Author Naomi Wolf has a new book coming out titled “Outrages: Sex, Censorship and the Criminalization of Love“. It’s about the emergence of homosexuality as a concept and its criminalization in 19th-century England.
…the story, brilliantly told, of why this two-pronged State repression took hold—first in England and spreading quickly to America—and why it was attached so dramatically, for the first time, to homosexual men.
Before 1857 it wasn’t “homosexuality” that was a crime, but simply the act of sodomy. But in a single stroke, not only was love between men illegal, but anything referring to this love became obscene, unprintable, unspeakable.
In a BBC interview with Wolf, her host, historian Matthew Sweet, points out two serious problems with her work. First, she assumes “sodomy” refers to homosexuality, but a key example she uses was a child abuser.
Secondly, she assumes the 19th-century legal term “death recorded” (for example) means the convict was executed, when in fact it means the opposite: the sentence of death being merely recorded rather than carried out, because the prisoner was pardoned and freed. A term she thought signaled draconian punishment turns out to demonstrate leniency.
Here’s the tape. Sweet is polite and professional, and Wolf takes the news well, but it’s very painful listening.
Everyone listen to Naomi Wolf realize on live radio that the historical thesis of the book she’s there to promote is based on her misunderstanding a legal term pic.twitter.com/a3tB77g3c1
— Edmund Hochreiter (@thymetikon) May 23, 2019
Fortunate that it isn’t out yet (and perhaps not even printed, as the release date is a couple of months out) so Wolf and publisher Virago can fix it. But Sweet adds that the supposed execution of gay men in Victorian England is a “major plank” in the book, when in fact the last one took place years before her reign.