A history of the development of London as the European epicenter of queer life.
In his latest work, Ackroyd (Revolution: The History of England from the Battle of the Boyne to the Battle of Waterloo, 2017, etc.), who has written numerous books about his home city, dives into a specific aspect of that history. The author begins with linguistics. In trying to sort out the origins of the words “gay” and “lesbian,” Ackroyd launches into an etymological exploration of a variety of words associated with homosexuality. In his opinion, the term “gay,” as we understand it now, took on its meaning in the 1940s in the United States. For decades and even centuries before then, homosexuality had a very different meaning in the U.K. Ackroyd describes the varied practices of the wealthy and powerful through the ages: sleeping with young boys with no consequences and a blind eye from the general public; an intricate linguistic and hand-motion code that only the “queers” could understand; the long and often overlooked tradition of cross-dressing to gain social advantages; and the ebb and flow of acceptance of same-sex marriages. The author also takes us through the many obstacles put in place to battle against homosexuality, though he describes a period in 16th-century London during which the effeminacy of men was celebrated (privately) and used publically in theatrical gestures and contributions to the cultural capital of the community. Spanning centuries, the book is a fantastically researched project that is obviously close to the author’s heart. Rather than obsessively writing about the heterosexual perception of homosexual lifestyles, Ackroyd provides tangible anecdotes from members of the community, all with a light and engaging tone that will make most readers continue until the end—only to discover that not much has changed.
An exciting look at London’s queer history and a tribute to the “various human worlds maintained in [the city’s] diversity despite persecution, condemnation, and affliction.”