Models of Homosexuality

Tuesday 14 March 2017.

Models of Homosexuality

The idea of, Who one is, a homosexual or What one does, homosexuality may be better understood if we see not types of homosexuality but model of homosexuality. Working from the perspective, models of homosexuality and studying previous cultures and societies will help us to better understand homosexuality as experienced today. But it will not help answer the moral question of homosexuality today or in the past. This is an introductory article to articles that will be followed by four more articles. These four articles that will present models of homosexuality; Homosexuality as a Sin; a Crime a Disease and today as a Political Identity.

Homosexuality, and by implication homosexuals, have been placed outside prevailing social structures as defined by most theological, legal, and medical models. In Western culture, homosexual activity was first categorized as a sin. With the rise of materialism and the decline of religion, it became a transgression against the social, not the moral order: a crime. After Freud, homosexual behavior-under the auspices of medicine and psychology-was understood as a sickness, which was physical, psychological, or both depending on the theory. Although new categories were invented for homosexual behavior, they did not totally replace the old. For many today it remains a sin, a crime, and a disease. (Bronski, Culture Clash The Making of Gay Sensibility, p. 8)

As we have seen, cultural understandings of sex have, in the West, been shaped by three models: the moral/religious model, the biological model, and the social model of sexuality. Although these three models have, historically, emerged successively, it is important to emphasize that they are still co-present today. Moral, biological, and social understandings of sexuality continue to have a great influence on the ways in which sexual meanings are organized in society, politics, and in our everyday lives. They have important implications for the ways in which we conceptualize our sexual behaviours and identities, as well as the possibilities for personal and political transformation. (Mottier, Sexuality A Very Short Introduction, p. 48)

Western approaches to sexual matters fall into three dominant paradigms, each of which continues to exert its influence even as it is replaced by the next. In pre-industrial European societies the regulation of sexual behaviour, like moral behaviour generally, was primarily a religious or spiritual issue. Christian teaching explains the purpose of sex - for procreation - and the place for sex - in holy matrimony. With the birth of the scientific study of ’sexuality’ in mid-nineteenth century Europe, however, doctors and scientists would gradually usurp the role of the Church in teaching courts and communities the nature and causes of sexual normality and sexual deviance. The authoritative voice on sexual matters moved away from the spiritual arena to talk of ’nature’ and the imperatives of biology: the sexual became synonymous with the biological. This second paradigm has been seriously challenged - although not overturned - in recent decades. Perceptions of ’nature’ and ’biology’ are now themselves explored as ’social constructions’; the old binaries biological/social, nature/nurture, sex/gender have been undermined. On this view, our experiences of the body and its desires are produced externally through the range of social discourses and institutions which describe and manipulate them. (Segal, Straight Sex Rethinking the Politics of Pleasure, p. 72-73)

Each term corresponds to a particular moment in the history of Western sexuality and to a social perspective on sex between women and sex between men. Sodomy alludes to a religious conception, especially the interdiction of same-sex behavior by monotheistic religions. Homosexuality was a product of 19th-centuryscietism, of the medicalization of sexuality, and of a new emphasis on psychological make-up rather than a simple practice of unnatural acts. Homophile which semantically shifted the focus from sex to love, found favor with campaigners promoting tolerance and acceptance, and with those who sought the seamless integration of individuals with same-sex urges into wider society. Gay and lesbian were preferred by activists who, along with feminists, ethnic groups and other minorities, galvanized the new social movements from the 1960s onwards. (Aldrich, Gay and Lesbian History, p. 11-12 in Gay Life and Culture: A World History editor Robert Aldrich

Since the 1960s the study of homosexuality has undergone massive changes. In the first place, whereas Western sexology, medicine and psychiatry have tended to view it as a trans-historical and unchanging category which could be investigated in different cultures at different times, a new wave of sociological and political research has led to the arresting thesis that the concept of the homosexual has been invented in modern times, and does not exist in other cultures and other periods in history. (Horrocks, An Introduction to the Study of Sexuality, p.146)

The only conclusion to be drawn is that the problem in understanding this in the way the question is put: in terms of the history of homosexuality, there is no answer. The reason is, quite simply, that there is no linear history of homosexuality to be written at all, any more than there is of the family or indeed sexuality itself. These things take their meaning from the varying societies which give them form; if they change it is because these societies have changed. (Bray, Homosexuality in Renaissance England, p.104)

Male homosexuality has a history, but this history consists principally of sodomites and buggers, pederasts and catamites, berdaches and contrary lovers rather than homosexuals or gays in the modern sense. (Gerard and Hekma, The Pursuit of Sodomy: Male homosexuality in Renaissance and Enlightenment Europe, p. 1)

