Node your home-work! The following was a research paper i turned in for a high school Modern European AP class. It is rather cursory, covers only Britain and France (although i did find some bits of material on Holland that i didn't use) and is serverely marked by my frantic efforts to make the final product fall under the 1500 word limit (which i overshot by 700 words anyway) : i have two more paragraphs that were nearly finished, on the special cases of homosexuality in the British Theatre and the British Navy and how they are examples of how certain conductive environments would form their own little gay subcultures blah blah blah, that were just thrown out altogether (although if anyone really cares, /msg me and i'll try to stick them in somewhere); paragraph three, and half of paragraph six in this version were omitted in the version i turned in; and the paper completely ignores altogether both lesbianism and the weird little issues of pederasty (ugh) and how homosexuality was different in the nobility (basically, they would bugger people just for the feeling of power), each of which could fill a paper all by themselves. Basically, what i suggest you do is ignore the paper below, skip to the bibliography, and try to see if you can find copies of the sources used for this paper, which were mostly excellent. (Especially the Rictor Norton stuff.)

With the revolution in moral standards that has come with the twentieth century, a great many things have become open and acceptable in ways that were unthinkable just a few generations before. Nowhere are the changes more evident than in western culture's view of homosexuality; a thing which was for over a thousand years a capital crime has in the last 50 years become a relatively accepted part of society. The most obvious evidence of this which springs to mind is the visibility of well-defined gay and lesbian communities in larger cities. Such communities, it would seem, are a recent development, a product of new social worldviews; however, this is not the case, as the phenomenon is itself more than three hundred years old, and seems to have first emerged at the height of public stigma against homosexuality. By the eighteenth century, homosexual subcultures in Europe had emerged as clearly defined social entities with clear cultural identities of their own.

If a definite cause for the phenomenon of the gay subcultures in the eighteenth century exists, it would most likely be the urbanisation process which accompanied the beginnings of the industrial revolution and restructured the nature of how European cultures were put together. Small towns became more and more rare, larger towns became commonplace and the already large towns where the most thriving homosexual communities tended to develop simply exploded; London went from a population of about 200,000 in 1600 to nearly a million by the end of the eighteenth century, while Paris went from a sparse 70,000 in 1600 to a count of 713,966 in the same period1. The relatively huge population and geographic size of the new cities not only meant the relatively small percentage of gays in the total population could still form a sizable group, but the new cities also-- as a result of the fact that one could simply walk a short distance across town and reach a place where they would be completely unrecognized-- provided an unparalleled sort of quasi-anonymity, allowing people to go and engage in the kind of behavior the homosexual subculture consisted of without it necessarily consuming the rest of their daily lives. As such homosexuals, long prohibited by their cultures from expressing their sexual identities, began (as soon as the city environment grew conveniently large enough to make such a thing physically possible) to construct their own cultural infrastructure and support networks in order to go around the societal constraints applied to them.

The historical sociology of homosexuality is a subject which received no serious attention until 1976, and is one that is extremely difficult to get hard data on. Beyond the ordinary difficulties of distinguishing the differences in the lives of normal minority groups within a society, the social stigma that was tacked on to the subject for over fifteen hundred years effectively blotted out any relevant information from the vast majority of accounts. The Christian orthodoxy sought not only to repress homosexuality, but to erase all evidence that it even existed, using its influence to ensure those sources that were most visible-- those which would be of most use to historians-- censored any mention of "that most horrible sin which must never be named"2. While decent amounts of information do exist on the more solid subcultures that began to appear on the record with the eighteenth century, the essence of an individual life is almost impossible to grasp: even those few who at the time were committing details of daily lives to paper at that point in history left out anything directly referencing homosexuality as it affected them for fear of public disgrace, or that what they wrote could be used against them legally. What information is left is often infuriatingly vague, leaving historians to read between the lines on near everything-- meaning that almost certainly a certain amount of meaning that was never meant to be there at all is occasionally read into original texts by overzealous revisionist historians. On lesbianism the texts offer nothing but silence, partly due to the tendency of the (male) primary documenters to consider the doings of women so unimportant as to not merit comment, and partially due to the strategy taken by the authorities of refusing to outlaw or otherwise acknowledge the existence of lesbians in hopes that women simply wouldn't realize that lesbianism was an option unless it was specifically suggested to them (Basically a Lets Pretend they Don't Exist and Hope they Go Away thing.)3. As a result of all of this, the most tangible and extensive source of information historians have, somewhat ironically, is police reports2. The only people really interested in keeping hard records on the activity of the homosexual subculture, as it happens, were those who wanted to see it destroyed. As a result, the best data on the nature of the subculture is available for those periods in which repression of it was most intense; in fact, it is quite possible that these subcultures existed prior to 1700, and their apparent "appearance" at that time is solely a result of the documentation created by a resurgence in repression.

