Identity or Behavior Part Two

Tuesday 11 April 2017.

Identity or Behavior Part 2

The history of homosexuality has to consider the distinction between homosexual conduct, which is universal, and homosexual identity, which is specific and temporal. Homosexuals do not necessarily define themselves as such, even if they find people of their own sex attractive or have sexual relations with them. By the same token, society will not necessarily distinguish an individual in terms of his sexual practices. (Tamagne, Florence. A History of Homosexuality in Europe Berlin, London, Paris 1919-1939 Volume I, p. 6)

The history of homosexuality is not the history of sexual conduct, which is practically unvarying, rather, it consists in studying the relations between homosexuals and society and observing the answers homosexuals have developed in order to affirm their identity. At the same time, one begins to wonder about homosexual identity and the validity of categorizing individuals according to their sexual practices. (Tamagne, A History of Homosexuality in Europe Berlin, London, Paris 1919-1939 Volume I, p. 7)

The homosexual identity, unlike the homosexual act, is a historical phenomenon. It is not universal, but temporal; it is not induced, but constructed. Therefore, it supposes the creation of a specific environment and an awareness that enabled homosexuals to define themselves as a group. (Tamagne, A History of Homosexuality in Europe Berlin, London, Paris 1919-1939 Volume I, p. 207)

The origin of the homosexual identity is difficult to pin down. At what moment can one say that a person recognizes himself as a homosexual? Is it simply that time when he accepts his sexual preferences, when he calls himself "homosexual," or is it only when he asserts his membership in a homosexual community, as a political statement? Just as it is hard to say when one person takes on the identity of a homosexual, it is hard to say when the homosexual identity was created at all. Indeed, the date varies, depending on the country, the region (the notion of a homosexual identity emerges earlier in major cities than in rural areas) and the social class. (An intellectual can more readily define himself as homosexual simply because he will have access to the debates on the question of homosexuality, to medical writings, and so forth.) Depending on how you look at it, the theorists of homosexuality have assigned a wide range of dates to the birth of the homosexual identity. For some, the presence of homosexual "signals" in clothing and language, and the existence of meeting places, are enough to mark the existence of a homosexual identity. If we take that view, the homosexual identity must have existed from time immemorial, since one can find homosexual codes, camouflaged to a greater or lesser extent, in every society and every era. Others say that the homosexual identity could only have been constituted very recently, with the beginnings of gay militancy in the 1970s.

Most historians of homosexuality, however, agree to date the emergence of a homosexual identity to the end of the 19th century, when the term "homosexual" came into wider use, doctors defined homosexuality precisely, and condemnations of homosexual acts were definitively inscribed in the laws of the European countries. (Tamagne, A History of Homosexuality in Europe Berlin, London, Paris 1919-1939 Volume I, p. 207-208)
It may be argued that homosexuals didn’t exist until about 150 years ago. Homosexuality certainly did, as our historical survey showed, but individuals who fell in love with members of their own sex weren’t thought to be a particular kind of person. Some societies, such as classical Greece, didn’t feel the need to label the phenomenon and had no words for homosexuality. Same-sex eroticism was something a few individuals seemed to prefer more than their fellows, but it wasn’t thought to be a characteristic worth inventing a name for. Often, the gender of one’s sexual partners was less important than attributes like their age and social status. This being the case, homosexuality was in a sense submerged within these cultures attracting no special notice. (Mondimore, A Natural History of Homosexuality, p.247)

The ancient Greek and Latin languages have no word that can be translated homosexual, largely because these societies did not have the same sexual categories that we do. Our concepts and categories of sexual expression are based on the genders of the two partners involved: heterosexuality when the partners are of the opposite sex, and homosexuality when the partners are of the same sex. In other times and among other peoples, this way of thinking about people simply doesn’t seem to apply-anthropologists, historians, sociologists have described many cultures in which same-sex eroticism occupies a very different place than it does in our own. . . . Just as the Greeks and Romans had no words for our sexual categories, the Native American societies described by explorers, missionaries, and anthropologists from the seventeenth onward had sexual categories for which we have no words. Consequently, in the sections that follow- an exploration of attitudes and customs of ancient peoples toward same-sex eroticism- the modern concepts of homosexuality or sexual orientation will be conspicuous by their absence. Within these cultures, sexual contact between persons of the same sex is not necessarily seen as characteristic of a particular group or subset of persons, there is no category for homosexuals. On the contrary, in some cultures, same-sex eroticism was an expected part of the sexual experience of every member of society, which would seem to argue against the existence of homosexuality as a personal attribute at all. (Mondimore, A Natural History of Homosexuality, p.3-4)

