“Unnatural”! “Sinful”! “Fag”! These are words I have heard– directly and overheard– being said to people who happen to be attracted to the same sex as themselves. Said to human beings, and in the 21st century at that. It’s hard to believe that offensive words such as these are still being hurled from the mouths of the humans that we all share planet Earth with. For some, it’s as if homophobic slang is a relatively new phenomena– the last century or so– but hate of this magnitude didn’t just appear, it roots from centuries of the same non-accepting behaviour. While perusing http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/ I found myself searching for something grand, something unbelievable. It was only when I came across Thomas Andrews’ trial (http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?ref=t17610506-23) purely by accident– from one wrong click of the mouse– that I realized that the most interesting 18th century story to read is not one that is completely unique and never to be repeated again, but one that is still relevant to issues we face in the 21st century. That is what Thomas Andrews’ trial is; relevant, 300 years later.
The indictment against Thomas Andrews was as follows: “for committing the detestable crime of sodomy, on the body of John Finimore”. Finimore takes the Old Bailey through his account of what had transpired on April 19th, 1761. He was examined extensively, asked for specific times of each event that he mentioned in his account and then cross-examined with the same questions, in a different order. Finimore seemed sure of his prosecution of the prisoner, sharing the exact times that he awoke in the night– “about four o’clock. . . I awoke with a violent pain and agony, which I was in, and found his y – d in my body”. John Finimore was looking for lodging, as there was no longer room with his most recent mistress. He had previously lived with Mrs. Mead, and it so happens that Finimore was acquainted with Thomas Andrews during his time with her, so she suggested Andrews’ as a place to lodge. Conveniently, Andrews’ wife was out of town (classic affair circumstance, but that’s beside the point), so he offered Finimore a place to stay, although that place was in the same bed as himself. The first offering was declined because Mrs.Mead gave Finimore permission to stay at her house for a night, but the following day when Mrs. Mead’s offer had expired, Andrews’ second offer was accepted.
The night progressed as what could be expected from any two men passing the time together. Beers were had until it was time to hit the hay, though it is described that the two were “…rather sober than otherwise”. Now, what came next in the trial wasn’t so much strange to the Old Bailey jury as it may seem to the 21st century reader. Social stigma tells us that it is acceptable for women to share a bed, and even have the infamous party we know as a slumber party,
but also tells us that men sharing a bed is strange. Finimore and Andrews would have been fine and dandy sharing a bed if Andrews didn’t have to go and ruin the party by raping his bunk-mate. But hang on, their situation only gets weirder. One would think that after Finimore woke up to agonizing pain located in his rectal area (he must be a pretty heavy sleeper) that he would, I don’t know, leave? But no, he stayed. He turned the other cheek, didn’t say much more than “what are you doing” then falling back asleep, only to be woken up by Andrews attempting the same thing. Stigma or not, it can’t be denied that that whole ordeal was a little weird. Nonetheless, the trial carried on with the cross-examination of everything John Finimore had told the jury, followed by statements from William Pierce; a drawer for Andrews, Sarah Andrews; Thomas Andrews’ daughter, James Leage; the constable that took Finimore and Andrews in, Samuel Johnson; who had been a waiter at Andrews’ for five weeks. All of whom confirmed that Finimore’s recall of the events that occurred on the 19th of April was true, but also stated that Andrews had never done anything like this before, or at least been accused of it before. So did Thomas– a seemingly regular guy– get curious? Or did Finimore fabricate the entire story to hide the fact that maybe it wasn’t as shocking of a wake up call as he lead on it was. It is nearly impossible to decide whether Finimore was simply naive or if there is more to the story that suggests he knew what was happening, and allowed it to continue a second time. Most of the trial is a matter of he-said-she-said, or in this case he-said-he-said, once that bedroom door shut, regardless of the “facts”. Any timeline of events can be accurate until there are no longer witnesses, and only the two on trial against each other were there.
