HISTORY: Same-Sex Prostitution in Modern Britain, 1885-1957


Jonathan Coleman University of Kentucky, jonathan.coleman@uky.edu

REVIEW, APPROVAL AND ACCEPTANCE The document mentioned above has been reviewed and accepted by the student’s advisor, on behalf of the advisory committee, and by the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS), on behalf of the program; we verify that this is the final, approved version of the student’s thesis including all changes required by the advisory committee. The undersigned agree to abide by the statements above.

Jonathan Coleman, Student

Dr. Philip Harling, Major Professor

Dr. David Hamilton, Director of Graduate Studies

Rent: Same-Sex Prostitution in Modern Britain, 1885-1957 chronicles the concept of “rent boys” and the men who purchased their services. This dissertation demonstrates how queer identity in Britain, until contemporary times, was largely regulated by class, in which middle-and-upper-class queer men often perceived of working-class bodies as fetishized consumer goods. The “rent boy” was an upper-class queer fantasy, and workingclass men sometimes used this fantasy for their own agenda while others intentionally dismantled the “rent boy” trope, refusing to submit to upper-class expectations. This work also explains how the “rent boy” fantasy was eventually relegated to the periphery of queer life during the mid-century movement for decriminalization. The movement was controlled by queer elites who ostracized economic-based and public forms of sex and emphasized the bourgeois sexual mores of their heterosexual counterparts. Sex between adult men in private was decriminalized, but working-class men selling sex suffered harsher laws and more strictly enforced penalties under this new, ostensibly “progressive” legislation.

curvesThe Problems and Possibilities of Same-Sex Prostitution In 2006, the now-defunct News of the World published a shocking article, accusing a Liberal-Democrat MP of soliciting “rent boys.” Mark Oaten, an aspiring party leader, admitted to his affair with a twenty-three-year-old sex worker and promptly stepped down as the home affairs spokesman of his party.1 The usual media circus ensued. Oaten was denounced as the hypocritical family man and a disgrace, while every aspect of his sexual life was combed over—including accusations of “three-in-a-bed” sex and coprophilia. Oaten resigned his seat, jumped a back fence to escape the press, and headed to Wales—the media reporting his every move. The Times christened him the “byword for scandal.”2 Oaten, without protest, embraced the moniker. He wrote an indepth account of the scandal’s wake for The Independent. 3 In a rather cheeky move, he reviewed the play, Life After Scandal, for The Guardian.4 And in 2009 he published a tell-all book. Mark Oaten, repeatedly, told his side of the story, wherein he mused on the fluidity of sexual orientation, his general fears of dying, and his “DNA-encoded” obsession with youth.

READ  History - Rent Boys - UK 1885-1957 - Part 2

under veilHis partner, the sex worker, however, remained virtually silent. His only words were quoted in The News of the World, and they described Oaten: “a very troubled man living a very dangerous double life.”5 The young man may have wanted to remain silent in order to keep himself out of the scandal, but that would have been difficult to achieve if the press were interested in talking to him. The anonymous twenty-three-year-old was certainly talked about, but it seems he was never spoken to. If he was unwilling to tell his story, then apparently any sex worker could fill in the details. The Independent, for example, found an Irish escort, dubbed Erin Smith, to act as a representative. The first thing Smith asserted was his annoyance with the term “rent boy,” which he and his friends considered a “derogatory term” meant to describe “a ‘crack whore’ who charges £10 for a blow job.” Regardless, The Independent referred to Smith as a rent boy, and even titled the article “A Rent Boy’s Story.”6 Oaten, in his glut of media output, provided a lengthy description of his partner as “polite, friendly, businesslike and in total control.” He gave “no sense that [Oaten] was exploiting him.” Indeed, Oaten was the envious one, envious of the man’s good looks and youthfulness. But Oaten had “no real concept of the risk,” giving his phone number and going to the man’s flat in his “work clothes.” He therefore could not feel angry with the young man “for selling his story,” although it is unclear, and in hindsight doubtful, that the News of the World uncovered the scandal through the escort himself.

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