Over the past decade and half, numerous historical, sociological, and theoretical studies have explored the emergence of lesbian and gay identities, subcultures, communities, and politics. The historicizing project of this generation of research has revealed not only the discontinuities between cultural conceptions of homosexuality across time and space but also the ways in which various sustained attempts to gain knowledge of sexuality are themselves constitutive of that bodily domain of pleasure, power, and personal identity now regarded as sexuality. (Bravmann, Queer fictions of the past History, culture and difference, p.5)

At base, all contributors to this book would argue that the homosexual is not a type of person who has been with us in various guises throughout all time and space; he and she are not simply beings that we are slowly discovering and understanding better. On the contrary, our starting point contents that specific ways of experiencing sexual attractions and gender behaviour are bound up with specific historical and cultural milieux. Indeed in some environments sexual attraction and gender may not even be sensible categories; to members of those worlds such a way of seeing may be outside their frame of possibilities. (Plumber, editor The Making of the Modern Homosexual, p. 12)

The implication of this argument is that homosexuality as we know it simply did not exist prior to the seventeenth century, nor will it be found to be structured in a similar fashion in other cultures. Homosexual experiences may be universal, specific homosexual roles are not. (Plumber, Building a sociology of homosexuality, p.23 in The Making of the Modern Homosexual editor Kenneth Plumber.)

I want to suggest, however, that we began thinking about the making of the modern homosexual not as a fact but as an argument, fundamentally as a narrative with serious implications for addressing issues historically. Rather than simply describing an historical processł accounts of the past themselves help make or construct the fiction of the modern homosexual. (Bravmann, Queer fictions of the past History, culture and difference, p.5)

Inevitably then, the term homosexuality has shifting connotations throughout this study. The conception of homosexuality that it works towards is neither an essential identity, as envisaged by Gide for instance, nor exactly the modern constructed identity postulated most notably by Michel Focault and others. Rather it denotes a cluster of things with more or less specific cultural locations, but with a history which is wider, more diverse, and more complex than the essentialist or constructionist view allows. It includes cultures, institutions, beliefs, practices, desires, aspirations, and much else, and changes across all of theses. Hence homosexual as I use it is always provisional and context-dependent. (Dollimore, Sexual Dissidence Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Focault, p.32)

Approaching sex as social has made possible new historical and sociological perspectives on sex. For example, until recently it was assumed that the homosexual was a separate sexual and human type that has always existed; the only variation in history was how different societies responded to this sexual minority. In contrast, the new social approach has led scholars to document considerable changes in the very meaning of homosexuality. Historians of the United States have shown how homosexuality changed from a behavior (sodomy) in the nineteenth century, to a deviant individual identity (homosexual or lesbian) in the early twentieth century, to a positive social identity (gay or lesbian) today." (Seidman, The Social Construction of Sexuality Second Edition, p. x)

Today there is a large class of historical research offering varied interpretations of homosexuality. Independent scholar Jonathan Ned Katz produced two pioneering books, Gay American History and the Gay/Lesbian Almanac, which he documented the changing meaning of homosexuality in the United States. He found that between colonial times and the 1970s, the meaning of homosexuality changed from a behavior (sodomy), to a type of gender deviance (invert), to an abnormal personality (the homosexual), and finally to an affirmative social identity (gay/lesbian)." (Seidman, The Social Construction of Sexuality Second Edition, p.28)

If changes in the definition of prostitution can be discovered, so can they for homosexuality. Mary McIntosh (1968) has pointed out that the concept of homosexual is a relatively recent historical construct, which came into use around the turn of the century, an insight further elaborated by Weeks in much of his work (e.g. 1977 and this volume). The word homosexual was only coined in 1869, and did not come into common usage until the 1880s and 1890s (Weeks 1979: 164). This is not to say that there was no homosexual behavior prior to that: there certainly was, but it did not constitute an identity. Similarly, two women living together in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries would have assumed to be friends (Smith-Rosenberg 1975); by the middle of the twentieth century, they would more likely be called lesbians. Their behavior might, in fact, not be very different; what changed was how it was labeled (Faderman 1982). (Caplan, The Cultural Construction of Sexuality, p. 5)

The category of the homosexual also emerged in nineteenth-century sexology. Previously, argued Foucault, authorities regarded men who had sex with men as committing a sin or seriously criminal act, but they thought the devil might ensare any man into such behavior authorities did not see these men, claimed Foucault, as having a specific personality type. But in the late nineteenth-centurył sexologists began to diagnose the homosexual; as a type of personality. (Clark, The History of Sexuality in Europe A Sourcebook and Reader, p.4)

Although the foundations for change were laid in the eighteenth century, the transition from the religious model to the medical model of homosexuality occurred mainly during the nineteenth and took firm hold during the first half of the twentieth century. It has been argued that one of the casual factors for the change was the attempt of certain elements in the medical to bolster traditional attitudes toward sex-attitudes that were being challenged by new rationalism of the period. (Hubert, The Third Sex Theory of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs p. 103 in Historical Perspectives on Homosexuality edited by Salvatore J. Licata, PhD and Robert P. Petersen.)

