The Trickster Prince

Matt Houlbrook: mobile historian; beard growing, head shaving; occasional cycling.

Death by several thousand cuts

Sorry this isn’t an acute and insightful dissection of the evils of our current Government. It’s far more self-indulgent than that: I hate cutting out any of those precious words it took me so much time and anguish to write. Writing is something that I really struggle with so to lose anything that emerged like blood from a bloody stone seems just plain wrong. But that’s what I’m trying to do now: trimming a few thousand words from my initial version of an essay on ‘Thinking Queer’ so that it can fit in a collection of essays on the new British queer history that will be published by Manchester University Press next year. Unwilling and unable to just let go, I thought I’d cut and paste at least a few of those words here rather than lose them forever:

How pervasive were these associations? They were a central problematic in Taylor Croft’s muckraking expose of ‘Homosexual Vices Among Men’ in The Cloven Hoof (1932). Croft acknowledged sexological constructions of ‘homosexuality’ as an interiorised nonnormative pathology but deliberately challenged the totalizing claims of this regime of sexual modernity. Rather than bounded and discrete, ‘homosexuality’ was a ‘proslytising vice’ that exposed the illusory nature of boundaries and binaries. Croft identified its ‘extremely refining influence’ on ‘working-class boys who, becoming perverted, have risen to be accepted by people of normal birth and distinction.’ Desire and social position were equally mutable. These boys were ‘surprisingly quick to adapt themselves to new conditions, their voices become cultured (though often, of course, a little too cultured).’ Croft concluded:


Homosexuality is completely democratic, so that a working-class boy is treated by men of breeding and culture … as one of themselves, and this cannot fail to flatter and please him. If he is noticeably good-looking he is probably the centre of attraction at a party at which he may meet men well-known on the stage or in public life; and consequently he feels that he is entering into an exciting life, full of possibilities, even though the actual idea of sexual relationships with these people is at first repulsive to him. He will probably receive presents and be invited for week-ends to different parts of the country or abroad, or be taken about in a motor-car or invited to large houses, and such new opportunities are sufficient to attract him into the circle permanently. 



There is much of Fox here: radical social mobility, the alluring pleasures of Society and consumerism, the decoupling of ‘sexual relationships’ from innate desire and bounded identity. Relations between men are subsumed into and embodied by mobilities of class.


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