HOMOSEXUALITY AMONG TRAMPS BY “JOSIAH FLYNT”, 1897
This essay appeared as Appendix A in all three editions of Studies of the Psychology of Sex, Volume II: Sexual Inversion, by Havelock Ellis, the first scientific study of homosexuality in English, published in 1897. As will be seen, the “homosexuality” described was all Greek love, and almost entirely in the USA.
Of the three editions, all published in Philadelphia, the text of the second (1901) is identical to the first, but the third (1915) has additions at the end not by Flynt: a sketch by Ellis of the life of Josiah Flynt Willard, as the author was really named, followed by an account of homosexuality among English tramps by another correspondent whose information was concentrated on his own sexual interest in men. These additions are presented here as a supplement, albeit that bits are of no direct Greek love interest.
A shortened version of the original essay with anglicised spelling and minor rewording was published unattributed in 1898 as an excursus to Part I, Chapter IX of Untrodden Fields of Anthropology: Observations on the Esoteric Manners and Customs of Semi-civilised Peoples, Being a Record by a French-Army Surgeon of Thirty Years’ Experience in Asia, Africa, America and Oceania, the enlarged English edition of L’amour aux colonies by Dr. Jacobus X….
The text of the first two editions, 1897 and 1901
I have made a rather minute study of the tramp class in the United States, England, and Germany, but I know it best in the States. I have lived with the tramps there for eight consecutive months, besides passing numerous shorter periods in their company, and my acquaintance with them is nearly of ten years' standing. My purpose in going among them has been to learn about their life in particular and outcast life in general. This can only be done by becoming part and parcel of its manifestations.
There are two kinds of tramps in the United States: out-of-works and "hoboes." The out-of-works are not genuine vagabonds; they really want work and have no sympathy with the hoboes. The latter are the real tramps. They make a business of begging—a very good business too—and keep at it, as a rule, to the end of their days. Whisky and Wanderlust, or the love of wandering, are probably the main causes of their existence; but many of them are discouraged criminals, men who have tried their hand at crime and find that they lack criminal wit. They become tramps because they find that life "on the road" comes the nearest to the life they hoped to lead. They have enough talent to do very well as beggars, better, generally speaking, then the men who have reached the road simply as drunkards; they know more about the tricks of the trade and are cleverer in thinking out schemes and stories. All genuine tramps in America are, however, pretty much the same, as far as manners and philosophy are concerned, and all are equally welcome at the "hang-out.” The class of society from which they are drawn is generally the very lowest of all, but there are some hoboes who have come from the very highest, and these latter are frequently as vicious and depraved as their less well-born brethren.
Concerning sexual inversion among tramps, there is a great deal to be said, and I cannot attempt to tell all I have heard about it, but merely to give a general account of the matter. Every hobo in the United States knows what "unnatural intercourse" means, talking about it freely, and, according to my finding, every tenth man practises it, and defends his conduct. Boys are the victims of this passion. The tramps gain possession of these boys in various ways. A common method is to stop for awhile in some town, and gain acquaintance with the slum children. They tell these children all sorts of stories about life "on the road," how they can ride on the railways for nothing, shoot Indians, and be "perfeshunnels" (professionals), and they choose some boy who specially pleases them. By smiles and flattering caresses they let him know that the stories are meant for him alone, and before long, if the boy is a suitable subject, he smiles back just as slyly. In time he learns to think that he is the favorite of the tramp, who will take him on his travels, and he begins to plan secret meetings with the man. The tramp, of course, continues to excite his imagination with stories and caresses, and some fine night there is one boy less in the town. On the road the lad is called a "prushun," and his protector a "jocker." The majority of prushuns are between 10 and 15 years of age, but I have known some under 10 and a few over 15. Each is compelled by hobo law to let his jocker do with him as he will, and many, I fear, learn to enjoy his treatment of them. They are also expected to beg in every town they come to, any laziness on their part receiving very severe punishment.