The attitudinal shift described by Proust neatly illustrates the nineteenth-century replacement of predominantly Christian taxonomies of sexual sin with biological and psychological based primarily on congenital, psychiatric and legal conceptions of the modern subject. (Schaffner, Modernism and Perversion Sexual Deviance in Sexology and Literature 1850-1930, p. 2)

To summarise this study, the history of homosexuality in western society over the previous century is crudely classified here, using my terminology, into five interrelated phases or developments: damnation, criminalisation, medicalisation, regulation, and reform. Moreover, there is perhaps a sixth developing at present following the medico-political impact of the AIDS epidemic (see Chapter 7). Importantly, all of these phases or developments not only interact and connect, they, to an extent at least, coexist and are all in evidence, alive and kicking, in today’s contemporary society. The question centres then, more on the rise and fall of these developments and of their dominance or decline. Consequently, artificial as they are, they remain valid heuristic devices. (Edwards, Erotics & Politics Gay male sexuality, masculinity and feminism, p. 16-17)

To facilitate the presentation of the cross-cultural cases, I use a model that takes into account five widely agreed on forms of same-gender relations around the world. These forms are (1) age-structured relations as the basis for homoerotic relationships between older and younger males, (2) gender-transformed homoerotic roles that allow a person to take the sex/gender role of the other gender, (3) social roles that permit or require the expression of same-gender relations as a particular niche in society, (4) western homosexuality as a nineteenth-century form of sexual identity, and (5) late-twentieth-century western egalitarian relationships between persons of the same gender who are self-consciously identified as gay or lesbian for all of their lives. (Herdt, Gilbert. Same Sex, Different Cultures: Gays and Lesbians Across Cultures, p.22-23)

Using the present in the past

Those advocating for homosexuality, trying to find support from history for a homosexual person and not seeing it just has homosexuality, homosexual behavior are too often forcing our modern view of homosexuality/homosexual on to and into the cultures and societies of the past. They are using modern ideas, definitions and terms to describe the homosexual behavior in historical cultures and societies. When in reality those peoples had ways of living that are not relevant for us today. And those advocating for homosexuality would certainly not want to live today as people lived in the past.

In fact, a good many of the cross-cultural investigations have been, explicitly or implicitly, aimed at mustering support for one or another interpretation of our homosexuality rather than at laying bare the meaning of theirs. (Whitehead, The bow and the burden strap: A New Look at Institutionalized Homosexuality in Native North America, p. 80 in Sexual Meanings The Cultural Construction of Gender and Sexuality editors Sherry B. Ortner and Harriet Whitehead.)

The error of reading the present into the past is well known and yet common in the historical enterprise, as evidenced by examples cited here. Advice to respect the integrity of the past is hardly earthshaking, but it seems particularly important to remind historians who are studying sexual deviance to exercise some caution in their admirable attempts to write the history of homosexuality. While empathy for other times is difficult to achieve in the best of circumstances, it is particularly difficult in this case because of the secrecy and ambiguity surrounding the subject of deviant sexuality and because of the consequent paucity of data. Yet scrupulous historical accuracy is essential; indeed, it is the only way in which we will begin to understand not only homosexuality as a forbidden relationship but sodomy as a forbidding mode of sexual activity. (Gilbert, Conceptions of Homosexuality and Sodomy in Western History, p. 66-67 in Historical Perspectives on Homosexuality edited by Salvatore J. Licata, PhD and Robert P.Petersen.)

We argue that historians of premodern sex will be constantly blocked in their understanding if they use the terms and concepts applicable to sexuality since the late nineteen-century. The key words qualified in successive chapters heterosexual, homosexual, lesbian, pornography are products of a particular historical moment modernity and are best reserved for it. There is nothing at all revolutionary or exception about our analysis, although our readers will see that it runs counter to the assumptions (assumed is the most accurate description) of many historians. If one attempts to understand the past on its own terms and to refuse to see sex and sexuality as somehow excluded from historical specificity, and if so much about our world is different from that of Athens in the fourth century BCE, or France in the twelfth century, or England in the seventeenth century, we should not be surprised to find a fundamentally different sexual regime there as well. Sex, as so many others have also argued, is a historical construct." (Phillips and Reay, Sex before Sexuality A Premodern History, p.8-9)

This leaves the historian in a quandary. Modern categories may well be misleading but merely adopting those of the period is no real solution: there is no guarantee that they will be used appropriately, which is the essence of the matter. (Bray, Homosexuality in Renaissance England, p. 17)

