mardi 8 mai 2012

Homosexuals in Dutch army : cases brought before the military court in Haarlem

In 1870, a marine, Mijas Schaap, tried to touch the genitals of his mate on the next cot, and when the man rebuffed his advances, the accused went on to the next bed. This scene was repeated twice, until finally with the fourth marine Schaap had his way, joining the man on his cot. The other soldiers heard them whispering and moving, but only when the noise awakened another marine did the bunk-mates of the sodomites decide to take action, on the initiative of this last marine. The ease with which Schaap approached his comrades is as amazing as their slow reaction. Also, the willingness of one marine to give in to his desires is remarkable. How often had Schaap seduced his mates before he was denounced? We will never know, but other similar cases indicate that it was not too difficult to find sex partners in the barracks or elsewhere within the garrison. Men who were more prudent than Schaap would not often have run into trouble. Two other soldiers were even less inhibited than Schaap. Andre Leroy assaulted three mates in succession, and Bernard Bongenaer was condemned for having pursued other soldiers in "several places such as the detention room, the train wagon, the guardhouse, the stockade, the yard of the barracks, and its public convenience."

The stockades of the barracks are often mentioned in these indictments. This suggests that some soldiers addicted to the pursuit of this pleasure were rather heedless in seducing their comrades and ran into problems only in new situations, such as the stockades. It is also possible that bunk-mates were disinclined to denounce the soldiers with whom they had lived for some time in the barracks unless there were aggravating circumstances. Such a balance, of course, did not exist in the stockades. In certain ways the barracks produced homosexual behavior. Fully half of the charges of public indecencies on the part of soldiers involved this setting. Sex was possible, in the first place, because the barracks dormitories were unlighted and crowded with young men who, moreover, were often drunk. Intoxication was mentioned in connection with twenty-five defendants, and of seventy-two men indicted for homosexual indecencies, fifty were between the ages of twenty and twenty-nine, which is considered to be a male's sexually most active age. Even if other soldiers wanted to denounce their bunk-mates, it was often difficult to prove what had actually happened. For a conviction, the courts required two witnesses to testify that they had seen the defendant commit the act, unless he confessed his crime. In many cases, the defendants were acquitted because the witnesses could not swear to have seen the bare genitals. In some cases involving a defendant who had tried to seduce various mates and had groped their private parts, the serial indecencies could not be proved because there was only one witness for each assault, which fell short of the evidentiary requirements for a conviction. Also, many of the accused seeking acquittal claimed they had been drunk or seduced by their comrade. In most instances, such exculpatory or extenuating circumstances did not sway the courts, although in exceptional cases they were accepted.

Because of the difficulties in arresting the sodomites, their mates tried in some cases to entrap them. Joseph Bendix, for example, had wanted to seduce his two bunk-mates to "dishonorable acts." On the next night, the soldiers decided to feign sleeping. Bendix waited until everything was silent, then asked his neighbor if he were asleep, and when he got no answer he started to open the man's trousers and fondle his genitals. At that moment, the soldier jumped up and punched Bendix; an indictment followed. In cases when an accusation could not be proven, there was another method of handling the case at the disposal of the authorities. Accompanying some court proceedings is a copy of the confidential report on the accused. From these reports, it appears that soldiers who could not be convicted were indeed placed in the second disciplinary class, in accordance with the order of the minister of war. It was the severest penalty possible outside the criminal law. Jan Willem Assie was accused of public indecency with a drunken fellow soldier, but he was acquitted because he only had laid his hand on his companion's thigh. Two years later, his superiors again suspected him of buggery in an instance that could not be proven. He nonetheless was consigned to the second disciplinary class, upgraded to the first class after three months, and finally released as a common soldier after another four months. A year later, Assie was apprehended flagrante delicto with a cavalryman and this time was sentenced to twelve months in prison. It is in connection with this sentence that we learn about Assie's former status in the first and second disciplinary classes. By implementing this approach, it was possible for officers to mete out sentences as severe as the solitary confinement of the courts and to do so even if an accusation could not be proven. Another soldier, Vitus de Birk, spent seven months in the two disciplinary classes because his superiors were convinced that he practiced unnatural crimes. From this supplementary source we also have information concerning a sergeant who was convicted for mutual masturbation with a corporal, and who had previously been in the disciplinary class for a sexual assault on a young woman. His desires certainly were not exclusively homosexual, and we may surmise that the same is true for many other indicted soldiers. One soldier [...] was asked by the court why he did not go to prostitutes, to which he replied that he did not have the money to do so. Homosexual behavior [...] was a cheap and easy way to have sexual pleasure.

Most of the accused did not succeed in consummating their sexual deeds, as they were caught in the act. The precise acts that were being perpetrated often cannot be ascertained, both because in many instances the men had only started touching each other and because the terms used in the court archives are vague, such as ontucht (vice or lewdness) and "loathsome posture." The specific sexual acts mentioned most frequently are anal penetration and mutual masturbation; fellatio is mentioned only rarely. The type of act apparently had no influence on the severity of the sentence. Nearly half of the cases (twenty-nine men) involved consensual sex. Most of these relations were consummated in the sleeping quarters of the barracks, but pairs of soldiers were also arrested in other places. These men were the most ingenious in presenting excuses, such as having been intoxicated. In the case of a sergeant and a corporal who were arrested in an Amsterdam park, the sergeant testified that he had been drunk, while the corporal stated that he had been forced by his partner. They did not succeed in convincing the court of their innocence. But two young marines who were found in "loathsome postures" in another Amsterdam park were acquitted, because they claimed they had only been relieving themselves. This was confirmed by a police officer who had been dispatched to the park following their arrest, for he indeed found their stools on the spot. According to the testimony, the marines also made remarks after their arrest that suggested culpability. The younger one confirmed to the arresting officer that he had been the "wife." And both marines apparently even tried to bribe the night watchmen not to arrest them. Precise investigative work was key in another case. A sergeant and a corporal were arrested on the ramparts on Naarden. There was only one witness, but the responsible under-officer immediately set off for the scene of arrest and thus was able to testify that the grass was downtrodden at that spot and that he had even found a substance looking most like "the raw white of an egg." The court held this to be definite proof of public indecency.