For several hundreds of years, the institutions of the majority considered homosexuality something a person did and called it sodomy, buggery, or a crime against nature. During the nineteenth century, a conceptual shift occurred, and a few individuals began to talk about homosexuality as something a person was. A new vocabulary was invented for these persons. Urning, invert-homosexual. (Mondimore, A Natural History of Homosexuality, p. 248)

The idea of making up people has, I said, become quite widespread. The Making of the Modern Homosexual is a good example; Making in this title is close to my making up. The contributors by and large accept that the homosexual and the heterosexual as kinds of persons (as ways to be, or as conditions of personhoods), came into being only toward the end of the nineteenth century. There has been plenty of homosexual activity in all ages, but not, Making argues, same-sex people and different-sex people. (Hacking, Making People Up, p. 225 in Reconstructing Individualism Autonomy, Individuality, and the Self in Western Thought editors Thomas C. Heller, Morton Sosna, and David E. Wellberry

This theme, the homosexual as a kind of person, is often traced to a paper by Mary MacIntosh, The Homosexual Role, which she published in 1968 in Social Problems. That journal was much devoted to labeling theory, which asserts that social reality is conditioned, stabilized, or even created by the labels we apply to people, actions, communities. (Hacking, Making People Up, p. 226 in Reconstructing Individualism Autonomy, Individuality, and the Self in Western Thought editors Thomas C. Heller, Morton Sosna, and David E. Wellberry)

A second assumption is that homosexuality is a unitary construct that is culturally transcendent. However, a wealth of cross-cultural evidence points to the existence of numerous patterns of homosexuality varying in origins, subjective states, and manifest behaviors. In fact, the pattern of essentially exclusive male homosexuality familiar to us has been exceedingly rare or unknown in cultures that required or expected all males to engage in homosexual activity. (Byrne and Parsons, Human Sexual Orientation: The Biological Theories Reappraised, p.228)

With rare exceptions, homosexuality is neither inherited nor the result of some glandular disturbance or the scrambling of genes or chromosomes. Homosexuals are made and not born that way’. From my twenty-five years’ experience as a clinical psychologist, I firmly believe that homosexuality is a learned response to early painful experiences and that it can be unlearned. For those homosexuals who are unhappy with their life and find effective therapy, it is curable. (Kronmeyer, Overcoming Homosexuality, p. 7)

Language has been an important weapon in the gay movement’s very swift advance. In the old days, there was sodomy: an act. In the late 19th century, the word homosexuality was coined: a condition. A generation ago, the accepted term became gay an identity. Each formulation raises the stakes: One can object to and even criminalize an act; one is obligated to be sympathetic toward a condition; but once it’s a fully-fledged 24/7 identity, like being Hispanic or Inuit, anything less than wholehearted acceptance gets you marked down as a bigot. (Steyn, There’s No Stopping Them Now, p. 35)

Steyn explains that historically, moral concern for sexual activity between two persons of the same sex was identified as sodomy, an act. And an act is what it is. You can either think it is a good idea or you can think it is bad. Either way, it’s very objective. It’s what someone does. Then, Steyn explains, in the late nineteen-century the act was described as condition of certain persons, and it was termed homosexuality - a condition a person is in. Next, a few decades ago homosexuality got upgraded again, now referring to a person’s very identity, so that we now identify people as being or not being gay. Now it describes who a person is. (Stanton and Maier, Marriage on Trial; the Case Against Same-Sex Marriage and Parenting, p. 15)

For not until he sees homosexuals as a social category, rather than a medical or psychiatric one, the sociologists can begin to ask the right questions about the specific content of the homosexual role and about the organization and functions of homosexual groups. All that has been done here is to indicate that the role does not exist in many societies, that it only emerged in England towards the end of the seventeenth century, and that, although the existence of the role in modern America appears to have some effect on the distribution of homosexual behavior, such behavior is far from being monopolized by persons who play the homosexual role. (McIntosh, The Homosexual Role, p.192)