A good example of this phenomenon would be in Paris, where the police from the beginning of the eighteenth century on consistently produced detailed documentation of their war on the (male) homosexual subculture. Because the population of Parisians with homosexual tendencies was (while relative to the rest of the population small) so large as to make direct prosecution unrealistic, the authorities chose instead to pursue a policy of a kind of psychological terrorism; it was infrequent that prosecutions were carried through with completely, but those that did were done publicly and very bloodily4. In an attempt to remove any sense of security gays may have had, a system of entrapment was implemented whereby violators were picked up by special police agents commonly called Mouches (apparently French for "fly"), who would actually pose as gay men and attempt to entrap others into soliciting sodomy5. While the efforts of the police do not seem to have been very effective at all in their purpose of dispersing the subculture, the nature of the Mouches-- who would solicit personal information from their targets and come as close as possible to the actual act of sodomy itself in order to secure a conviction-- meant that historians were left with an unparalleled amount of information on the workings of the gay culture, which was in and of itself quite developed.

The main focus of the police attention was centered on a number of specific established "cruising" routes, in which those looking to engage in "infamous acts" would ramble in an attempt at identifying like-minded individuals. Such routes existed in London as well as Paris, although the English court documents on this subject have unfortunately been so heavily censored as to leave almost no real data as to how the transactions there were conducted6. The cruising routes in both countries, at least the ones targeted by the police, were generally the same areas frequented by prostitutes of both sexes, although Britain appears to have had absolutely minimal gay male prostitution7.

The signals potential partners used to identify each other were quite subtle; generally a participant would begin a conversation on a totally unrelated subject and tentatively move toward a solicitation, aborting if they received indication that the person being talked to was not the type to be interested. The conventions involved in these transactions to ensure only the truly interested became involved were vaguely intricate, and with time began to adapt to the presence of the Mouches; for example, in the later part of the century, the involved parties were expected to at some point before an agreement was met quietly mutually expose themselves-- forcing any police agents to to a degree implicate themselves in order to get their quarry8. Not all propositioners were quite so subtle, of course; many hook-ups in both England and France were procured through rather visible displays of public urination, which was used as a form of self-advertising9. Since relieving oneself in such a public manner was, as it happens, not terribly uncommon at this point in history anyway, taking this method meant both that gays would in the act draw minimal extra attention from those not specifically paying attention, and that innocent people who just happened to be pissing in the streets in the wrong part of town were not infrequently propositioned by accident.

In France, those making unwelcome advances were rebuked, and if someone made a nuisance of themselves in the advance (Although propositioners were apparently rather good at knowing when to leave well enough alone– and interestingly, in every single case of male-on-male sexual assault recorded for this entire period, the aggressor was a member of the aristocracy9.) they would usually be dealt with through the same community-disapproval techniques used to deal with drunkards– drunkenness apparently being a "vice" which most French of the time apparently considered buggery no worse than10.

Britain tended to be societally less tolerant of this kind of behavior, mostly as a result of the public-opinion-shifting efforts of the Society for the Reformation of Manners, a privately-run but government-blessed organisation that arose at the beginning of the 18th century dedicated to resulting in general moral reform. Their main target was to suppress the rowdier bars and public profanity, but they also operated a free-lance network of Mouche-style entrapment operatives who would seek out Molly houses or gays in search of partners and report them to the police11. Despite its best efforts, the Society in the end appears to have mostly fed the Molly subculture, by way of making those with homosexual tendencies realize that they are not alone, and then (by way of their public "condemnations") proceeding to provide lots of free publicity for the best cruising spots12.