This is especially apparent after two surgeons recalled the conclusions that they came to after examining John Finimore’s body. They both had completely different diagnoses. WHAT? Aren’t doctors supposed to be the ones who bring everything to light and decipher between the he-said-he-said in order to prove fact. I suppose not. Doctor Blagden said he “. . . could see no injury; there was a little excavation of the flesh, what [he] apprehended to be the effect of a pile”. Really? Doctor Jones (no relation to the Doctor Jones in Aqua’s 90′s hit single– http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9qQurWUCnzs) thought otherwise– “it appeared to [him] to be lacerated; there was an appearance as if there had been violence offered”. Now, instead of offering clarity, the two doctors create more confusion; who is telling the truth? Trials are held in hope of finding truth and therefore providing justice to those who have been wronged. In this instance though, it seems as though those who gave statements all provided a different “truth”. Between the two doctors, Finimore, and Andrews, how was the jury- never mind us, the readers of the trial hundreds of years later- supposed to draw a definitive conclusion as to who, if anyone, was guilty? The jury came to the conclusion that Thomas Andrews was guilty. Guilty of what though? Sodomy. Whether Finimore was lying or not, rape wasn’t the issue that landed him on trial anyway– Andrews wasn’t sentenced to death because he raped John Finimore, but because he performed a sexual act upon another man, which was far worse.
Society couldn’t have their masculine culture destroyed, so they destroyed those that they thought were doing so– the gays. Finimore provided a clear account of the actions taken against him (whether they were true or not) and all those who heard agreed whole-heartedly that Andrews was guilty, but perhaps for the wrong reason. The gay subculture in the 18th century was limited and suppressed, so of course taking part in any way was punishable by death. Although we have come a long way since then, society is still suppressing members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community in many parts of the world. Both subtly and overtly, those who are LGBT are being targeted through mental and physical abuse. According to the 2009 Canadian Climate Survey on Homophobia: (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/bullying-and-sexual-orientation-by-the-numbers-1.909444)
25 per cent of LGBTQ students indicated being physically harassed due to their sexual orientation, compared to eight per cent of non-LGBTQ students.
59 per cent of LGBTQ high school students reported they were verbally harassed, compared to seven per cent of non-LGBTQ students.
73 per cent of LGBTQ students reported they felt unsafe at school, compared to 20 per cent who did not.
This type of behaviour is what leads to more serious circumstances such as suicide or even murder. The fact that people are still dying because of their sexual orientation is staggering. The word “rape” wasn’t even acknowledged once throughout the entire Thomas Andrews trial, so he was sentenced purely on the basis of sodomy. Because of the outlook that people had about homosexuals or homosexual actions, the notion of same sex rape culture was completely ignored. Rape didn’t exist unless it was between a man and a woman. Men who “entered the body” of another man immediately feminized whoever was being penetrated and therefore destroyed any notion of masculinity in that man. This was such a frightening issue to the 18th century society because when a man lost his masculinity any sense of a power dynamic (supposed to be shared between a man and a woman) was also lost. Men couldn’t have women thinking that they were weak, that could have compromised the power they held. Although culture has shifted and begun to recognize the existence of gay people, they are still often discriminated against. For example, institutions like the church that are supposed to give people faith, often do just the opposite; in regard to the lack of equality that it shows homosexuals. Gay marriage is still illegal in most states in America, which in turn, creates a stigma around the “rightness” of being gay. This type of attitude was amplified in the 18th century– death was a common punishment given to those who were caught practicing homosexuality.
I suppose that although Thomas Andrews was sentenced for sodomy, and the rape was ignored, his sentence of death gave John Finimore the justice he was seeking. Justice was given for only a brief moment though– Andrews was given a reprieve and pardoned for the crimes he committed. He was released from the Newgate in July of 1761, only two months after the jury found him guilty. Perhaps it was divine justice that he was let go, because he wasn’t punished for the “right” thing, or perhaps because Finimore falsely accused him in the first place. Again, it is almost impossible to know the truth, but it just goes to show how flawed the justice system was- finding Andrews guilty, only to release him. After reading the trial of Thomas Andrews I can’t help but think about how much society still has to evolve in order for there to be equal rights for all members of society, not just those who comprise the norm. What is normal anyway? It doesn’t exist. Until marriage is legal all over the world for every human being, until I stop overhearing the word “faggot” being spit at human beings, I won’t believe the world has evolved into what it needs to be. Maybe in another 300 years the next generations will be discussing how non-accepting the 21st century was. We can only hope.
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