Weeks innovative approach to the historical interpretation of these processes is indebted to the seminal article The Homosexual Role by the sociologist Mary McIntosh in 1968. McIntosh demonstrated, through her groundbreaking arguments in The Homosexual Role that male homosexuality in the twentieth-century scholarship was considered to be a condition and therefore fell within the remit of sex psychologists and psychiatrists. McIntosh’s fundamental argument in The Homosexual Role was the pathologised condition of homosexuality in the late nineteenth- and twentieth-century Western culture was not scientific fact, but ethnocentric development of the highly pejorative and pervasive European Christian interpretation of same sex behaviour between males. (Brady, Masculinity and Male Homosexuality in Britain 1861-1913, p. 5)

Historical and anthropological research has shown that homosexual persons (i.e. people who occupy a social position or role as homosexuals) do not exist in many societies, whereas homosexual behavior occurs virtually in every society. Therefore, we must distinguish between homosexual behavior and homosexual identity. One term refers to one’s sexual activity per se (whether casual or regular); the other word defines homosexuality as a social role, with its emotional and sexual components. (Escoffier, American Homo: Community and Perversity, p.37)

However, as an individual property of a minority, the concept of homosexuality is neither timeless nor universal, although historians fail to agree on when and how a homosexual social category and identity came into being. Subcultures in the form of illicit networks, clubs, and meeting places of sodomites have been documented from the fifteen-century on in Italian towns and from the seventeenth on in urban centers of northwestern Europe. Although the legal and religious definition of sodomy referred to only certain sexual acts, especially anal intercourse, of which anyone in theory, was regarded as being capable, within urban subcultures in Britain, France, and the Netherlands, a more specific sodomitical role evolved as early as the first half of the eighteenth century. After 1700 the behavior of some sodomites began to perceived more and more as part of being different, of effeminate proclivities, of a sinful orientation, or of a particular hedonistic lifestyle. (Oosterhuis, Stepchildren of Nature: Kraft-Ebing, Psychiatry, and the Making of Sexual Identity, p.241)

Although same-sex attractions and sexual behavior have undoubtedly occurred throughout history, lesbian, gay, and bisexual identities are relatively new (D’Emilio, 1983). The contemporary notion of identity is itself historically created (Baummeister, 1986). The concept of a specifically homosexual identity seems to have emerged at the end of the nineteen-century. Indeed, only in relatively recent years have large numbers of individuals identified themselves openly as gay or lesbian or bisexual. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual public identities, then, are a phenomenon of our current historical era (D’Emilio, 1983; Faderman, 1991). (Patterson, Sexual Orientation and Human Development: An Overview, p.3)

While homosexual behavior can be found in all societies, though with very different cultural meanings, the emergence of ‘the homosexual’ as a cultural construct can be traced to the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century in urban centers of north-west Europe (Trumnach 1989a, 1989b) and also linked with the rise of capitalism (D’Emilio 1983) medical and psychiatric discourses provided the concept and labels of homosexuality and inversion from the 1860s, . . . (Ballard, “Sexuality and the State in Time of Epidemic, p.108 in Rethinking Sex: Social Theory and Sexuality Research by Connell and Dowsett)

Historians underscore an important distinction between homosexual behavior and homosexual identity. The former is said to be universal, whereas the latter is viewed historically unique. Indeed, some historians hold that a homosexual identity is a product of the social developments of late nineteen-century Europe and the United States. Any event, it seems fair to say that a unique construction of identity crystallized around same-sex desire between 1880 and 1920 in America.
The modern western concept of the homosexual is, according to some historians, primarily a creation of late nineteenth-century medical-science discourses. In the context of elaborating systems of classification and descriptions of different sexualities, as part of a quest to uncover the truth about human nature, the homosexual is said to have stepped forward as a distinct human type with his/her own mental and physical nature.
(Seidman. Embattled Eros: Sexual Politics and Ethnics in Contemporary America, p.146)

Homosexual identity emerged reactively to the new claims of late nineteenth century science, and the state, in relation to the classification and management of human sexuality as a whole. (Watney, Emergent Sexual Idenitties and HIV/AIDS in Aggleton, Davies, and Hart, AIDS: Facing the Second Decade, p. 14)

As a means of categorizing and regulating particular types of sexual behavior and people, both homo- and heterosexuality are relative late comers to everyday discourse. (Adams, The Trouble with Normal: Postwar Youth and the Making of Heterosexuality, p.7)

The words ’homosexuality’ and ’lesbian love’ do not predate the second half of the nineteenth-century. Moreover, it was only in this period that the medical professions began to consider homosexuality a perversion the study of which belonged in the field of sexual psychopathology. Such developments strongly suggest that homosexuality as we know it is a recent phenomenon. (Bremmer, Greek pederasty and modern homosexuality, p. in From Sappho to De Sade, editor.)

