Europe before 1900: The burning times

The imposition of Christianity as the Roman state religion caused huge changes. In the first place, the temples to the various goddesses who had previously had transsexual priestesses were all closed. Although Jews were — somewhat warily — tolerated by the new Christian Roman authorities, the old — now considered unfashionable, ‘pagan’ — religions, were suppressed. Along with them, of course, went the opportunity for transsexual priestesses.

In 342, the Christian Emperors Constantius II and Constans declared the death penalty for any man who ‘took on the passive role of a bride’. In 390, at which time the Empire had divided into three, all the Emperors, Valentinian II, Theodosius I and Arcadius, denounced males ‘acting the part of a woman’, and condemned those who were guilty of such acts to be publicly burned. This edict was confirmed by Justinian in the sixth century.

At the same time, male homosexuality and transsexualism came under extreme levels of religious persecution both form the Catholic church and later, the Protestant ones. Through Gratian’s Decretum the death penalty for homosexual males — by which was meant, initially, those receptive in sex — was adopted by all the European nations. Alfonso X of Castile favoured castration followed by hanging upside down until dead, while Ferdinand and Isabella changed this to the more traditional burning.Incredible levels of violence, against males who were receptive in sex, were to become the norm.

It is absolutely certain that transsexuals would have borne the brunt of this savagery.

Male homosexuality, however, because it is innate, persisted despite the danger and violence, which meant that HSTS, which is the natural end-point of transgender male homosexuality, also did, albeit covertly and latently. But there were still examples.

Gregory of Tours (538 to 594 CE) wrote a story about a man who had worn women’s clothing as a child and had continued into adulthood by dressing as a nun and living in a convent.

The Chevalier d’Eon

The persecution was not, as in other areas, equal. While poorer people had to bear the full brunt of religious zeal against homosexuality, the upper classes were largely left alone.

The Chevalier d’Eon (1728 to 1810) was a male French diplomat and mistress to King Louis XV. He spent the second half of his life as a woman. Eonism, a term referring to cross-gendered behaviour, was derived from d’Eon’s name. It was first used by Havelock Ellis, but the term is no longer in wide use. (Although this individual was more likely an autogynephile rather than HSTS, we include the example; and we will never be sure.)


One fascinating example of how HSTS was able to persist in Europe was the mollies. These were young homosexual males who dressed as women and sought sex with men. They are best known through the ‘molly houses’ of England, which were public houses that specifically catered to them. These might have had rooms available for the consummation of sex, although often, too, this was performed outside. Full ‘weddings’ were often arranged, with faux priest overseeing, after which the happy couple would consummate their — albeit temporary — union on a bed set up in the same space; meantime the assembled company followed suit. The molly-houses were dens of extreme licentiousness that rival the bars of Pattaya today.

The mollies’ partners were fascinating. We know little about them, because of the universal disapproval of their lifestyle. However, they seem to have been older males who also affected effeminate modes of presentation and were called ‘queenies’. It is possible that these were older mollies whose youthful beauty had passed them by, but they might also have been transvestite autogynephiles. Even today, in the West, AGP males are known to be attracted to younger HSTS and it’s unlikely that this is a recent phenomenon.

In recent years, it has become fashionable amongst revisionist homosexual activists to depict the Molly Houses as being places where modern expressions of male homosexuality took place, or even that they were just ‘meeting houses for male friends’ but these claims are unsupported. They were places where cross-dressed transgender male homosexuals made themselves sexually available to other men.

While there certainly were gender-conforming male prostitutes who served men in cities all over Europe, the Molly Houses were very specific and here, younger males principally played the role of women. That is, they dressed in female clothing and were receptive in sex. Molly Houses hosted formalised role-play including ‘marriages’ where one of the Mollies and a man were united in a bawdy — and probably drunken — pastiche of a religious wedding. This was then consummated on a bed within the premises, as a public spectacle for all to see. Less formal liaisons were called ‘dirty business’ and in these the partners withdrew either outside or to a private room for the act of sex.

The modern Western expression of male homosexuality, called by Michael Bailey ‘egalitarian’, simply did not exist prior to the 1950s.


By the 19th century HSTS in northern Europe had largely been driven underground by massive social intolerance of male effeminacy and the draconian penalties that were in place. These had been at their most extreme in Europe’s Protestant nations, with the Dutch being particularly vicious. Thousands of homosexual and transsexual people were judicially murdered in the most horrific manner over a period of centuries. Homosexual males remained, of course, but the legal penalties for discovery meant that their activities had to be covert. Appearing to be masculine, a technique that has persisted to this day, was their primary line of defence. There was little opportunity now for HSTS expressions, at least in MtF.

By the beginning of the 19th century a new wind of some tolerance began to blow. After the revolution of 1789, France abolished its anti-homosexuality laws, but the UK had to wait until 1967!

Despite this, homosexuality was an ongoing element of the English ‘Public School’ system, as the excellent Quentin Crisp, who later identified as transsexual, wrote in his book ‘The Naked Civil Servant’.1

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