How the act of unnatural intercourse takes place is not entirely clear; the hoboes are not agreed. From what I have personally observed I should say that it is usually what they call "leg-work" (intercrural), but sometimes immissio penis in anum, the boy, in either case, lying on his stomach. I have heard terrible stories of the physical results to the boy of anal intercourse.
One evening, near Cumberland, Pennsylvania, I was an unwilling witness of one of the worst scenes that can be imagined. In company with eight hoboes, I was in a freight-car attached to a slowly moving train. A colored boy succeeded in scrambling into the car, and when the train was well under way again he was tripped up and "seduced" (to use the hobo euphemism) by each of the tramps. He made almost no resistance, and joked and laughed about the business as if he had expected it. This, indeed, I find to be the general feeling among the boys when they have been thoroughly initiated. At first they do not submit, and are inclined to run away or fight, but the men fondle and pet them, and after awhile they do not seem to care. Some of them have told me that they get as much pleasure out of the affair as the jocker does. Even little fellows under 10 have told me this, and I have known them to willfully tempt their jockers to intercourse. What the pleasure consists in I cannot say. The youngsters themselves describe it as a delightful tickling sensation in the parts involved, and this is possibly all that it amounts to among the smallest lads. Those who have passed the age of puberty seem to be satisfied in pretty much the same way that the men are. Among the men the practice is decidedly one of passion. The majority of them prefer a prushun to a woman, and nothing is more severely judged than rape. One often reads in the newspapers that a woman has been assaulted by a tramp, but the perverted tramp is never the guilty party.
I believe, however, that there are a few hoboes who have taken to boys because women are so scarce "on the road." For every woman in hoboland there are a hundred men. That this disproportion has something to do with the popularity of boys is made clear by the following case: In a gaol, where I was confined for a month during my life in vagabondage, I got acquainted with a tramp who had the reputation of being a "sod" (sodomist). One day a woman came to the gaol to see her husband, who was awaiting trial. One of the prisoners said he had known her before she was married and had lived with her. The tramp was soon to be discharged, and he inquired where the woman lived. On learning that she was still approachable, he looked her up immediately after his release, and succeeded in staying with her for nearly a month. He told me later that he enjoyed his life with her much more than his intercourse with boys. I asked him why he went with boys at all, and he replied: "'Cause there ain't women enough. If I can't get them I've got to have the other."
It is in gaols that one sees the worst side of this perversion. In the daytime the prisoners are let out into a long hall, and can do much as they please; at night they are shut up, two and even four in a cell. If there are any boys in the crowd, they are made use of by all who care to have them. If they refuse to submit, they are gagged and held down. The sheriff seldom knows what goes on, and for the boys to say anything to him would be suicidal. There is a criminal ignorance all over the States concerning the life of these gaols, and things go on that would be impossible in any well-regulated prison. In one of these places I once witnessed the fiercest fight I have ever seen among hoboes; a boy was the cause of it. Two men said they loved him, and he seemed to return the affection of both with equal desire. A fight with razors was suggested to settle who should have him. The men prepared for action, while the crowd gathered round to watch. They slashed away for over half an hour, cutting each other terribly, and then their backers stopped them for fear of fatal results. The boy was given to the one who was hurt the least.
Jealousy is one of the first things one notices in connection with this passion. I have known them to withdraw entirely from the "hang-out" life simply to be sure that their prushuns were not touched by other tramps. Such attachments frequently last for years, and some boys remain with their first jockers until they are "emancipated."
Emancipation means freedom to "snare" some other boy, and make him submit as the other had been obliged to submit when younger. As a rule, the prushun is freed when he is able to protect himself. If he can defend his "honor" from all who come, he is accepted into the class of "old stagers," and may do as he likes. This is the one reward held out to prushuns during their apprenticeship. They are told that some day they can have a boy and use him as they have been used. Thus hoboland is always sure of recruits.
