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Today in Gay History

Today in Gay History: Oscar Wilde Convicted of Gross Indecency

oscar wilde

With recent legal developments in the restriction of privacy, the trials of Oscar Wilde and "the love that dare not speak its name" are particularly pertinent. 

What is "the love that dare not speak its name"?

After unsuccessfully suing the Marquess of Queensberry for putting him on blast as a homosexual, Oscar Wilde was arrested for sodomy and gross indecency in 1895. The trial against Queensberry, who was the father of Wilde's lover Lord Alfred Douglas, aired Wilde's dirty laundry, which included his penchant for rough trade.

In the trial following his arrest, Wilde was asked by prosecutor Charles Gill about "the love that dare not speak its name," a phrase in the poem "Two Loves" by Douglas:

Unasked by night; I am true Love, I fill
The hearts of boy and girl with mutual flame.'
Then sighing, said the other, 'Have thy will,
I am the Love that dare not speak its name.'

"It is that deep spiritual affection that is as pure as it is perfect," Wilde responded, in part. "It is beautiful, it is fine, it is the noblest form of affection. There is nothing unnatural about it."

Modern audiences have since taken up the phrase as a euphemism for homosexuality, though as Wilde describes it, "the love that dare not speak its name" is more like the pederasty of Ancient Greece--wherein an older man and a young boy form a homosexual relationship, basically the roots of gay-december romance. Or, if we're pouring some Socratic tea, NAMBLA.

Anyway, Wilde's testimony only further incriminated him and on May 25, 1895, Wilde and his friend Alfred Taylor were convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to two years of hard labor.

The presiding judge, Sir Alfred Willis, was so disgusted by the nature of the trial, he would've thrown them both behind bars for the rest of their lives, calling their sentence--the "severest" the law allowed at the time--"totally inadequate":

Oscar Wilde and Alfred Taylor, the crime of which you have been convicted is so bad that one has to put stern restraint upon one's self to prevent one's self from describing, in language which I would rather not use, the sentiments which must rise in the breast of every man of honor who has heard the details of these two horrible trials.


It is no use for me to address you. People who can do these things must be dead to all sense of shame, and one cannot hope to produce any effect upon them. It is the worst case I have ever tried. that you, Taylor, kept a kind of male brothel it is impossible to doubt. And that you, Wilde, have been the center of a circle of extensive corruption of the most hideous kind among young men, it is equally impossible to doubt.

Wilde, amid shouts of "shame!," replied sheepishly, "And I? May I say nothing, my Lord?"

Wilde's career, reputation, and life never fully recovered and he died penniless and alone on November 30, 1900 at age 46.

The witch hunt over Oscar Wilde bears eerie similarities to the witch hunt currently taking place in public restrooms across America. Just today, on the 121st anniversary of Wilde's conviction, eleven states decided to sue the Obama administration over federal guidleines that would allow transgender students to use restrooms and other facilities that correspond to their gender identities.

Though sodomy has been legal in the U.S. for, well, 13 years, we still have a lot to learn about respecting people's privacy--everyone's privacy, trans or otherwise. And that includes the freedom to go to the bathroom in peace. If anything, we should have learned the importance of privacy from the trials of Oscar Wilde--that, and to never take on anyone named Queensberry--because if we don't learn from history, we're doomed to repeat it.

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