SYG4060 Jeffrey Weeks says: “The legal classification [of homosexuality] and the epithet had […] an uncertain status and was often used loosely to describe

SYG4060

  1. Jeffrey Weeks says: “The legal classification [of homosexuality] and the epithet had […] an uncertain status and was often used loosely to describe various forms of non-reproductive sex. There was therefore a crucial distinction between traditional concepts of buggery and modern concepts of homosexuality.”

 What was that distinction?

2. He also says “[…]the emergence of a specific male ‘homosexual role’, a specialized, despised and punished role which ‘keeps the bulk of society pure in rather the same way that the similar treatment of some kinds of criminal helps keep the rest of society law abiding”

 What were the two effects this role had?

3. Gayle S. Rubin states: “The success of the anti-gay campaign ignited long simmering passions of the American right, and sparked an extensive movement to compress the boundaries of acceptable sexual behaviour.”

 According to Rubin, what else did the right and far right link to “non-familial” or frivolous sexuality?

4. Rubin talks about a “line” between “good” sex and “bad” sex.  Describe what this means and the struggle over where to draw the line.

8 Discourse, desire and sexual
deviance
Some problems in a history of
homosexuality

Jeffrey Weeks [1981]

The publication by the Kinsey Institute of the book Homosexualities underlines what is likely
to become a truism in the next few years: that we can no longer speak of a single homosexual
category as if it embraced the wide range of same sex experiences in our society (Bell and
Weinberg, 1978). But recognition of this, tardy as it has been, calls into question a much
wider project: that of providing a universal theory and consequently a ‘history’ of homosexu-
ality. The distinction originally made by sociologists (and slowly being taken up by histor-
ians) between homosexual behaviours, roles and identities, or between homosexual desire
and ‘homosexuality’ as a social and psychological category (Hocquenghem, 1978), is one
that challenges fundamentally the coherence of the theme and poses major questions for the
historian. This paper addresses some of these problems, first, by examining approaches that
have helped construct our concepts of homosexuality, second, by tracing the actual evolution
of the category of homosexuality, third, by exploring some of the theoretical approaches that
have attempted to explain its emergence and, finally, by charting some of the problems that
confront the modern researcher studying ‘homosexuality’.

Approaches

It has been widely recognized for almost a century that attitudes towards homosexual behav-
iour are culturally specific, and have varied enormously across different cultures and through
various historical periods. Two closely related and virtually reinforcing sources for this
awareness can be pinpointed: first, the pioneering work of sexologists such as Magnus
Hirschfeld, Iwan Bloch, Havelock Ellis and others, whose labelling, categorizing and taxo-
nomic zeal led them, partially at least, outside their own culture, and, second, the work of
anthropologists and ethnographers who attempted to chart the varieties of sexual behaviour
and who supplied the data on which the sexologists relied. The actual interest and zeal in the
pursuit of sex was, of course, a product of their own culture’s preoccupations, and the
resulting findings often displayed an acute ‘ethnocentric bias’ (Trumbach, 1977, p. 1), partic-
ularly with regard to homosexuality; but this early work has had a long resonance. The three
most influential English-language cross-cultural studies – that of the traveller Sir Richard
Burton in the 1880s (1888), the work of Edward Westermarck in the 1900s (1906), and the
Human Area Files of Ford and Beach in the 1950s (1952) – have deeply affected perceptions
of homosexuality in their respective generations. Unfortunately, awareness of different
cultural patterns has been used to reinforce rather than confront our own culture-bound
conceptions.

Three phases in the construction of a history of homosexuality are discernible. The first,
manifested in the works of the early sexologists as well as the propagandists like Edward

Co
py
ri
gh
t
©
2
00
7.
R
ou
tl
ed
ge
.
Al
l
ri
gh
ts
r
es
er
ve
d.
M
ay
n
ot
b
e
re
pr
od
uc
ed
i
n
an
y
fo
rm
w
it
ho
ut
p
er
mi
ss
io
n
fr
om
t
he
p
ub
li
sh
er
,
ex
ce
pt
f
ai
r
us
es
p
er
mi
tt
ed
u
nd
er
U
.S
.
or

ap
pl
ic
ab
le
c
op
yr
ig
ht
l
aw
.

