Anti-gay, anti-trans laws rooted in class rule
Lavender & red, part 111
Published Sep 21, 2007 11:08 PM
In today’s capitalist citadels, lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans mass
political movements have overturned many oppressive laws against same-sexuality
and cross-dressing. The imperialist ruling classes would be relieved if these
movements would now redirect their collective ire against laws still on the
books in today’s former colonies and neocolonies.
What the official imperial histories have all but obscured, however, is that
these same colonial and imperialist powers were the ones that imposed laws
against same-sexuality and narrowed gender/sex expression all over the
The policing of sexuality and gender expression—and the very existence of
police as a repressive force—are rooted in the development of class
Reactionary laws that narrowly defined the sexes, degraded the economic and
social status of women, and justified state repression and harsh penalties for
same-sex love and gender diversity were instituted around the world wherever
patriarchal class rule overturned matrilineal pre-class societies.
In some societies the change was slow and gradual. Labor technique over
centuries became more productive, leading to the accumulation of surplus. The
struggle that ensued over control of this surplus resulted in the overturning
of cooperative economic and social relations.
In other cases, pre-class communal societies were conquered by the armies of
patriarchal ruling classes. In those instances, matrilineal kinship lines were
In both instances, the new world order served the dictates of patriarchal
private ownership of the new social wealth.
Lex Scantia—one of the earliest known laws against same-sex
love—was written during the early Roman Empire in the third century
B.C.E. East Roman Emperor Justinian blamed homosexuality for floods and
earthquakes—not unlike today’s U.S. theo-cons who claim AIDS and
Hurricane Katrina are the wrath of an avenging Jehovah against gay men and
The East Roman Code of Theodosius in 390 C.E. is an example of the historical
intertwining of anti-homosexuality laws with gender/sex enforcement. The edict
stated that “All of those who are accustomed to condemn their own manly
body, transformed into a womanly one, to undergo sexual practices reserved for
the other sex, and who have nothing different from women, will pay for this
crime among the avenging flames, in front of the people.”
The feudal ruling classes of Europe also developed harsh domestic laws as part
of their conquest of communal peasants and consolidation of overall class
Spain enforced its “Seven-Part Code” during the rule of Alfonso X
of Castile from 1252-1284 C.E. The code was one of the first on the continent
to call for castration and then stoning to death for “sins against
nature,” which included “sodomy.”
France instituted a legal code in 1260 that made same-sexual acts punishable by
amputation of clitoris or testicles for the first “offense,” penis
or breasts for the second conviction, and death by burning at the stake for the
third. A decade later, under Louis IX, anal intercourse was proclaimed a
capital crime mandating the sentence of burning at the stake.
In what is today Belgium, the first execution in Western Europe for a same-sex
act between two men was carried out in 1292.
In one example of how the charges of “sodomy” and
“heresy” were used as political weapons in an economic war, Philip
IV of France called for the roundup arrests of all Knights Templar in 1308. The
charges were a cover to appropriate the considerable wealth of the knights.
Queer Heritage’s online timeline notes that in 1432: “Florence
becomes the first European city to set up a special authority to prosecute
crimes of sodomy. Called the Uffiziali di Notte (Officers of the Night), this
special court prosecutes more than 10,000 men and boys over the next 70 years.
About 2,000 are believed to have been convicted. Most avoid further punishment
by paying fines.”
In 1451 Pope Nicholas V empowered the Inquisition to hunt down and punish male
sodomy. In 1476, Leonardo Da Vinci was twice anonymously reported to Florentine
authorities on the charge of “sodomy,” but was acquitted both times
because no witnesses came forward.
King Henry VIII’s government codified the “buggery” civil law
in 1533 that called for death by hanging as punishment for anal intercourse.
The slur “buggery” derived from the old French term
“bougre” for heretic, and the Latin word “bulgaris” for
Bulgaria—a country rumored to be full of heretics. By the 13th century
the word “buggery” had become synonymous with sodomy in
Historian Douglas Sanders explains that the legislation “cannot be
understood apart from the break of the English church from Rome and the
confiscation of monastic properties. It was a first step in justifying the
dissolution of the monasteries and the seizure of their endowments.”
While charges of “sodomy” were often political in nature, these and
other laws restructured sexuality and sex/gender to facilitate the new
patriarchal class economic relations.
Laboring class resistance
Persecution of same-sex love sparked some forms of resistance. For example, in
the late 15th century, the campaign led by Florentine monk Savonarola against
“sodomy” as an “abominable vice” was met with
rebellious anger by the Compagnacci, a group of young men led by those who had
been convicted of such charges.
Queer Heritage reports that in 1497: “The youths jeer and harass the
preacher’s followers in the streets and squares of [Florence].” In
the same city 15 years later, “A large group of young men converge on the
government palace to protest the current crackdown on sodomy and to demand the
release of men recently arrested.”
Overall, state repression and the dominance of the patriarchal family and
marriage drove same-sex love underground.
However, from the Middle Ages to the 16th century, masking and cross-dressing
as another sex continued to be woven into urban carnivals. These festivals had
ancient pagan (pre-class rural) roots and were organized by all-male semisecret
societies. Some of these enduring, defiant customs from pre-class societies in
Europe can still be seen today in Halloween, Mardi Gras and Mummer
Sometimes the days of festival “misrule” authorized by the ruling
feudal institutions as a social safety valve exploded into actual rebellions.
In those instances, cross-gendered leaders of the festivals led the charge.
In France, for example, male-bodied “Mére Folle and her
children” publicly humiliated the King’s Grand Master of Streams
and Forests in Burgundy in Dijon in 1576 because the latter beat his wife and
destroyed the local forests. In Lyon in the 1580s, the “Lord of
Misprint” used the cover of the festival license to protest war and the
high cost of bread. In 1630, another “Mére Folle” and her
infantry led an uprising against royal tax officers in Dijon.
Cross-dressed males who called themselves “Lady Skimmington” fought
back against the king’s enclosure of their forests in Wiltshire, England,
Also in England, “To cite but four examples, toll gates were demolished
by bands of armed men dressed in women’s clothing and wigs in Somerset in
1731 and 1749, in Gloucester in 1728 and in Herefordshire in 1735.”
“General Ludd’s wives”—two male-bodied weavers dressed
as women—led an enraged crowd of hundreds of workers to destroy the
owner’s looms and burn down the factory in Stockton, England, in
And when in 1725 repressive campaigners raided a Covent Garden “molly
house” in an attack against “effeminate sodomites among the London
poor,” those inside, “many of them in drag, met the raid with
determined and violent resistance.”
In other historical reports, cross-dressed female leaders described as
“masculine” were on the front line of rebellions.
An account from England in 1531 noted an unruly crowd of cross-dressed females,
together with cross-dressed males.
In Essex, England, female-bodied “Captain” Alice Clark led a group
of women and cross-dressed male weavers in an uprising over grain shortage in
Essex in 1629.
A report from France stated, “The tax revolt at Montpellier in 1645 was
started by women and led down the streets by a virago [masculine woman] named
La Branlaire, who shouted for death for the tax collectors that were taking the
bread from their children’s mouths.”
As the ruling classes of Europe expanded beyond their borders to colonize
peoples around the world, they brought these same laws against same-sex love
and gender variation with them, and enforced them even more viciously. And
then, as now, the colonialists and imperialists met with fierce resistance.
Next: European colonialism and U.S. imperialism impose laws against
same-sex love in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Middle
E-mail: [email protected]
Unsourced accounts can be found in Feinberg’s “Transgender
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