Naomi Wolf in a muddle over 'lost history' of gay persecution

Here’s an Actual Nightmare: Naomi Wolf Learning On-Air That Her Book Is Wrong

Naomi Wolf and publisher discussing fixes for her new book

Moreover, she assumed that "sodomy" referred to homosexuality.

Which means ... much of the premise of Wolf's entire book is just false.

However, Matthew Sweet, the presenter on BBC Radio 3's recent Free Thinking show, told the writer that she had misunderstood the legal term "death recorded", which she had encountered in Old Bailey records.

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Wolf's book "Outrages" is about how homosexuality was criminalized in 19th century England. One of the cases that you look at, that's salient to your report is about Thomas Silver. It says, "Teenagers were convicted more often". The boy was indicted for an unnatural offense. "Guilty. Death recorded. This is the first time the phrase unnatural offense entered the Old Bailey records'".

"Thomas Silva wasn't executed", Sweet explained. Death recorded is what's in, I think, most of these cases that you've identified as executions. It doesn't mean that he was executed.

Death recorded, he says, "was a category that was created in 1823 that allowed judges to abstain from pronouncing a sentence of death on any capital convict whom they considered to be a fit subject for pardon". And then the blow: "I don't think any of the executions you've identified here actually happened".

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"Well, that's a really important thing to investigate", a stunned Wolf replied. She points to notations saying "death recorded", in criminal records. Sweet pointed this out, reading her the definition of "death recorded" with which she was unfamiliar. "'The jury recommended the prisoner to mercy on account of his youth'". "I think there's a problem here". Also, it's the nature of the offense here; Thomas Silver committed an indecent assault on a six-year-old boy. He served two-and-a-half years for it in Portsmouth prison. which, and it doesn't seem too excessive, really. And I wonder about all the others, because all the others that I've followed up, I can't find any evidence that any of these relationships that you've described were consensual. The other one you offer is James Spencer, 60-year-old tutor. "He was a teacher who committed what was described as "felonious assaults" on schoolboys". "So I think there's a problem here with this argument". Wolf claims in her book that Silver was executed, but he was not. But Wolf maintains numerous cases she looked at involved consenting adults. She has also defended herself on Twitter, linking to a 1978 article in The Historical Journal that refers to over 50 executions in Britain under sodomy law in the early 19th century. That's a fairly significant problem for a book that relies on court records to make the case that homosexuals were being rounded up as part of a national panic.

Listen to the full interview here. So her book-or, at least, this section of it-hinges on the idea that in the 1800s, several dozen people were executed for being homosexual.

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