EBSCO Publishing : eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) – printed on 3/9/2020 5:37 PM via FLORIDA INTL UNIV
AN: 184338 ; Parker, Richard G., Aggleton, Peter.; Culture, Society and Sexuality : A Reader
Account: s8862125

Carpenter (1914), attempted above all to demonstrate the trans-historical existence, and
indeed value, of homosexuality as a distinct sexual experience. All the major works of writers
such as Havelock Ellis (1936) had clear-cut historical sections; some, like Iwan Bloch’s
(1938), were substantive historical works. Writers during this phase were above all anxious to
establish the parameters of homosexuality, what distinguished it from other forms of sexu-
ality, what history suggested for its aetiology and social worth, the changing cultural values
accorded to it, and the great figures – in politics, art, literature – one could associate with the
experience. These efforts, taking the form of naturalistic recordings of what was seen as a
relatively minor but significant social experience, were actually profoundly constructing of
modern concepts of homosexuality. They provided a good deal of the data on which later
writers depended even as they reworked them, and a hagiographical sub-school produced a
multitude of texts on the great homosexuals of the past, ‘great queens of history’; its most
recent manifestation is found in the egregious essay of A.L. Rowse, Homosexuals in History
(1977).

The second phase, most usefully associated with the reformist endeavours of the 1950s and
1960s, took as unproblematic the framework established by the pioneers. Homosexuality was
a distinct social experience; the task was to detail it. The result was a new series of texts, some
of which, such as H. Montgomery Hyde’s various essays, synthesized in The Other Love in
1970, brought together a good deal of empirical material even as they failed to theorize its
contradictions adequately.

As a major aspect of the revival of historical interest was the various campaigns to change
the law and public attitudes, both in Europe and America, the historical studies inevitably
concentrated on issues relevant to these. The assumed distinction, derived from nineteenth-
century sexological literature, between ‘perversion’ (a product of moral weakness) and
‘inversion’ (constitutional and hence unavoidable), which D.S. Bailey adumbrates in Homo-
sexuality and the Western Christian Tradition (1955), was highly significant for debates in
the churches. The influential essay on English legal attitudes by Francois Lafitte, ‘Homosex-
uality and the Law’, was designed to indicate that laws that were so arbitrarily, indeed acci-
dentally, imposed could as easily be removed (Lafitte, 1958–59). Donald Webster Cory’s
various works of the 1950s, such as The Homosexual Outlook (1953), sought to underline the
values of the homosexual experience. Employing the statistical information provided by
Kinsey, the cross-cultural evidence of Ford and Beach, and the ethnographic studies of
people such as Evelyn Hooker, historians were directed towards the commonness of the
homosexual experience in history and began to trace some of the forces that shaped public
attitudes.

A third phase, overlapping with the second but more vocal in tone, can be seen as the direct
product of the emergence of more radical gay movements in the late 1960s and 1970s in
Europe and North America. Here the emphasis was on reasserting the values of a lost experi-
ence, stressing the positive value of homosexuality and locating the sources of its social
oppression. A major early emphasis was on recovering the pre-history of the gay movement
itself, particularly in Germany, the USA and Britain (Ford and Beach, 1952; Katz, 1976;
Lauritsen and Thorstad, 1974; Steakley, 1975). Stretching beyond this was a search for what
one might term ‘ethnicity’, the lineaments and validation of a minority experience that history
had denied. But the actual work of research posed new problems, which threatened to burst
out of the bounds established within the previous half century. This is admirably demon-
strated in Jonathan Katz’s splendid documentary Gay American History (1976). But rather
than exploring its virtues, I want to pick out two points that seem to me to pose fresh prob-
lems. The first concerns the title. It seems to me that to use a modern self-labelling term,

126 Jeffrey Weeks

Co
py
ri
gh
t
©
2
00
7.
R
ou
tl
ed
ge
.
Al
l
ri
gh
ts
r
es
er
ve
d.
M
ay
n
ot
b
e
re
pr
od
uc
ed
i
n
an
y
fo
rm
w
it
ho
ut
p
er
mi
ss
io
n
fr
om
t
he
p
ub
li
sh
er
,
ex
ce
pt
f
ai
r
us
es
p
er
mi
tt
ed
u
nd
er
U
.S
.
or

ap
pl
ic
ab
le
c
op
yr
ig
ht
l
aw
.