Homosexual and heterosexual behavior may be universal; homosexual and heterosexual identity and consciousness are modern realities. These identities are not inherent in the individual. In order to be gay, for example, more then individual inclinations (however we might conceive of those or homosexual activity is required; entire ranges of social attitudes and the construction of particular cultures, subcultures and social relations are first necessary. To commit a homosexual act is one thing, to be a homosexual is something entirely different. (Robert Padgug, Sexual Matters: Rethinking Sexuality in History, p. 60 in Hidden From History Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past, editors Martin Duberman, Martha Vicinus, and George Chauncy, Jr.)

We are learning that sexual identities’ are social constructs which come and go in different shapes and sizes. Beneath them are behaviors which defy easy categorization. (Kinsey, Pomeroy, Martin and Gebhard, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, p. f)

What these examples illustrate is that homosexual and heterosexual are socially constructed categories. There are no objective definitions of these words; there is no Golden Dictionary in the Sky that contains the real definitions. These are word categories we made up. (Muehlenhard, Categories and Sexualities, p. 102-103)

Lesbian and gay historians have asked questions about the origins of gay liberation and lesbian feminism, and have come up with some surprising answers. Rather than finding a silent, oppressed, gay minority in all times and all places, historians have discovered that gay identity is a recent, Western, historical construction. Jeffrey Weeks, Jonathan Katz and Lillian Faderman, for example, have traced the emergence of lesbian and gay identity in the late nineteenth century. Similarly, John D’Emilio, Allan Berube and the Buffalo Oral History Project have described how this identity laid the basis for organized political activity in the years following World War II. The work of lesbian and gay historians has also demonstrated that human sexuality is not a natural, timeless given, but is historically shaped and politically regulated. (Duggan & Hunter, Sex Wars: Sexual Dissent and Political Culture, p.151-152)

Another aspect of the development of sexual orientation and identity which would seem to require investigation is the reduction of the percentage of men and women engaging in homosexual behavior with age. A significant percentage of the medical students and male twins investigated by McConaghy and colleagues (1987, 1994) reported that they were not currently aware of homosexual feelings they experienced in adolescence indicating homosexual feelings diminished or disappear with age in a proportion of the population. (McConaghy, Unresolved Issues in Scientific Sexology, p. 300)

The campaigns for homosexual rights in Germany, and the psychiatric and sexological literature, spread the idea that one could have a distinctive sexuality and that this sexuality could motivate behavior. (Greenberg, Transformations of Homosexuality-Based Classifications, p. 189 in The Gender/Sexuality Reader Culture, History, Politico Economy, editors Roger N. Lancaster and Micaela di Leonardo.)

Some medical doctors of the late nineteenth century became interested in same-sex relations from Ulrichs pamphlets or from other campaigners for the normalization of same-sex activity; others learned from their patients, or as court psychiatrists asked to render expert opinions about men being prosecuted on sodomy charges. The psychiatrists appropriated from the early homophile literature the notion that same-sex eroticism designated a distinct type of individual, but saw the individual as exhibiting a medical pathology. (Greenberg, Transformations of Homosexuality-Based Classifications, p. 187 in The Gender/Sexuality Reader Culture, History, Politico Economy, editors Roger N. Lancaster and Micaela di Leonardo.)

Nowhere is the difference between modern and premodern sexual worlds clearer than when we explore same-sex attractions. The majority of historians of sex concur that in the premodern world there was homosexual behavior without the homosexual identity that is taken for granted in modern and premodern times. (Phillips and Reay. Sex Before Sexuality A Premodern History, p. 60)

Male-to-male sexual interaction was something that all men might engage in. It was part of being sexual. That is not to say that all aspects of homosexual activity were acceptable in the medieval or early modern period (as we will see, anal penetration and other varieties of sodomy often carried severe penalties, but those engaged in such sexual practices were rarely seen as a different species of persons. (Phillips and Reay. Sex Before Sexuality A Premodern History, p. 60)

Pre-homosexual practices and discourses comprised same-sex sexual behavior but not homosexuality. (Phillips and Reay. Sex Before Sexuality A Premodern History, p. 85)

An important aspect of modern homosexuality is that those involved in such sexual activity see themselves and are seen by others, as a separate group in society, defined by their same-sex sexuality. (Phillips and Reay. Sex Before Sexuality A Premodern History, p. 86)