It is difficult to say how many tramps are sexually inverted. It is not even certainly known how many vagabonds there are in the country. I have stated in one of my papers on tramps that, counting the boys, there are between fifty and sixty thousand genuine hoboes in the United States. A vagabond in Texas who saw this statement wrote me that he considered my estimate too low. The newspapers have criticised it as too high, but they are unable to judge. If my figures are, as I believe, at least approximately correct, the sexually perverted tramps may be estimated at between five and six thousand; this includes men and boys.
I have been told lately by tramps that the boys are less numerous than they were a few years ago. They say that it is now a risky business to be seen with a boy, and that it is more profitable, as far as begging is concerned, to go without them. Whether this means that the passion is less fierce than it used to be, or that the men find sexual satisfaction among themselves, I cannot say definitely. But from what I know of their disinclination to adopt the latter alternative, I am inclined to think that the passion may be dying out somewhat. I am sure that women are not more numerous "on the road" than formerly, and that the change, if real, has not been caused by them. So much for my finding in the United States.
In England, where I have also lived with tramps for some time, I have found very little contrary sexual feeling. In Germany, also, excepting in prisons and work-houses, it seems very little known among vagabonds. There are a few Jewish wanderers (sometimes peddlers) who are said to have boys in their company, and I am told that they use them as the hoboes in the United States use their boys, but I cannot prove this from personal observation. In England I have met a number of male tramps who had no hesitation in declaring their preference for their own sex, and particularly for boys, but I am bound to say that I have seldom seen them with boys; as a rule, they were quite alone, and they seem to live chiefly by themselves.
It is a noteworthy fact that both in England and Germany there are a great many women "on the road," or, at all events, so near it that intercourse with them is easy and cheap. In Germany almost every town has its quarter of "Stadt-Schieze": women who sell their bodies for a very small sum. They seldom ask over thirty or forty pfennigs for a night, which is usually spent in the open air. In England it is practically the same thing. In all the large cities there are women who are glad to do business for three or four pence, and those "on the road" for even less.
The general impression made on me by the sexually perverted men I have met in vagabondage is that they are abnormally masculine. In their intercourse with boys they always take the active part. The boys have, in some cases, seemed to me uncommonly feminine, but not as a rule. In the main, they are very much like other lads, and I am unable to say whether their liking for the inverted relationship is inborn or acquired. That it is, however, a genuine liking, in altogether too many instances, I do not, in the least, doubt. As such, and all the more because it is such, it deserves to be more thoroughly investigated and more reasonably treated.
"Josiah Flynt" who wrote the foregoing account of tramp-life for the second edition of this volume, was well known as author, sociologist, and tramp. He was especially, and it would seem by innate temperament, the tramp, which part he looked to perfection (he himself referred to his "weasoned face and diminutive form") and felt completely at home in. He was thus able to throw much light on the psychology of the tramp, and his books (such as Tramping with Tramps) are valuable from this point of view. His real name was F. Willard and he was a nephew of Miss Frances Willard. He died in Chicago, in 1907, at the age of 38, shortly after writing a frank and remarkable Autobiography. I am able to supplement his observations on tramps, so far as England is concerned, by the following passages from a detailed record sent to me by an English correspondent:—
"I am a male invert with complete feminine, sexual inclinations. Different meetings with 'tramps' led me to seek intimacy with them and for about twenty years I have gone on the 'tramp' myself so that I might come in the closest contact with them, in England, Scotland, and Wales.
"As in the United States, there are two classes of tramps those who would work, such as harvesters, road-makers, etc., and those who will not work, but make tramping a profession. Among both these classes my experience is that 90 per cent, or I even would be bold enough to say 100 per cent, indulge in homosexuality when the opportunity occurs, and I do not make any distinction between the two classes.