EBSCO Publishing : eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) – printed on 3/9/2020 5:37 PM via FLORIDA INTL UNIV
AN: 184338 ; Parker, Richard G., Aggleton, Peter.; Culture, Society and Sexuality : A Reader
Account: s8862125

‘gay’, itself a product of contemporary political struggles, to define an ever-changing concept
over a period of 400 years suggests a constant homosexual essence which the evidence
presented in the book itself suggests is just not there. Katz in fact recognizes this very clearly.
He makes the vital point that the ‘concept of homosexuality must be historicized’, and hopes
that the book will revolutionize the traditional concept of homosexuality.

The problem of the historical researcher is thus to study and establish the character and
meaning of each manifestation of same sex relations within a specific time and society …
All homosexuality is situational.

(Katz, 1976, pp. 6–7)

This is absolutely correct and is the measure of the break between this type of history and, say,
A.L. Rowse’s extravaganza. But to talk at the same time of our history as if homosexuals were
a distinct, fixed minority suggests a slightly contradictory attitude. It poses a major theoretical
problem on which the gay movement has had little to say until recently.

A second problem arises from this, concerning attitudes to lesbianism. Katz very
commendably has, unlike most of his predecessors, attempted to give equal space to both
male and female homosexuality, and although this is impossible in some sections, overall he
succeeds. But this again suggests a problematic of a constant racial-sexual identity which
Katz explicitly rejects theoretically. Lesbianism and male homosexuality in fact have quite
different, if inevitably interconnected, social histories, related to the social evolution of
distinct gender identities; there is a danger that this fundamental, if difficult, point will be
obscured by discussing them as if they were part of the same experience. These points will be
taken up later.

Certainly there has been a considerable extension of interest in the history of homosexu-
ality over the past decade, and as well as the general works, a number of essays and mono-
graphs have appeared, most of which accept readily the cultural specificity of attitudes and
concepts. Nevertheless considerable contradictions recur. A.D. Harvey in a study of buggery
prosecutions at the beginning of the nineteenth century has noted that:

It is too commonly forgotten how far the incidence of homosexual behaviour varies from age
to age and from culture to culture. … In fact it is only very crudely true that there are homo-
sexuals in every period and in every society. Societies which accept homosexual behaviour
as normal almost certainly have a higher proportion of men who have experimented with
homosexual activity than societies which regard homosexuality as abnormal but tolerate it,
and societies which grudgingly tolerate homosexuality probably have a higher incidence of
homosexual activity than societies where it is viciously persecuted.

(Harvey, 1978, p. 944)

But Harvey, despite making this highly significant point, goes on to speak of ‘homosexuals’
as if they realized a trans-historical nature. He writes of the Home Secretary complaining in
1808 that Hyde Park and St James’ Park were ‘being used as a resort for homosexuals’, appar-
ently oblivious of the absence of such a term until the later part of the century. The actual term
the Home Secretary used is extremely important in assessing his perception of the situation
and the type of people involved, and the evidence suggests a problematic of public nuisance
rather than a modern concept of the homosexual person. 1

Similarly Randolph Trumbach, in what is a very valuable study of London ‘sodomites’ in
the eighteenth century, despite a long and carefully argued discussion of different cross-

Discourse, desire and sexual deviance 127

Co
py
ri
gh
t
©
2
00
7.
R
ou
tl
ed
ge
.
Al
l
ri
gh
ts
r
es
er
ve
d.
M
ay
n
ot
b
e
re
pr
od
uc
ed
i
n
an
y
fo
rm
w
it
ho
ut
p
er
mi
ss
io
n
fr
om
t
he
p
ub
li
sh
er
,
ex
ce
pt
f
ai
r
us
es
p
er
mi
tt
ed
u
nd
er
U
.S
.
or

ap
pl
ic
ab
le
c
op
yr
ig
ht
l
aw
.