Homosexual behavior has existed throughout history. Because of moral and social taboos there is very little written material explicitly discussing the feelings or attitudes of persons engaged in such activity. It is therefore difficult to know if gay people historically experienced their sexual activity as a series of isolated acts or if they formed a sense of identity of which their sexuality was an integral part.
The evolution of a homosexual identity is necessary to the development of a homosexual culture. Although this sense of identity may have existed earlier, it was only after the formulation of the medical model, in the later part of the nineteenth century, that a distinct homosexual identity emerged. Before the nineteenth century, some have argued there were homosexual acts, but no homosexuals. The new medical perception of sexuality in relation to the individual and not in relation to the moral or social order was the social change that allowed homosexual identity to come out. Sexuality was viewed as an intrinsic part of the personality structure. New trends in social thinking promoted the idea of the individual as a social entity as equally or more important than the larger social structures and conditions which shaped society and culture.
Because the religious, social, and legal prohibitions against homosexuals did not disappear, homosexual identity retained its stigma. However, although identified and defined as outcast, the homosexual counterculture developed a positive gay identity.
(Bronski, Culture Clash The Making of Gay Sensibility, p. 8-9)

The state does not create homosexuality, yet it does seek to construct its significance, regulate and control it and indeed all sexuality, though most vehemently male homosexuality. Male homosexual practices have occurred across all centuries in all societies¸ yet the male homosexual identity and more particularity the gay man and the gay community are a more recent phenomenon. (Edwards, Erotics and Politics Gay male sexuality, masculinity and feminism, p.15)

For the sexologists, homosexuality was a form of gender inversion that resulted from a congenital anomaly. The modern homosexual it seemed, was decidedly effeminate. This was not necessarily a new idea, although in the past, the relationship between effeminacy and homosexuality had been a more complex one. The century had started with two virtually contradictory ideas of what homosexual behaviour was. On one hand, homosexual acts did belong to a particular group of people the effeminate mollies who occupied a particular place on the social spectrum. On the other, however, it was frequently assumed that it was possible, simply through becoming aware of sodomy, that men might fall for its charms and become sodomites. (Cocks, Secrets, Crimes, and Diseases, 1800-1914, p. 143 in A Gay History of Britain Love and Sex Between Men Since the Middle Ages, editor Matt Cook.)

A brief historical reprise: I have argued at length in Chapter 1 that the metaphor of inversion-the turning inside out or upside down of desire in relation to gender-constituted the dominant, if not sole, explanatory paradigm by which late-nineteenth-century and early-twentieth-century Euro-American culture structured its understanding of both the ontology and the etiology of homosexuality. In the paradigmatic instance of the male homosexual or invert, this explanatory figure would be reduced to a suspiciously convenient formulation: anima muliebris virili corpore inclusa, a female soul/spirit/psyche lodged or encased in a male body. The historical instantiation of this model of same-sex desire entailed the fluctuant and (ultimately only) partial suppression of the precedent model, sodomy, whose taxonomic mission was less to define the relation between being and desire than it was to classify and order the relation between bodies and acts. Above all, and in clear contradistinction to the inversion paradigm, the sodomy model did not presuppose, either theoretically or practically, an essential heterosexual linkage between an already gendered desire rooted in the depths of the subject (anima muliebris) and the objects of that desire’s gratification; thus the unnaturality of sodomy did not lie in the twisted or cross-gendered composition of the subject’s desire, but rather in the mistaken way in which the subject choose to lay his, or her, body down. (Craft, Another Kind of Love Male Homosexual Desire in English Discourse, 1850-1920, p. 161-162)

The cultural deployment of the inversion model was hardly a linear development. Sodomy did not concede overnight, nor was inversion irrevocably installed by the vertical imposition of power. As divergent but copresent sexual taxonomies, sodomy and inversion jostled one another check to jowl, for both discursive space and institutional validation, with the latter model achieving taxonomic dominance largely because of its close filiation with the ascendent discourses and institutions of modernity: medicine, psychiatry, psychology, and psychoanalysis. (Craft, Another Kind of Love Male Homosexual Desire in English Discourse, 1850-1920, p. 162)

There is no reason to suppose that the traditional forms did not continue. It is rather there was now a tension that had not existed before. Alongside the old forms of society in which homosexuality had appeared, new meanings were now being attached to homosexuality: it was more than a mere sexual act. The new forms may even have involved only a minority of homosexual acts, but they overshadowed the old: they were a radical extension of the meaning of homosexuality, and they were far more brilliant. (Bray, Homosexuality in Renaissance England, p. 88-89)


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