From Bugger to Homosexual: The English sodomite as criminally deviant (1533-1967)

Abstract : For almost 450 years, between the passing of the Buggery Act 1533 and the Sexual Offences Act 1967, the law of the realm forbade sodomy between men in England and Wales, even if carried out in private between two consenting adults . This paper will focus on this “penal period” to study the evolution of the labels used to express the sodomites’ deviance and exclusion from British society as a whole. The forbidding of sodomy had a lot to do with moral reasons (grounded in its strong and explicit Biblical condemnation), but also with social and political reasons, as it was intended to protect society from a vice seen as threatening its very fabric, notably because it dissociated sexuality from reproduction, thus defiling the sanctity of marriage, and seemed to pervert gender identities. However, the perception of the “bugger” was not uniform throughout our period: thus, in the XVIth and XVIIth centuries, “buggery” was mainly associated with political treason; when the XVIIIth and most of the XIXth century saw in the “sodomite” the symbol of irreligious libertinism, and in sodomy the pinnacle of debauchery. By contrast, from roughly the 1860s, under the influence of medical sciences, and especially of psychoanalysis, the “homosexual” came to be seen as either a sanitary threat to society or as the victim of a mental illness in need of a cure. We will see how these labels had in common the idea that sodomy was a deviant, “unnatural act”, and that practising sodomites could have no place in a Christian/civilized society, while at the same time paving the way to the birth of a “homosexual conscience” which indirectly led to toleration and decriminalization.
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Revue française de civilisation britannique, CRECIB - Centre de recherche et d'études en civilisation britannique, 2014, XIX (1), pp.31-46
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Contributeur : Jérôme Grosclaude <>
Soumis le : jeudi 11 février 2016 - 13:20:52
Dernière modification le : lundi 22 janvier 2018 - 14:46:08
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Jérôme Grosclaude. From Bugger to Homosexual: The English sodomite as criminally deviant (1533-1967). Revue française de civilisation britannique, CRECIB - Centre de recherche et d'études en civilisation britannique, 2014, XIX (1), pp.31-46. 〈hal-01272782〉

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