Why a 19th-century gay brothel owner had to pretend to be a woman to avoid police persecution

The central plea of ​​virtually any group protesting their identity is simple: “Can we just … live?”

Can we please just live without the constant threat of violence, murder and guilt?

And over the years, the response has been pretty consistent: ‘Not yet. Ask again later. ‘

READ MORE: The woman who dressed like a man in Regency London and always drank 2 bottles of wine

There is no time in history when these different groups did not exist, rather the way they had to behave in order to survive is usually somewhat more extreme than today.

Women were supposed to be overtly subordinate men, while homosexuals and transgender people had two options: either hide it completely or be discreet about death pains.

One such figure was Madame Parsons, who ran what is said to be the best brothel in Burlington Arcade, Mayfair.

She almost certainly had both men and women working for her.

Burlington Arcade in Mayfair

In such a sexually oppressed time, there were certainly no neon lights that spelled “GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS”.

Instead, Madame Parsons let it be known that her brothel was open for business by placing certain indications in the window.

In winter a red handkerchief with a light behind it; and in the summer a sock hangs on the windowsill.

If the business was really slow, the sex worker would stand by the window and make a clicking sound against her gums – like Flipper. (Yes, I make very sexy comparisons.)

Tempted punters would enter the store, but how to make the cumbersome business of taking her up on her services?

You could not just march in and belt out, “How much is that prossie in the window?”

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The punter bought an item – perhaps a hat or a brooch – and made a discreet comment about the course to the top floor.

He would then give her the item as an “expression of appreciation,” and she would then come down and sell it back to the store.

Nothing as gross as money changed hands.

But nonetheless, the arcade gained a bad reputation, simply because the services were there.

Men feared being seen there at certain times so that the rumors would not return to their wives.

The simple hint of it would be enough to cause a scandal.

Madame Parsons’ death: a discovery

Madame Parsons died on the premises of Burlington Arcade in the 1860s.

When a doctor came to pronounce her dead, she was discovered to be biologically male.

Why would a man in a time that was so miserably difficult for women choose to live as a woman?

Mark Lord, Head Beadle of the Arcade, explains that dressing up as the opposite sex was not necessarily a sign that the person was transsexual, but a survival tactic for gay men – and an alternative to simply pretending to be heterosexual.

“Homosexuality was illegal,” he points out, “but the police would often close their eyes as long as one of the parties dressed and lived convincingly as the opposite sex. It was very common in Victorian society for gay couples to live that way. ”

The central plea of ​​virtually any group protesting their identity is simple: “Can we just … live?”

And the answer at the time was quite consistent: “Yes. But only if you pretend. ”


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