Fanny and Stella: The Young Men Who Shocked Victorian England

Terry Eagleton writes:

Beneath their capacious skirts, Fanny and Stella were Frederick Park and Ernest Boulton, two young cross-dressers who were put on trial in Westminster Hall in 1871. Cross-dressing was not a criminal offence, so the men were charged instead with outraging public decency. On the slightest of pretexts, the prosecution also threw in ‘the abominable crime of buggery’, along with conspiracy to incite others to do the same. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of so-called he-she ladies were arrested each year and charged with what the newspapers called ‘abominable offences’, ‘unnatural crimes’, ‘uncleanness’ or ‘unspeakable conduct’. Some of them got off by offering police officers sexual or financial favours. ‘I have been in the hands of the police,’ one young adventurer wrote home to his ‘Pa’, ‘or rather the other way round, the police have been in my hands so many times lately that my lily white hands have been trembling, and I am utterly fucked out.’ (If the word ‘Pa’ is to be taken literally, the youth must have had an astonishingly broad-minded father. Boulton’s mother was almost as permissive, fondly pasting photos of her son in drag into an album.)

(LRB 7 March 2013)

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