Sodomy and prostitution had similar public status in eighteenth-century London, and are vices that have likely existed since the humans began living in collective societies. Social and legal perceptions of these two acts, or lifestyles, have varied greatly through time and culture. The legal and social perceptions of sodomy and prostitution in eighteenth-century London were studied extensively by Randolph Trumbach of Baruch College, City University of New York and written about in his article “Sex, Gender, and Sexual Identity in Modern Culture: Male Sodomy and Female Prostitution in Enlightenment London.” Enlightenment London was a crucial time in social development because the ideas of marriage, sex, gender, and identity were changing. Trumbach’s thesis is that “though it may not seem so at first, it is very likely that this fear of male passivity and the new sodomitical role that it had produced in the early Enlightenment was also a consequence of the anxieties induced by the new ideal of closer, intimate, more nearly equal relations with women” (Trumbach, 106).
The definition of marriage was changing in London during the eighteenth-century. Marriage was no longer just a relationship for procreation and family stability. Marriage was now expected to be relationships of intimacy and love, which put men and women on closer sexual ground. This affected male sexual identity because males felt as though they needed a sexual outlet where they were not required to be intimate, which led to outlets such as prostitution or sodomy. But as sex and gender perceptions were changing, prostitution and sodomy played key roles in the shaping of the male gender identity.
Before 1750, men, especially those in aristocratic positions, were known to have wives, take mistresses, and take adolescent boys without it affecting their gender identity, if they took the active or insertive role. After 1720, this course of action was mainly found in gender segregated environments such as prisons, colleges, or at sea. Following 1750, men who were found to live this lifestyle were thought to use marriage and mistresses to cover up their desire for men, whether adult or adolescent. These men, especially non-aristocratic males, were ostracized and blackmailed by men whose desires were only for women (Trumbach, 91).
This change in the definition of males from the seventeenth century, where males were defined for their anatomy, not their sexual desires, decomposed of the thought that someone who engaged in same gender sexual activities was still attracted to those of the opposite gender. In the seventeenth-century same gender sexual encounters did not influence a person’s gender standing. Before 1750, there were only two sexual acts that could endanger a person’s gender standing, and those were seen as defying the gender role that a person is delegated at birth. These two acts were for men to take the passive, receptive role in same gender sex, and for women to take the...