sash boys are safe

Elsa Maxwell* was an American gossip columnist known as the Hostess with the Mostess. She wrote several books including the memoir this excerpt is from

Elsa and Maria Callas found here

“Much as I dislike to mention a distasteful subject I cannot gloss over the shocking increase in homosexuality that is apparent today. Thirty years ago, lesbians and sash boys were almost unknown to the majority of people. I call them ‘sash boys’, because they always go about as though waving a sash in their hands and because I prefer that euphemism to the commoner terms I do not care to use. Perhaps I was more naive at the time, but I never saw a woman who was an obvious Lesbian until I went to Europe. Of course there were homosexuals in theatrical and artistic circles, but outside that one rarely, if ever, encountered one. Now it is like a contagious disease, spreading here, there and everywhere.

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The incidence of homosexuality always has been greater in some countries than others. It varies in time and place. I believe in England it can be attributed in some measure to the general custom of sending boys to boarding-schools at an early age and confining them in this unnatural environment during adolescence. But there are so many confusing and contributing factors to the disease that it is difficult to isolate one particular cause. I have seen scores of thoroughly normal men and women turn to perversion in their forties or fifties simply through boredom, or idleness, or dissatisfaction.

Mr Sulu became bored

In a large measure, women are greatly to blame for the increase in homosexuality. They are unconscious carriers of the germ. For older women, particularly those who are rich and manless, whose husbands have died or who have never married, the homosexual is the complete answer. 

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A further carrier of the germ is the mother caught up by an almost incestuous love for an only son, whom she constantly keeps beside her, pampering him and denying him the normal friendship of other women. Little do such mothers realise the perverted prison to which they condemn their beloved sons.

nursemyra’s eldest son

A number may say, ‘How can you take up this attitude when you know very well a number of these men are among your friends and acquaintances?’ It is quite true. I am guilty of contradiction here. But I just cannot apply the same rules to genius. It may be morally indefensible but I feel there must be one law for the especially rich in mind and another for the remainder.

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Until last year dressmakers and interior decorators were holding their position on the social roost in Paris. Now I see a change; there are signs that their prestige is on the wane, in a word that they are slipping from their favoured niche. People are growing a little bored with them. And something of the same thing is happening, in Paris at least, with the sash boys. At my last party out of four hundred there were only nine present.

To my mind, it is in the power of women to stop the spread of homosexuality, to set up a barrier to their effete, lavender decadence by no longer courting and coddling their presence in their homes and at their parties. A dearth of hospitality will achieve a quicker death to homosexuality than any act of Parliament.

Most chroniclers of Elsa Maxwell’s life claim she was a lesbian. She lived with Dickie Gordon-Fellowes for nearly fifty years.

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*from a review by Brooks Peters found here