Once set up, the act (the act generally being anal sex; in France, there were usually certain distinctly odd conventions of who would be the penetrator-- it was assumed that the older/more senior/more "quality" partner would always be the one buggering, and giving up this privilege was seen as akin to giving up one's manhood13. The English, on the other hand, had no qualms whatsoever about position14.) would actually generally be consummated in any place not clearly in public view-- an alley, a thicket, a ditch, wherever. Such places were actually MORE private than a private living space would be, due to the cramped living quarters and paper-thin walls of the dwellings of the new urbanisation15. Private rooms at taverns were occasionally used, but this sometimes was dangerous as some tavern owners worked with the police.

The apparent emphasis in this entire system on simple anonymous sex rather than lasting relationships is possibly a result of the heavy reliance by historians on the records of the Police, who obviously would have a great deal of trouble finding out and prosecuting cases of people pretending to just be roommates; it is, however, known that long-term homosexual relationships did happen during this period, as several couples did fall into the hands of the police, at least in France16. The more lasting emotional side of the homosexual subculture, however, seems mostly to be found satisfied in the Molly houses.

The English gay community seems to have had less emphasis on cruising grounds than on specific meeting places at taverns– "Molly Houses", the first gay bars. France is documented as having similar designated places, although France's version was more subdued– eight groups of 15-30 people, all from the emerging merchant classes, who would habitually meet at the same tavern evenings with the shutters closed are documented as existing during this period in France17, but their meetings were full of restraint, mainly centers of comradery and places to find partners– any actual acts of sodomy or even serious touching would take place off-premises. The English Molly Houses, meanwhile, were less class-specific, and tended to be homes– often taking on lodgers– specifically intended for gays to meet. These were far more open and rowdy than their french equivalent– Public Displays of Affection were encouraged, and sodomy on-premises was acceptable, although usually taken into a side-room18.

More or less every account of these houses, in both England and France, speaks of the feminine qualities taken on by the attendees; the Mollies would take on the mannerisms and occasionally the accouterments of women. Most interestingly, in many of these accounts are found reports of mimickings of aspects of legal heterosexual unions. In England, multiple accounts survive of those leaving the room for private couplings being given a brief blessing of "marriage" by an attendant18. Some of the French tavern groups brought new members in with an initiation ceremony whereby the new member would be "married" to the entire existing group, dressed and welcomed in as the young "bride" of the brotherhood17. Documentation even exists– including one case where men were actually arrested in the act– of a semi-common English mock-birth ritual, where one member of the group would dress up as a pregnant woman and feign the contractions of birth, after which a "child" made of wood was produced; the group would lavish over their child, and sometimes apparently even go so far as to christen it19. Aside from the sexual or social tensions that such actions were meant to relieve in the members of the group, these accounts speak volumes about the purpose of the Molly-houses themselves. The cruising grounds may have merely been sources of sex partners, but the Molly-houses were there to provide a sense of home and belonging– to provide the analogue within the gay subculture of the Mollies' perception of heterosexual conceptions of love and marriage.

Despite society's views and attempts to end their actions, homosexual subcultures were able to not only survive in the eighteenth century but to become quite developed and self-defined. As long as the existence of the community was at all possible, the community would find a way to make itself happen.


