The Stage

Early Sources on Sexual and Gender Identity

The roots of social and political organization by lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender individuals extend far back in history. Notions of sexual and gender identity have changed significantly over time and in different cultures. This rare Danish book of 1920 addresses issues of homosexuality, hermaphroditism, and bisexuality.

Anton Nyström. Om homosexualitet og hermafroditisme: belysning af misforstaaede eksistenser. København: Langhoffs Forlag, 1920. Human Sexuality Collection.
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Gay bars have played a pivotal role in the construction of gay communities. A rare pamphlet, Trying & Pilloring of the Vere Street Club, indicates that an early form of the “gay bar” existed in London in 1810. This image shows men accused of homosexual activity being hauled through London in a cart while the mostly female public pelts them with mud, rotten garbage, the contents of chamber pots, and “dead cats and dogs, offal, potatoes, turnips, &c.”

Reports of the incident claimed: “Such was the fury of the crowd assembled in consequence of the cause of their apprehension becoming known, that it was with the almost [sic] difficulty the prisoners could be saved from destruction.”

The pamphlet explains the arrest:

The existence of a Club, or Society, for a purpose so detestable and repugnant to the common feelings of our nature, that by no word can it be described without committing an outrage upon decency, was for some time suspected by the Magistrates of Bow-street; who, cautiously concealing the odious secret, abstained from taking any steps on the information they had received, until an opportunity should offer of surprising the whole gang.

The twenty-three men arrested were sentenced both to prison and to time in the pillory, where they took additional abuse from the public.

In addition to suggesting a widespread appetite for public punishment, this pamphlet gives important evidence of something else. The fact that the twenty-three men were arrested together at a bar indicates the existence of some form of structured gay community at this very early date.

Trying & pilloring of the Vere Street Club. [London]: J. Brown, [1810]. Human Sexuality Collection.
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