"There are numerous reasons for this and I will state a few. A certain number may prefer normal connection with a female, but except for those who tramp in vans and a limited number who have 'donnas' with them, women are not available, as prostitutes very seldom allow intimacy for 'love' except when drunk. Tramps are also afraid of any venereal disease as it means the misery of the Lock Hospital. Most of them are sociable and prefer to tramp with a 'make.' With this mate, with whom he sleeps and rests and 'boozes' when they are in funds, sexual intimacy naturally takes place, as my experience has been that one of the two is male and the other female in their sexual desires, but I have known instances where they have acted both roles. Then male prostitution is to be had for nothing, and even occasionally when a tramp meets a 'toff' it is a means of earning money, either fairly or otherwise. I have never known a male tramp to refuse satisfaction if I offered a drink or two, or a small sum of money. One told me that he envied 'no lords or toffs' as long as he got plenty of 'booze and buggery.'
"Another one, who told me that he had been twenty-five years on the road, said that he could not endure to sleep alone. (He was a pedlar, openly of cheap religious books and secretly of the vilest pamphlets and photographs). He had 'done time' and he said the greatest punishment to him was not being able to have a 'make' who would submit to penetration, though he was not particular what form the sexual act took. Another fine young man, whom I chanced to meet the very day he had been released from a long sentence in prison for burglary and with whom I passed a night of incessant and almost brutal intimacy, said his punishment was seeing men always about him and being unable to have connection with them. Another and very powerful influence in 'tramps' toward homosexuality is that, in the low lodging houses they are obliged to frequent, a single bed is perhaps double to one with a bedmate whom perhaps he has never seen before, and especially in hot weather, when the rule is nakedness.
"My sexual desires being for the male invert I have come most in contact with them and have found that they form much the larger class. Among harvesters and seafaring tramps it is seldom you find a 'dandy' such as I was considered, and as such I was eagerly courted, and any suggestion of intimacy on my part quickly responded to. As regards the use of young boys for homosexual indulgence, it is not common as it is too dangerous, though I have known boys, especially those belonging to vans or gypsies, to prostitute themselves, always for money.
"On one occasion I saw a boy who created quite an outburst of lust of homosexual nature. The incident took place in a small seafaring town in Scotland one evening before a Fair was to be held. It occurred in a low public house where a number of very rough and mostly drunken men were assembled. A blind man came in led by an extremely pretty but effeminate-looking youth of about 17, wearing a ragged kilt and with bare legs and feet. He had long, curling, fair hair which reached to his shoulders and on it an old bonnet was perched. He also wore an old velveteen shooting jacket. All eyes were turned on the pair and they were quickly offered drinks. A remark was made by one man that he believed the youth was a lassie. The boy said, 'I will show you I am a laddie,' and pulled up his kilt, exposing his genitals and then his posterior. Boisterous laughter greeted this indecent exposure and suggestion, and more drinks were provided. The blind man then played his fiddle and the boy danced with frequent recurrences of the same indecencies. He was seized, kissed, and caressed by quite a number of men, some of whom endeavored to masturbate him, which he resisted, but performed it for them. After the closing time came, I and about ten or twelve men all occupied the same room; the old man continued to play, and the youth, stark naked, continued to dance and suggested we others should do so, and an erotic scene took place which was only closed to view by the 'boss' who was present putting out the lamp.
"Two classes of tramps I have met openly declare their preference for homosexuality. They are men who have been in the army and sailors and seafaring men in general. It is said that 'Jack has a wife in every port,' but I believe from my experience that the wife in many cases is of the male sex, and this among those of all nationalities, as is the case with soldiers. Among these also jealousy is more common than amongst ordinary tramps, and if you are 'dandy' to a soldier, if you make advances or receive them from a senior, trouble is likely to occur between them.
"I could give many instances of my own personal experiences to show that 'tramps' are looked upon by men in the country districts as legitimate, complacent, and purchaseable objects for homosexual lust."
 This is the home of the fraternity. Practically it is any corner where they can lay their heads; but, as a rule, it is either a lodging-house, a freight-car, or a nest in the grass near the railway watering-tank. [Author’s footnote]
 Insertion of the cock in the bum-hole.
 All hoboes carry razors, both for shaving and for defense. Strange to say, they succeed in smuggling them into gaols, as they are never searched thoroughly. [Author’s footnote]
 This word is of Hebrew origin, and means girl (Mädchen). [Author’s footnote]