Sexuality as shaped in the environment
The primary resource is a record of an interview between the author and a graduate student from Haileybury. In the interview, he said that back in his time in school between 1921 and 1926, he and his schoolmates had an enormous amount of homosexual behavior. However, the interviewee also said that mass of sex doesn't change his sexual orientation or his friends’ to homosexuality.1
The records are excerpted from the book The Old School Tie: The Phenomenon of the English Public School written by Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy in 1977.
The interview happened decades after the 1920s, and during these years, the public attitude towards homosexuality also changed drastically. In the UK, from the 1920s to the 1940s, people seemed to be more accepting of homosexuality. Based on general population data gathered shortly after the war, one author speculates that as many as 1,300,000 British servicemembers could have experienced some form of same-sex intimacy during World War II.2 However, following the war, the environment changed rapidly, authorities took more severe and strict attitudes towards the rapid increase in homosexual activities. "Concerned together in committing an act of gross indecency"3 can be the evidence for the police to charge and arrest. Before author Jonathan Gathorne-Hary wrote the book, London had already long been plagued by hostile social attitudes towards homosexuality. However, single-gender intimacy does not always equal homosexuality; the interview proves that at least one small group of people volunteered to engage in these events but were not homosexual.
One possible explanation for heterosexual people participating in homosexual activities can be the particular environments they were in. For example, the school system. The unique characteristic about the British public school is that: boarding school is the only type of schooling for the middle- and upper classes, which leads to children living only among their schoolmates and sharing little time with their parents or any person outside of the school.4 Looking deep down into the topic of sexuality and the environment, we can bring France and Germany into the discussion. During the same period, both countries had boarding schools as well. However, they still had different forms of schooling. That said, the children were not placed in an environment that is limited and not gender diverse. They still had contact with mainstream society; therefore, those students engaged in a lower amount of homosexual activities compared to the British students.
Through literature examination, we can find the different understandings of homosexual behaviors between Britain and France or Germany, influenced by the environmental factor. In English literature, homosexual activities are depicted as "a decisive test that proves his integration into the society."5 Meanwhile, in French and German literature, those are considered a rupture of solidarity, is well to speak for him-/herself. The contrast shows that those in the UK are more the result of social behavior. Therefore, it can be said that the more open environment in France and Germany that allows students to make contact with society makes it so homosexual activity started by curiosity or out of social pressure is less likely to happen. Under this circumstance, homosexual friendship seems to happen only between those who have been homosexual. Whereas in the UK, such a close environment leads to homosexual students and heterosexual students having the same relationships.
Meanwhile, the micro-society formed in the British public schools boost these sexual activities. The micro-society means students have independence from adults and hold their own code system. These “fag and perfect system” (as to pair one junior student with one senior student, primarily exists for the protection of the juniors) allows students to have more inseparable relationships, but gradually became a form of slavery including the sexual aspects.6 This explains the incredible amount of sex activities in the schools and has its exclusive reason to avoid prohibition from the school management. Such a system exists because society can form the "old boy network" as an alumni network, supporting graduates to better connect with others and helping others enhance their career or social status.7 In other words, it helps construct a stable social fabric, thus preventing restraint. The characteristics of the public schools in the UK shares similarities with the military, as they both provide a single-gender environment with rigorous hierarchy. This explains the great amount of single-gender intimacy as well. However, this type of environment seems unable to shape "homosexuality." It can only help people to figure out their actual sexual orientation, which leads to the increasing self-identification among the UK and the following activities around different sexual orientations, such as the foundation of Arena Three, the first monthly journal for lesbians and bisexuals in the UK. It also shows a similar attitude with Germany and France as speaking for themselves, rather than complaining to the social groups.
To sum up, the written interview record firstly tells the truth that there's a significant amount of coitus among boys in one public school, then reveals that at least for the interviewee and his friends, the mass sexual behavior does not impact their sexual orientation. Through literature review, it can be said that the mass amount of sexual behavior among the UK public schools shows the essence of group identity and collectivity. Similar to the army, it is the close-knit and single-gender environment that provokes these affections. These intimate relationships also attribute to solid network and trust, which is allowed and promoted during school and wartime as two special time periods.
Elaine Lu, WFU’25.