EBSCO Publishing : eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) – printed on 3/9/2020 5:37 PM via FLORIDA INTL UNIV
AN: 184338 ; Parker, Richard G., Aggleton, Peter.; Culture, Society and Sexuality : A Reader
Account: s8862125

cultural patterns, writes as if the homosexual sub-culture had a natural existence serving the
eternal social needs (or at least eternal in the West) of a fixed minority of people (Trumbach,
1977, p. 23). But there is plentiful evidence that the sub-culture changed considerably over
time, partly at least dependent on factors such as urbanization, and can one really speak of the
courtly or theatrical sub-cultures of the early seventeenth century as if they were the same as
the modern sub-cultures of New York or San Francisco?

Implicit in Trumbach’s essay is an alternative view that profoundly challenges such
assumptions. He notes ‘only one significant change’ in attitudes during the Christian
millennia: ‘Beginning in the late 19th century it was no longer the act that was stigmatised,
but the state of mind’ (Trumbach, 1977, p. 9). But this, I would argue, is the crucial change,
indicating a massive shift in attitude, giving rise to what is distinctively new in our culture: the
categorization of homosexuality as a separate condition and the correlative emergence of a
homosexual identity.

I would argue that we should employ cross-cultural and historical evidence not only to
chart changing attitudes but to challenge the very concept of a single trans-historical notion of
homosexuality. In different cultures (and at different historical moments or conjunctures
within the same culture) very different meanings are given to same-sex activity both by
society at large and by the individual participants. The physical acts might be similar, but the
social construction of meanings around them are profoundly different. The social integration
of forms of pedagogic homosexual relations in ancient Greece have no continuity with
contemporary notions of a homosexual identity (Dover, 1978). To put it another way, the
various possibilities of what Hocquenghem calls homosexual desire, or what more neutrally
might be termed homosexual behaviours, which seem from historical evidence to be a perma-
nent and ineradicable aspect of human sexual possibilities, are variously constructed in
different cultures as an aspect of wider gender and sexual regulation. If this is the case, it is
pointless discussing questions such as, what are the origins of homosexual oppression, or
what is the nature of the homosexual taboo, as if there was a single, causative factor. The
crucial question must be: what are the conditions for the emergence of this particular form of
regulation of sexual behaviour in this particular society? Transferred to our own history, this
must involve an exploration of what Mary McIntosh (1968) pin-pointed as the significant
problem: the emergence of the notion that homosexuality is a condition peculiar to some
people and not others.

A historical study of homosexuality over the past two centuries or so must therefore have
as its focus three closely related questions: the social conditions for the emergence of the cat-
egory of homosexuality and its construction as the unification of disparate experiences, the
relation of this categorization to other socio-sexual categorizations, and the relationship of
this categorization to those defined, not simply ‘described’ or labelled but ‘invented’ by it, in
particular historical circumstances.

Evolution

The historical evidence points to the latter part of the nineteenth century as the crucial period
in the conceptualization of homosexuality as the distinguishing characteristic of a particular
type of person, the ‘invert’ or ‘homosexual’, and the corresponding development of a new
awareness of self amongst some ‘homosexuals’ (Weeks, 1977). From the mid-nineteenth
century there is a bubbling of debate, notation and classification, associated with names such
as Casper, Tardieu, Ulrichs, Westphal, Krafft-Ebing, Havelock Ellis, Magnus Hirschfeld,
Moll, Freud, all of whom sought to define, and hence psychologically or medically to

128 Jeffrey Weeks

Co
py
ri
gh
t
©
2
00
7.
R
ou
tl
ed
ge
.
Al
l
ri
gh
ts
r
es
er
ve
d.
M
ay
n
ot
b
e
re
pr
od
uc
ed
i
n
an
y
fo
rm
w
it
ho
ut
p
er
mi
ss
io
n
fr
om
t
he
p
ub
li
sh
er
,
ex
ce
pt
f
ai
r
us
es
p
er
mi
tt
ed
u
nd
er
U
.S
.
or

ap
pl
ic
ab
le
c
op
yr
ig
ht
l
aw
.

