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Query for Englishmen

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I just read a very fine story. If you're interested, here's a link:


The story brings up a question, which I'll ask below in black print to discourage peeking until you want to read the question. You might want to read the story first, before reading the question, as it is in the way of a spoiler. The story can be read pretty quickly. It's only four chapters long.

Here's the question, pointed at you chaps who did your time in English Public Schools, or School.

My previous reading of boarding school stories has led me to believe, correctly or not, that homosexual activity was stringently censured at school, to the extent in many places it was rewarded with automatic expulsion. This subject story casts a different light on that assumption. While gay sex may not be officially sanctioned at this school, people in authority are at the very least casting a blind eye to it, and can be said to be abetting it.

So now for the question. Realizing this is fiction and probably well off the mark, is it fair to say there has been a change from the rigid stance against gay behavior in recent years? Gay men are certainly not looked at quite so scornfully in England now, to my understanding, so it might make sense that such activities at a boarding school wouldn't receive such harsh punishments, either.

I realize that most English fathers, like all fathers, wouldn't want their sons going to boarding schools where such activities are normal, so I doubt things have really changed in that regard, but the times have changed, and I was curious if the attitudes at these schools have moderated, too. Perhaps it's too much to hope so.

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Okay, I'll have a go at this one. Homosexual activity has never been sanctioned officially at any British Public School, in any time period, to my knowledge (but then neither has heterosexual activity ? one reason so many public boarding schools held off so long from becoming co-educational). The Oscar Wilde trial resulted in significant changes in British society ? before then, men went around holding hands, had their photos taken draped over each other, etc. and no-one batted an eyelid because this wasn't sexual behaviour just friendship. After the trial men stopped touching each other out of fear that they would been thought to be aesthetes.

In public schools Wilde and his ilk had no difficulty becoming sexually experienced and although they wouldn't have discussed their exploits openly, they were fairly free to show affection in public. Schools had various social circles co-existing more-or-less amicably including the sporting circles, the academic circles, and the artistic circles. Moving between the academics and the artists were the aesthetes including Wilde. After the Wilde trial, the atmosphere in public schools changed and nobody could adopt the lifestyle that Wilde and his aesthetes did. Homosexuality didn't go away, it just went further underground. Did it decline? Who knows how many boys who might have experimented with other boys were now afraid to?

Those boys whose hormonal drives were more powerful than their fear of ostracism, physical violence, expulsion, disgrace, still found opportunities to experiment with other like-minded boys but it was done in an atmosphere of guilt and shame and in total secret. And initial approaches to another boy were fraught with danger ? rather like cottaging.

My own school days were forty years ago, I left school at eighteen in 1974. In my prep school (up to the age of 13) in the dormitories almost everyone was wanking and some of them were wanking each other but no-one thought of themselves as gay. In public school (13 to 18) wanking wasn't admitted to, although universally practised. Most boys were bragging about conquests of girls, some of their stories unbelievable. But some were secretly pleasuring other boys, and some of these realised at some level that they were gay because while other boys were fantasising or even experimenting with girls, the attention of these boys was fixed on other boys.

Some teachers turned a blind eye to homosexual activity between boys but official school policy certainly did not. My own suspicion is that those who turned a blind eye might have been interested in joining in. And almost all homosexual activity took place well out of sight of any authority figure. The boys knew quite well how to do all sorts of things without being caught doing them by a teacher. Smoking and drinking are both more difficult to keep secret than a mutual wank.

Things have changed. The big state schools now have a contingent of pupils who are openly gay, and many of them dress flamboyantly in order to proclaim their sexuality. This is fully accepted by the school. If they were caught having sex together, disciplinary action would be taken, probably the same disciplinary action as would be taken if a heterosexual couple of pupils were caught doing the equivalent. And the reason this would be so is that this country has anti-discrimination laws that the school authorities would be wary of. However it doesn't mean that homophobia is absent from schools. Some teachers are okay with their gay students, some are not. Some pupils bully the out-and-proud gay kids and the school's anti-bullying policy is brought into play with varying degrees of enthusiasm by the teaching staff and varying degrees of effect.

My knowledge of present-day school life comes from my grandchildren, I do not know how well it translates to today's public and boarding schools. I would expect it to be much the same in the public school system. Gay people officially tolerated but still bullied to some extent, but sexual activity between pupils officially frowned on.

I'm far from being an authority on this subject, but I hope this helps!

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Guest Brandon T.

