law and its contemporary attitude is portrayed as being particularly hypocritical – the punishment by prison for any ‘sexual offence’ is ludicrous. Montgomery Hyde shows that, far from acting as a deterrent, it actually encourages homosexual behaviour, many judges being oblivious to the fact. The first-hand reports in the opening and latter chapters give a great insight into the law’s two-faced attitude, with their wholly believable details about ‘bent’ coppers and prison ‘screws’. One of the most amusing incidents on this topic tells of the ‘Hammersmith’ queen, who, robbed by a guardsman of her fur coat, flew out in a rage and found a policeman, who quickly recovered the conspicuous garment and went to bed with the grateful owner himself.’ On discrimination, the author says that the social structure pressurises the single man into thinking in terms of marriage.
“A batchelor is liable to be regarded as eccentric and unstable, or even unfit for posts of responsibility.”
But as Montgomery Hyde says later;
“Of course, there are bachelors of unblemished character in public life, such as Edward Heath, the British Conservative Party leader, and J. Edgar Hoover, the late Director of the U S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, but they are the exception and certainly in Heath’s case the lack of a wife has been in some ways a handicap.”
This book is informative, readable and a must for anyone who is gay and has bewildered parents who want to know more. The first and last chapters arc strongly recommendeded. This survey covers all aspects of homosexuality from legal reform, drag queens and small Ads. in International Times to continental social clubs, which have made some headway in social enlightenment.
A book as good as this will help dispel a great deal of fear and prejudice and will help towards greater tolerance and understanding making. I hope, for a happier society.