EBSCO Publishing : eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) – printed on 3/9/2020 5:37 PM via FLORIDA INTL UNIV
AN: 184338 ; Parker, Richard G., Aggleton, Peter.; Culture, Society and Sexuality : A Reader
Account: s8862125

construct, new categorizations. Westphal’s description of the ‘contrary sexual instinct’ in the
1870s may be taken as the crucial formative moment, for out of it grew the notion of ‘sexual
inversion’, the dominant formulation until the 1950s.

The word ‘homosexuality’ itself was not invented until 1869 (by the Hungarian Benkert
von Kertbeny) and did not enter English usage until the 1880s and 1890s, and then largely as a
result of the work of Havelock Ellis. I suggest that the widespread adoption of these neolo-
gisms during this period marks as crucial a turning point in attitudes to homosexuality as the
adoption of ‘gay’ as a self-description of homosexuals in the 1970s. It indicated not just a
changing usage but the emergence of a whole new set of assumptions. And in Britain (as also
in Germany and elsewhere) the reconceptualization and categorization (at first medical and
later social) coincided with the development of new legal and ideological sanctions, particu-
larly against male homosexuality.

Until 1885 the only law dealing directly with homosexual behaviour in England was that
relating to buggery, and legally, at least, little distinction was made between buggery between
man and woman, man and beast and man and man, though the majority of prosecutions were
directed at men for homosexual offences. This had been a capital crime from the 1530s, when
the incorporation of traditional ecclesiastical sanctions into law had been part of the decisive
assumption by the state of many of the powers of the medieval church. Prosecutions under
this law had fluctuated, partly because of changing rules on evidence, partly through other
social pressures. There seems, for instance, to have been a higher incidence of prosecutions
(and executions) in times of war; penalties were particularly harsh in cases affecting the disci-
pline of the armed services, particularly the navy (Radzinowicz, 1968; Gilbert, 1974, 1976,
1977). ‘Sodomite’ (denoting contact between men) became the typical epithet of abuse for
the sexual deviant.

The legal classification and the epithet had, however, an uncertain status and was often
used loosely to describe various forms of non-reproductive sex. There was therefore a crucial
distinction between traditional concepts of buggery and modern concepts of homosexuality.
The former was seen as a potentiality in all sinful nature, unless severely execrated and judi-
cially punished; homosexuality, however, is seen as the characteristic of a particular type of
person, a type whose specific characteristics (inability to whistle, penchant for the colour
green, adoration of mother or father, age of sexual maturation, ‘promiscuity’, etc.) have been
exhaustively and inconclusively detailed in many twentieth-century textbooks. It became a
major task of psychology in the present century to attempt to explain the aetiology of this
homosexual ‘condition’ (McIntosh, 1968). The early articles on homosexuality in the 1880s
and 1890s treated the subject as if they were entering a strange continent. An eminent doctor,
Sir George Savage, described in the Journal of Mental Science the homosexual case histories
of a young man and woman and wondered if ‘this perversion is as rare as it appears’, while
Havelock Ellis was to claim that he was the first to record any homosexual cases unconnected
with prison or asylums. The sodomite, as Michel Foucault has put it (1979), was a temporary
aberration; the homosexual belongs to a species, and social science during this century has
made various – if by and large unsuccessful – efforts to explore this phenomenon.

These changing concepts do not mean, of course, that those who engaged in a predomin-
antly homosexual life style did not regard themselves as somehow different until the late
nineteenth century, and there is evidence for sub-cultural formation around certain monarchs
and in the theatre for centuries. But there is much stronger evidence for the emergence of a
distinctive male homosexual sub-culture in London and one or two other cities from the late
seventeenth century, often characterized by transvestism and gender-role inversion; and by
the early nineteenth century there was a recognition in the courts that homosexuality

Discourse, desire and sexual deviance 129

Co
py
ri
gh
t
©
2
00
7.
R
ou
tl
ed
ge
.
Al
l
ri
gh
ts
r
es
er
ve
d.
M
ay
n
ot
b
e
re
pr
od
uc
ed
i
n
an
y
fo
rm
w
it
ho
ut
p
er
mi
ss
io
n
fr
om
t
he
p
ub
li
sh
er
,
ex
ce
pt
f
ai
r
us
es
p
er
mi
tt
ed
u
nd
er
U
.S
.
or

ap
pl
ic
ab
le
c
op
yr
ig
ht
l
aw
.