Regrettably, information on the sexual discourses of the soldiers is documented in only a few cases. In one, a trumpeter named Torrer complained that another soldier wanted to "queer" him (flikkeren, which as a verb is nonexistent in Dutch). "Queer" (flikker) was also used as a noun. One soldier remarked to bystanders that another soldier wanted to "sodomize" him (sodomieteren, also unknown as a verb in Dutch). Two twenty-one-year-old infantrymen mutually masturbated each other on a cot, and witnesses heard them say, "You have to strip naked," "Aren't you ready?" and "Yes, I am ready, feel it." When trying to seduce a trumpeter, the drunken corporal Andreas Enders said to him, "What a lovely little trumpeter you are," and "Let me feel your little sweet one," whereupon he tried to touch the trumpeter's genitals. The object of his desire then turned around, which the corporal understood not as a refusal but as an indication that the trumpeter was embarrassed in this situation, so he continued his advances and proposed to the trumpeter, "Come on to the street, then we can do a little thing, I'm so horny." Several years earlier, the following utterance was reported of two soldiers who enjoyed each other's company in a berth: "You are my best cock." The men lay naked against each other and embraced each other "as a man a woman." This gender metaphor also appears in other indictments. In the same year, a soldier testified that the accused had touched his genitals "as if he were a girl." Such gender metaphors are also documented in other archival sources. There are at least two ways of interpreting these metaphors. On the one hand, it may refer to the traditional sex/gender system of the sodomite: men who were approached felt themselves put in the passive (non-male) sex role and were afraid to be penetrated. [...] The second possibility is that anxiety about being put in the female role actually referred to being considered a queer and having a homosexual identity, if we assume that homosexual behavior and effeminacy were conflated, as in Trumbach's sex/gender system. This seems less likely in these cases. According to an Amsterdam court proceeding of 1830, a man was approached by someone described as a "sodomite" and as "being known to commit unnatural fornication"; here, the metaphor of effeminacy was applied not to the sodomite, but to the solicited man who had been put in a passive, unmanly role. The gender of the sodomite was certainly not questioned. The use of the gender metaphor can indicate both sex/gender systems, and it is not always possible to disentangle its references.

Not only cases of public indecency were prosecuted, but also aggravated assaults, assaults on minors, and sex with dependents. A fifteen-year-old trumpeter was caught in the act of rubbing his penis against the buttocks of a [little] boy. Probably because of his age, he was given a light sentence: three months in prison. Another soldier convicted of touching two boys, age fifteen and twelve, was sentenced to five years. The severest sentence in this series was handed down in the case of a twenty-one-year-old trumpeter, Petrus Wittebol, who had [...] violently assaulted another soldier (no age indicated, but probably in his late teens). Wittebol was condemned to ten years. Four out of seven assault cases were tried after the introduction of the revised criminal code in 1886, which extended the definition of sex crimes. The sentences were less severe than earlier, but more consistent. The hardest sentence after 1886, for a prison term of three years, was handed down in the case of a soldier in a hospital, who had masturbated two soldiers "until a seminal discharge took place." The young men were asleep in the barracks where the accused was on guard duty. How he succeeded in bringing them to climax without awakening them was not explained. [...] Psychical abnormalities are never mentioned in the Dutch material, and the court officials never sought the expert testimony of psychiatrists. The same was true of contemporary civil courts, which only started to rely on psychiatric expertise in the final decade of the nineteenth century. Nor was medical testimony concerning the clinical evidence of sodomy requested by military courts, and rarely so by civil courts. Sexual slanders were brought before the military courts in addition to sex crimes. One soldier was charged with slander after telling his fellow soldiers in the barracks that a certain captain had "obliged him to come to his quarters and that the captain forced him to do things and committed acts against him of a very obscene and vicious nature." Although these slurs were contrary to military discipline and were of a sort that would "expose [the captain,] if true, to the contempt and hatred of the citizenry," the court ruled that the barracks did not constitute a public place, and thus the soldier had not committed a crime. This is a remarkable decision, because the court never hesitated to consider indecencies in the barracks to be public deeds. And it is also remarkable that they did not shield the captain, surely a fellow officer, from this defamation. One soldier, who was being taken into custody for an unrelated crime, resisted the arresting sergeant, shouting at him, "Keep off my body, you dirty hound, I'll grab your sodomite! [Not a standard Dutch noun-he meant cock.] This is really a sodomitical thieves' gang here." He was sentenced to be drummed out of the military. But how true was his characterization of the barracks, and how routine was homosexual behavior in the sleeping quarters?

from "Homosexual Behavior in the Nineteenth-Century Dutch Army" by Gert Hekma in Journal of the History of Sexuality, Oct. 1991.

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