There was a movie recently. The History Boys or something of that nature. And one of the teachers at the school did in fact touch the boys. Though they were almost full grown and it looked like a high school or whatever the English equivalent for that is. BUT. The context of the movie lead me to believe that it wasn't the first time and he was fired. Though there wasn't the fuss that American schools would have caused. It was handled quietly and within their own walls, not strewn across the media and the like. But that's an entirely different point, I guess. I don't know really what to make of that particular instance in context to the greater conversation and topic here or if it answers any of Cole's question, but it was an instance where homosexual activity occurred in a modern setting in a modern school in England. OH. OH. Yeah. There was that whole seduction of the teacher going on in there too, where one of the boys attempts to sleep with the new teacher and... other stuff happens, what I can't quite remember. They didn't seem to be exactly opposed to it from what I saw. Then again, it was a comedy of sorts so who knows.

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I realize that most English fathers, like all fathers, wouldn't want their sons going to boarding schools where such activities are normal, so I doubt things have really changed in that regard, but the times have changed, and I was curious if the attitudes at these schools have moderated, too. Perhaps it's too much to hope so.

Yes, the times are indeed changing. Society is now starting to accept (or tolerate) the fact that homosexuality does exist, and many parents are starting to accept that their sons or daughters might be gay. Added to that realization is the knowledge that their son's or daughter's possible homosexuality is not of their choosing.

Although, the parents of these kids grew up in a different era and when it comes to their own children, their hopes and dreams for them hold them back from becoming totally accepting. So, as society becomes more accepting, the parents also become so, just at a lower rate then society as a whole.

But to answer Cole's question, I do think that more and more parents are willing to send their kids off to boarding school knowing that homosexuality exists and that the orientation of their sons or daughters has been fixed and there's nothing that they can do about it.

I'm talking about a small change, but a growing one.

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The History Boys, like so much of Alan Bennett's work, provides a mirror-bright image of the lives of real people.

A remarkable, gifted, inspirational teacher with a clear idea of the kind of knowledge and learning that will help students to lead balanced and fulfilled lives, is sacked because he can't resist groping the boys.

One of the class of pupils in the play is himself gay and reasonably well accepted by his peers. Much joshing takes place in class when they act out scenes from classic literature, including female parts and kissing scenes.

The replacement teacher is a repressed emotional mess more concerned with getting the boys through the Oxbridge entrance exam, thus boosting the school's kudos, than teaching them useful life skills, but he is seen by the headmaster as preferable to the predecessor...

Does the play/film show an increased acceptance of gay kids, and of homosexual activity in school? I don't think so. It shows the hypocrisy in British society, certainly. Bennett is the master of the gentle revelation of hypocrisy. But there are, I suspect, very few teachers like the one in the play, fostering such opennness to sexual difference in class.

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Excellent summary Bruin, and I Think quite astute.

Brandon T., the movie The History Boys, is based on a play by Alan Bennett and is discussed quite well on Wiki

To Quote: (the boys)...tolerate Hector's fondness for fondling their genitalia when on his motor bike with equanimity clearly seeing it as a harmless foible rather than a pederastic threat.

The author has done this quite deliberately to show that the students accept the fondling as part of their own curious desires along side the teacher's harmless groping, as being distinct from a pederast threat. Cleverly this is not presented as a political statement but simply as part of the students acceptance of the mysteries of realising post pubescent explorations.

This is a very important point in relation to the current hysteria about pedophilia, the very mention of which causes even quite level headed, intelligent people from all sections of the community to go doo-daddy-tap in screaming for the witches to burned at the stake without any comprehension of the generational mentoring that has been part of the human race since prehistory, perfected by the Hellenic civilisation and somewhat disregarded by the British boarding school system as a 'rights of passage.' Let me make it quite clear that this should not be seen as a validation of child sex with an older person. No child should be subjected to that kind of molestation.

The difference between child sex and a loving mentoring relationship between a younger and an older man (as Oscar Wilde put it from the dock), is not something that is at all well understood in today's climate, because the fundamentalists have sought to paint both with the same witch-hunting homophobic brush, dipped in the insinuations of pedophilia.

In Australia, the fooling around by early teen students was generally ignored by the Highschool teachers. Although there was a case where one local headmaster addressed the 1100 boys at an assembly, to tell them that he knew what was going in at the back of the school grounds as he had seem with his own eyes, the things boys were doing with their mouths, and he thought it was, "in very bad taste."

The students broke up with their assembled laughter at that remark, (in similar fashion to their History Boys counterparts.)

Many parents (particularly fathers) have distant memories about their sexual adventures at boarding school, and consider that it, at worst, did them no harm, whilst others are actively suing somebody for something they think corrupted them.

It is anyone's guess what the new found "liberation" of the gay community is going to have on society at large, let alone our boarding school sexual environments. I think boys will be boys, no matter whether they are supposed to behave in a certain manner or not.

What is perhaps most worrying is that while sterile knowledge is being taught, it is at the expense of human values; but then that has always been the prerogative of the mentor. This difference is one of the main points in The History Boys.

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