By Clary, Julian
New Statesman (1996) , Vol. 136, No. 4854
Naturally, I have been asked to contribute to this "gay special" (which isn't, as my friend Hector suggested, "oral sex administered with a mouthful of champagne"). "Why," declared the NS voice on the phone, "to publish such an issue without a contribution from you would be like pasta without Parmesan, roast lamb without mint sauce, Fred West without Rosemary!" In the end I broke down.
Euphemisms, double entendres and what can only be described as symbolism have played a big part in gay history. A signet ring worn on your pinkie used to be a "sign" to other homosexuals that you were partial to meat and two veg. (It probably still is, in the provinces.) A hanky in your right, rear jeans pocket meant that you were active rather than passive (or "Martha" rather than "Arthur", I can't remember which), and nowadays dilated pupils mean you've had a skinful of drugs and will do anything with anyone, as long as they're breathing and wearing trousers.
Evolution is a wonderful thing. I've got the ring, the hanky and the dilated pupils. (Best to cover all bases, I figured.)
When I was at Goldsmiths in the late Seventies, our elderly English lecturer would digress from our seminars about the metaphysical poets to talk nostalgically about his gay life in the Thirties and Forties. It all sounded excitingly furtive: off-duty guardsmen in St James's Park, men in suits tapping their feet meaning-fully as they sat opposite you on the Tube. The fact that homosexual acts were illegal wasn't even mentioned. It didn't seem as if anyone was going without just on account of a pompous law, for Dorothy's sake.
So, even though we must all be grateful for such liberation and for the acceptance we have so graciously been granted, I'm being a tad reserved about it. Please don't think we're all gay now just because we've suddenly got the go-ahead. We were at it like rabbits before Wolfenden stated the bleeding obvious about our human rights. Very good of him, I'm sure, but let's not go overboard in our gratitude.
Between 1938 and 1955 there was an 85 per cent increase in homosexual offences. In 1952, for example, there were 670 cases of naughty sodomy, 3,078 cases of glorious indecent assault and 1,686 cases of highly enjoyable gross indecency. …