The recent change in power in Poland from October 2015 has put the populist, conservative and nationalistic Law and Justice (PiS) party in charge. While its controversial laws on public institutions, particularly the one paralysing the Constitutional Court, have already caused significant national and international turmoil, the party’s less spectacular anti-feminist and anti-LGBT agenda has also become more pronounced. This is partially due to conservative grassroots organisations. More importantly, the Roman Catholic Church has been making clear calls to the ruling party in order to repay them for their electoral support with stronger legislation on issues related to gender and sexuality. If PiS answers these calls, Poland may soon end up with a nearly total ban on abortion.
On the December 1968 cover of The Los Angeles Advocate, two muscular nude white men pose against a scenic background. One of the men kneels down and embraces the other from behind, with his arms wrapped around the latter’s naked genital area. The image is a still from a soft-core pornography film, Autumn Nocturne (1968), directed by Pat Rocco and screened at the Park Theatre in Los Angeles. With this erotic cover, the The Los Angeles Advocate captures the essence of an important segment of the LGBTQ culture at a time when a multitude of voices were emerging to define what it meant to be “homosexual in America.”
Between July 1963 and October 1965, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley sexually assaulted and killed five young people between the ages of 10 and 17, and buried four of their victims on Saddleworth Moor in the South Pennines. At the time of the trial in April and May 1966, only three of the murders – those of Lesley Ann Downey, 10, John Kilbride, 12, and Edward Evans, 17 – were known. Further disclosure came when Brady confessed to two more murders, those of Pauline Reade, 16, and Keith Bennett, 12, in 1985. Bennett’s body has never been found.
Not long after President Clinton decided to keep a polite distance from the soon-to-be best known female White House intern in U.S. history, but still some while before his DNA was lifted from a blue dress, Thomas Jefferson’s DNA made national news. The third president, long rumored to have fathered the children of his enslaved house servant, Sally Hemings, was shown in 1998 to share the genetic material of the youngest of Hemings’s sons. More than a few critics of the sitting president jumped on the story, worrying that the well-timed release of the Jefferson study would somehow give Clinton “cover” by associating his extramarital sex life with that of a much esteemed founder.
The Jefferson “issue” could not be equated to the forty-second president’s non-copulative transgression. But for the sensation-seeking, and even some serious thinkers, past and present were enmeshed. In his 2004 memoir, My Life, President Clinton recalls the moment he learned of the Jefferson study; for it announced an unprecedented predicament, and begged the question: Is there a historical dimension to the manner in which sex plays out in public? Or more precisely, When does sex become a political weapon?
‘Sodomy Societies and Sodomy Week-end House parties must not be made legal,’ remarked the Rt. Rev. Christopher Chavasse, Bishop of Rochester, in a letter to Sir John Wolfenden dated 8 August 1956. This observation, buried in the Wolfenden Papers at the National Archives of the UK, merely confirmed the conventional wisdom that gay social spaces should not be tolerated. More surprisingly, however, he went on to express ‘more sympathy with a Curate or Scout-Master who has offended with a boy (horrible though this is: and possibly because I have had to deal with such cases) than with two grown men misbehaving together.’ There are still, of course, many in the Church who are not keen on the idea of consensual sexual relations between men. But, to twenty-first-century sensibilities, and given our current obsessions with child-abusing celebrities, politicians and priests, the suggestion from a respected senior cleric that it might be worse than paedophilia comes as a jolt. So how did we get from there to here? My main aim in this blog is to give an insight into the riches of the Wolfenden Papers, the subject of my recent book. But one of the most interesting and topical ways to do this is to explore what the documents have to say about paederasty and paedophilia—and this will begin to give us an answer as to why the Bishop of Rochester sounds so dated.