  1. Wendell Cox Consultancy, Paris Population History from 1600 and Greater London: Population & Population Density History; available from; internet
  2. Wayne R. Daynes and Stephen Donaldsen, ed., History of Homosexuality in Europe and America (New York: Garland Publishing, 1992), Introduction, xii.
  3. Discussion of lesbianism has been wholly omitted from this paper, partly because of space considerations. The Rictor Norton book (p. 9, p. 232) states that the lesbians were a bit late in forming independent identities for themselves, and did not begin to form their own subculture until the 1790s in France, the mid 18th century in England, and earlier in Italy.
  4. Wikholm, Andrew. Sodomitical Subcultures Emerge, accessed 2-23-01, available from; internet
  5. Rey, Michael, "Parisian Homosexuals Create a Lifestyle, 1700-1750: The Police Archives," In Robert Purks Maccubbin, ed., Tis Nature's Fault: Unauthorized Sexuality during the enlightenment (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 179
  6. Rictor Norton, Mother Clap's Molly House: The Gay Subculture in England 1700-1830 (London: GMP Publishers Ltd, 1992), 106
  7. For Britain: Norton, 110. For France: Rey, 180
  8. Rey, 196
  9. France: Rey, 182; England: Norton, 107
  10. Rey, 182
  11. Laurence Senelick, "Mollies or Men of Mode? Sodomy and the Eighteenth-Century London Stage," Journal of the History of Sexuality 1 (1990):33-67
  12. Norton, 40
  13. Rey, 182
  14. Norton, 108
  15. Rey, 180
  16. Rey, 185
  17. Rey, 186
  18. Rictor Norton, Ed., "The Trial of Margaret Clap, 1726", Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook. Updated 14 April 2000, available from; internet
  19. Rictor Norton, Ed., "The Mollies Club, 1709-10", Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook. Updated 1 Dec. 1999, available from; internet


  • Norton, Rictor. Mother Clap's Molly House: The Gay Subculture in England 1700-1830 . London: GMP Publishers Lt., 1992
    Excellent book, source of a great deal of my information on London. The second chapter of this is available at http://www.infopt.demo (minus spaces)
  • Wayne R. Daynes and Stephen Donaldsen, ed. History of Homosexuality in Europe and America. New York: Garland Publishing, 1992.
    Invaluable compilation of relevant articles from scholarly journals too obscure to be readily accessible; the next three sources listed here were located from this book. Contains an excellent introduction which was, itself, used as a source.
    Rey, Michael. "Parisian Homosexuals Create a Lifestyle, 1700-1750: The Police Archives." in Tis Nature's Fault: Unauthorized Sexuality during the enlightenment, ed. Maccubbin, Robert Purks. New York: Cambrige University Press, 1987: pp. 179-191.
    Source of most of my information on Paris.
    Gilbert, Arthur N. "Buggery and the British Navy, 1700-1861." Journal of Social History 10, 1976. pp. 72-98
    Source of pretty much all information for a paragraph on subcultures within the navy that was mostly written but removed because of lack of space.
    Senelick, Laurence. "Mollies or Men of Mode? Sodomy and the Eighteenth-Century London Stage." Journal of the History of Sexuality 1 (1990):33-67. University of Chicago Press, publisher.
    Contributed information on English Manners Society; Source of pretty much all information for a paragraph on subcultures within the British theatre that was mostly written but removed because of lack of space.
    Wendell Cox Consultancy, Paris Population History from 1600 and Greater London: Population & Population Density History; available from; internet
    Demographical statistics website; provided figures on growth of European cities in the 18th century.
    Rictor Norton, Ed., "The Trial of Margaret Clap, 1726", Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook. Updated 14 April 2000, available from http://www.infopt.demo (minus spaces); internet
    Primary source; used in examination of Molly houses
    Rictor Norton, Ed., "The Mollies Club, 1709-10", Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook. Updated 1 Dec. 1999, available from http://www.infopt.demo (minus spaces); internet
    Primary source; used for examination of Molly houses
    Wikholm, Andrew. Sodomitical Subcultures Emerge, accessed 2-23-01, available from http://www.gayhis ts/subcultures.htm (minus spaces); internet
    Source of information on Holland, French police tactics.
    Weeks, Jeffrey. Against nature : essays on history, sexuality and identity. London : Rivers Oram Press, 1991
    Was part of original research; contained useful information relevant to the 19th century. Was dropped as source when I decided to limit the scope of the paper to the 18th century.
    Rabeea Sultan, Lesbianism in the Eighteenth Century. Updated Dec 06, 2000. Available from rl.utexas.ed u/~pasupath i/critical_to ols/e314l_fall_2 000/archives/h istory/lib3/Les bianism_in_the_eigh teenth_centu ry.html (minus spaces); internet
    Was not, in the end, used as a source. Included here only in case it would be of further interest to the reader. Be warned the piece is short and does not document its sources.

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