Molly houses: England’s 19th century gay sex clubs

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Thanks to shows like Queen Charlotte and the regular trickle of Austen adaptations, most of us are familiar with the Regency period, the decade between 1811 and 1820. It was a world of hot goss, fresh threads (silk and tulle, in this case), and manners so refined they could almost hide the hierarchical tensions that simmer beneath the banter.

If that setup sounds familiar, it should. Joel Kim Booster knew what he was doing when he set his adaptation of Pride and Prejudice on Fire Island: subtlety ruled the Regency’s social world, and a meaningful glance or an arched eyebrow could wreak absolute emotional devastation. Compare your average West Village brunch conversation to an after-dinner gathering in an Austen book, and you’ll hear the same codes of indirect meaning and implication.

Yet in most of the modern stories set in the Regency, we see hardly any gay characters at the balls and tea parties. It makes you wonder: in the actual Regency era, where did all the gay men go? History’s got an answer: they went to the molly house!

Read on…

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