Tramps (also known as hobos in the United States) are a certain type of wanderers without homes, particularly those who make a habit of hopping freight trains.
The iconic image of a hobo is that of a downtrodden, shabbily-dressed, and perhaps drunken male, one that was solidified in American culture during the Great Depression. Hobos are often depicted carrying a bundle.
The population of hobos increased during times of economic trouble, and greatly so during the Great Depression. With no work and no prospects at home, many decided to travel and try their luck elsewhere.
Nowadays there are only small numbers of railroad-riding hobos left. Some itinerant individuals today travel by car rather than rail, but still identify themselves as hobos.
Although rarely discussed, it has been well documented that hobos often had sex with other males. It has been argued their homosexuality was situational; that is, they turned to males since they were often on the road where female company could not be found. However, a careful examination of their practices reveals that their homosexual behavior was a carefully structured "age-stratified homosexuality" where young boys were initiated in sex and hobo lifestyle by older males.
This custom, reminiscent of pederasty in Ancient Greece and other other cultures, was documented by "Josiah Flynt" (pseudonym of F. Willard) in an appendix of the first volume of Havelock Ellis's Studies in the Psychology of Sex (1897, revised edition 1927).
According to Willard,
- "Every hobo in the United States knows what 'unnatural intercourse' means [and] every tenth man practises it, and defends his conduct. Boys are the victims of this passion." (Ellis 1927, Appendix A)
Willard goes into detail describing how boys aged 10 to 15 are lured into following hobos on the road and become their prushuns. A joker, or hobo protector of a prushun, will take care of his prushun, teach him the secrets of hobo lifestyle and expect from the boy to have sex with him. Like in the Ancient Greek tradition intercrural sex was the most common. To his amazement, Willard wrote that prushuns enjoy having sex with their jokers and wrote:
- "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."
Apart from being companions to hobos and having sex with them, prushuns were often the subjects of love and jealousy. As Willard noted, jokers sometimes withdrew from this lifestyle "simply to be sure that their prushuns were not touched by other tramps."
Willard also wrote about tramps in other countries:
- "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." (ibid.)
- "Josiah Flynt" (pseudonym of F. Willard), "Homosexuality among tramps," in Havelock Ellis, Studies in the Psychology of Sex: Vol. I, Sexual inversion (1897, revised edition 1927) (John Addington Symonds appears as the co-author in the first printing. The reference to Symonds' authorship was removed in subsequent printings).
- Homosexuality among tramps (Extract of Ellis's book)
- Havelock Ellis (Wikipedia article)
This article uses material from Wikipedia: Hobo.