EBSCO Publishing : eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) – printed on 3/9/2020 5:37 PM via FLORIDA INTL UNIV
AN: 184338 ; Parker, Richard G., Aggleton, Peter.; Culture, Society and Sexuality : A Reader
Account: s8862125

represented a condition different from the norm (McIntosh, 1968; Trumbach, 1977). By the
mid-nineteenth century, it seems the male homosexual sub-culture at least had characteristics
not dissimilar to the modern, with recognized cruising places and homosexual haunts, ritual-
ized sexual contact and a distinctive argot and ‘style’. But there is also abundant evidence
until late into the nineteenth century of practices which by modern standards would be
regarded as highly sexually compromising. Lawrence Stone (1977) describes how Oxbridge
male students often slept with male students with no sexual connotations until comparatively
late in the eighteenth century, while Smith-Rosenberg (1975) has described the intimate – and
seemingly non-sexualized – relations between women in the nineteenth century.

Nevertheless, even as late as the 1870s there was considerable doubt in the minds of the
police, the medical profession and the judiciary about the nature and extent of homosexual
offences. When the transvestites Boulton and Park were brought to trial in 1871 for
conspiracy to commit buggery, there was considerable police confusion about the nature of
the alleged offences, the medical profession differed over the relevance of the evidence
relating to anal intercourse, the counsel seemed never to have worked on similar cases before,
the ‘scientific’ literature cited from British sources was nugatory, while the court was either
ignorant of the French sources or ready to despise them. The Attorney General suggested that
it was fortunate that there was ‘very little learning or knowledge upon this subject in this
country’, while a defence counsel attacked ‘the new found treasures of French literature upon
the subject which thank God is still foreign to the libraries of British surgeons’.2 Boulton and
Park were eventually acquitted, despite an overwhelming mass of evidence, including corres-
pondence, that today would be regarded as highly compromising.

The latter part of the nineteenth century, however, saw a variety of concerns that helped to
focus awareness: the controversy about ‘immorality’ in public schools, various sexual scan-
dals, a new legal situation, the beginnings of a ‘scientific’ discussion of homosexuality and
the emergence of the ‘medical model’. The subject, as Edward Carpenter put it at the time,
‘has great actuality and is pressing upon us from all sides’ (Carpenter, 1908, p. 9). It appears
likely that it was in this developing context that some of those with homosexual inclinations
began to perceive themselves as ‘inverts’, ‘homosexuals’, ‘Uranians’, a crucial stage in the
prolonged and uneven process whereby homosexuality began to take on a recognizably
modern configuration. And although the evidence cited here has been largely British, this
development was widespread throughout Western Europe and America.

The changing legal and ideological situations were crucial markers in this development.
The 1861 Offences Against the Person Act removed the death penalty for buggery (which had
not been used since the 1830s), replacing it by sentences of between ten years and life. But in
1885 the famous Labouchere Amendment to the Criminal Law Amendment Act made all
male homosexual activities (acts of ‘gross indecency’) illegal, punishable by up to two years’
hard labour. And in 1898 the laws on importuning for ‘immoral purposes’ were tightened up
and effectively applied to male homosexuals (this was clarified by the Criminal Law Amend-
ment Act of 1912 with respect to England and Wales – Scotland has different provisions).
Both were significant extensions of the legal controls on male homosexuality, whatever their
origins or intentions (Smith, 1976; Bristow, 1977; Weeks, 1977, p. 2). Though formally less
severe than capital punishments for sodomy, the new legal situation is likely to have ground
harder on a much wider circle of people, particularly as it was dramatized in a series of sensa-
tional scandals, culminating in the trials of Oscar Wilde, which had the function of drawing a
sharp dividing line between permissible and tabooed forms of behaviour. The Wilde scandal
in particular was a vital moment in the creation of a male homosexual identity (Ellis, 1936, p.
392). It must be noted, however, that the new legal situation did not apply to women, and the

