Editorial: Black Sails – Sexuality in the Golden Age of Piracy

#Blacksails #CaptainFlint #sinfulcelluloidFor those who have not been here before, Sinful Celluloid is primarily a horror and exploitation site, four years strong. This year I started covering Black Sails because many horror fans are also pirate fans and there is little niche coverage.

Last week on Black Sails, there was a huge reveal concerning Captain Flint that took people by surprise. While exploring his past, we learned the truth of his exile and that simple fact, even though it had been hinted at, has caused a great deal of anger. I didn’t expect there to be so much outrage simply because it doesn’t cross my mind anymore, but the hatred that followed was damn near unacceptable. More troubling and infuriating for me, is how uninformed those opinions were. Being a pirate enthusiast and avid book collector, I felt the need to say something on sexuality in the Golden Age of Piracy…

#Blacksails #CaptainFlintThe reoccurring thought behind the internet backlash over Flint’s sexuality has stemmed from the notion that Flint can no longer be masculine because he had an affair with a man, and even crazier, that there was no such thing as gay pirates. I don’t know which of these statements is more ludicrous. Let’s take a look at that.

In the early 1700’s, throughout London, there were places called “Molly Houses”, which were places where gay men met, sort of the equivalent of a gay club. These were common, though very much underground as homosexuals were not seen as simply deviants, but a separate species all to themselves that needed to be stamped out. London society called these people “Sodomites”.

Furthermore, in reference to the British Navy and pirates, yes there was situational homosexuality on the high seas as documented in “Buggery and the British Navy, 1700-1861” by Arthur Gilbert. This would occur in two common ways. The usage of “Peg Boys”, young male homosexual prostitutes, and amongst officers. Let’s not forget that Flint was an officer in the British Navy. Am I saying that this was a common practice? Who knows? But it certainly existed.

Black_Sails_VI_FEATUREDIn Gilbert’s book, there is a quote from an officer which reads;

“I have been stationed, as you know, in two or three ships…. On the D—, homosexuality was rife, and one could see with his own eyes how it was going on between officers. I have been told that in some services (the Austrian and French, for instance), nobody ever remarks about it, taking such a thing as a natural proceeding: that may be so or not; but in any case, nobody was ‘shocked’ on board either the A— or the B—. There were half a dozen ties that we knew about…To my knowledge, sodomy is a regular thing on ships that go on long cruises.”

In the book Shipwrecks of Madagascar by Pierre Van den Boogaerde, the author explains that many homosexuals opted for a life of piracy to escape the prosecution of society on land as homosexuality was usually tolerated on pirate ships, depending on the Captain and crew of course. There was even a form of Gay marriage called Matelotage, in which the partners shared all financial gain. If one of a couple died in battle, the surviving partner would gain their share for that prize.

Flint_covered_in_blood_S1E1The idea that there were no homosexuals at the time is about as ridiculous as saying every pirate drank rum. For example, Black Bart, the most successful and one of the most feared pirates known, is considered by most historians to have been a teetotaler (one who does not drink alcohol). As in prison, situational homosexuality on-board ship (pirate or navy) was simply a fact of life. To say that this diminishes Flint’s ferocity or masculinity is to say that because he had a homosexual encounter, he is not dangerous. I invite anyone who feels that way to spend a week in prison.

Finally, in response to those who feel that the writers have destroyed the character from Treasure Island, I say “what character?”

black-sailsFlint exists in the book as a plot device. A means to explain why the treasure is where it is and how it must be found. He is dead from alcoholism long before the start of the story and he is hardly mentioned and never explored. Flint is a blank slate. There is no character to destroy.

There is no “Gay Agenda”, simply more opportunity for writers to tell more complex stories. If you disagree with the direction, that is your choice, but to spill non-stop and childish hatred should be beneath us as a society, especially when it is fueled by ignorance.