130 Jeffrey Weeks

Co
py
ri
gh
t
©
2
00
7.
R
ou
tl
ed
ge
.
Al
l
ri
gh
ts
r
es
er
ve
d.
M
ay
n
ot
b
e
re
pr
od
uc
ed
i
n
an
y
fo
rm
w
it
ho
ut
p
er
mi
ss
io
n
fr
om
t
he
p
ub
li
sh
er
,
ex
ce
pt
f
ai
r
us
es
p
er
mi
tt
ed
u
nd
er
U
.S
.
or

ap
pl
ic
ab
le
c
op
yr
ig
ht
l
aw
.

EBSCO Publishing : eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) – printed on 3/9/2020 5:37 PM via FLORIDA INTL UNIV
AN: 184338 ; Parker, Richard G., Aggleton, Peter.; Culture, Society and Sexuality : A Reader
Account: s8862125

attempt in 1921 to extend the 1885 provisions to women failed, in part at least on the grounds
that publicity would only serve to make more women aware of homosexuality (Weeks, 1977,
p. 107). But the different legal situation alone does not explain the different social resonances
of male and female homosexuality. Much more likely, this must be related to the complexly
developing social structuring of male and female sexualities.

The emergence of a psychological and medical model of homosexuality was intimately
connected with the legal situation. The most commonly quoted European writers on homo-
sexuality in the mid-nineteenth century were Casper and Tardieu, the leading medico-legal
experts of Germany and France respectively. Both, as Arno Karlen has put it, were ‘chiefly
concerned with whether the disgusting breed of perverts could be physically identified for
courts, and whether they should be held legally responsible for their acts’ (Karlen, 1971, p.
185). The same problem was apparent in Britain. According to Magnus Hirschfeld, most of
the 1000 or so works on homosexuality that appeared between 1898 and 1908 were directed,
in part at least, at the legal profession. Even J.A. Symond’s privately printed pamphlet A
Problem in Modern Ethics (1983 [orig. 1883]) declared itself to be addressed ‘especially to
Medical psychologists and jurists’, while Havelock Ellis’s Sexual Inversion (1936 [orig.
1897]) was attacked for not being published by a medical press and for being too popular in
tone. The medicalization of homosexuality – a transition from notions of sin to concepts of
sickness or mental illness – was a vitally significant move, even though its application was
uneven. Around it the poles of scientific discourse ranged for decades: was homosexuality
congenital or acquired, ineradicable or susceptible to cure, to be quietly if unenthusiastically
accepted as unavoidable (even the liberal Havelock Ellis felt it necessary to warn his invert
reader not to ‘set himself in violent opposition’ to his society) or to be resisted with all the
force of one’s Christian will? In the discussions of the 1950s and 1960s these were crucial
issues: was it right, it was sometimes wondered, to lock an alcoholic up in a brewery; should
those who suffered from an incurable (or at best unfortunate) condition be punished? Old
notions of the immorality or sinfulness of homosexuality did not die in the nineteenth
century; they still survive, unfortunately, in many dark corners. But from the nineteenth
century they were inextricably entangled with ‘scientific’ theories that formed the boundaries
within which homosexuals had to begin to define themselves.

The challenge to essentialism

Clearly the emergence of the homosexual category was not arbitrary or accidental. The
scientific and medical speculation can be seen in one sense as a product of the characteristic
nineteenth-century process whereby the traditionally execrated (and monolithic) crimes
against nature – linking up, for instance, homosexuality with masturbation and mechanical
birth control (Bullough and Voght, 1973) – are differentiated into discrete deviations whose
aetiologies are mapped out in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century works (Ellis,
1936; Hirschfeld, 1938, 1946; Krafft-Ebing, 1965). In another series of relationships the
emergence of the concept of the homosexual can be seen as corresponding to and comp-
lexly linked with the classification and articula

Looking for this or a Similar Assignment? Click below to Place your Order