Whatever solution one adopts, the problem is a salutary warning: the terms in which we now speak of homosexuality cannot be readily translated into those of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. There was a breadth in the concepts used that, at the onset, should put us on our guard. We need to carry our preconceptions lightly if we are to see in renaissance England more than the distorted image of ourselves. (Bray, Homosexuality in Renaissance England, p. 17)

The history of homosexuality is highly loaded with anachronistic, technical and interpretive difficulties on several levels. First, in the question of definition and conceptualizations of sexuality, as already pointed out, they are culturally specific and located in time and space. Consequently, what’s gay today wasn’t yesterday or isn’t in another society and so on. Second, this leads on to a question of reinterpretation of the past, or even reinvention, when the actors concerned are silenced and can no longer speak and give their meanings and interpretations of themselves and their situations. (Edwards, Erotics and Politics Gay male sexuality, masculinity and feminism, p.16)

Social Role

Homosexuality as seen today has its foundation that best describes homosexuality as a social role. This way of thinking of homosexuality is drawn from the social theory of deviancy and labeling which begin in 1960s. Mary McIntosh is often credited specifically for describing homosexuality as a social role with her article The Homosexual Role published in the journal Social Problems in 1968.

The categories in fact take what are no more than a group of more or less closely related acts (homosexual; heterosexual; behavior) and convert them into case studies of people (homosexuals; heterosexuals). This conversion of acts into roles/personalities, and ultimately into entire subcultures, cannot be said to have been accomplished before at least the seventeenth century, and as a firm belief and more or less close approximation of reality, the late nineteenth century. What we call homosexuality (in the sense of the distinguishing traits of homosexuals), for example, was not considered a unified sets of acts, much less a set of qualities defining particular persons, in pre-capitalists societies. (Padgug, Sexual Matters: On Conceptualizing Sexuality In History, p. 261 in History of Homosexuality in Europe and America editors Wayne R. Dynes and Stephen Donaldson.)

Heterosexuals and homosexuals are involved in social roles and attitudes which pertain to a particular society, modern capitalism. These roles do have something in common with very different roles known in other societies-modern homosexuality and ancient pederasty, for example, share at least one feature: that participants were of the same sex and that sexual intercourses often involved-but the significant features are those are not shared, including the entire range of symbolic, social, economic, and political meanings and functions each group of role possesses. (Padgug, Sexual Matters: On Conceptualizing Sexuality In History, p. 261-262 in History of Homosexuality in Europe and America editors Wayne R. Dynes and Stephen Donaldson.)

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 than individual inclinations (however we might conceive of those) or homosexual 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. (Padgug, Sexual Matters: On Conceptualizing Sexuality In History, p. 262 in History of Homosexuality in Europe and America editors Wayne R. Dynes and Stephen Donaldson.)

The Greeks of the classical period would have agreed with the general principle, if not with the moral attitude. Homosexuality and heterosexuality for them were indeed groups of not necessarily very closely related acts, each of which could be performed by any person, depending upon his or her gender, status, or class. Homosexuals and heterosexuals in the modern sense did not exist in their world, and to speak, as is common, of the Greeks, as bisexual; is illegitimate as well, since that merely adds a new, intermediate category, whereas it was precisely the categories themselves which had no meaning in antiquity. (Padgug, Sexual Matters: On Conceptualizing Sexuality In History, p. 261 in History of Homosexuality in Europe and America editors Wayne R. Dynes and Stephen Donaldson.)

There is now plentiful historical evidence to sustain the statement that whilst heterosexual and homosexual (and many other sexual) practices may always have existed, clearly demarcated categories and identities of the heterosexual and the homosexual are of very recent provenance.
The idea that sexual identities are not simple expressions of bodily truth but are historical phenomena-and therefore constantly changing-is itself a relatively recent one, pioneered largely by feminist and lesbian and gay scholars. Its origins were, then, largely political, demonstrating the historicity and potential ephemerality of the categories we take for granted as natural and inevitable, even as their power were acknowledged.
(Weeks, History, Desire, and Identities, p. 40 in Conceiving Sexuality Approaches to Sex Research in a Postmodern World edited by Richard G. Parker and John H. Gagnon.)

Yet, at the same time, we now know from a proliferating literature that such identities are historically and culturally specific, that they are selected from a host of possible social identities, that they are not necessary attributes of particular sex drives or desires, and they are not, in fact, essential that is naturally pre-given aspects of our personality (Weeks 1985). So there is a real paradox at the heart of the question of sexual identity. We are increasingly aware, theoretically, historically, even politically, that sexuality is about flux and change, so that what we so readily deem as sexual is as much a product of language and culture as of nature; (Weeks, Questions of Identity p.31 in The Cultural Construction of Sexuality, Editor Pat Caplan.)

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 enable homosexuals to define themselves as a group. (Tamagne, A History of Homosexuality in Europe Berlin, London, Paris 1919-1939, 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 its 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 a homosexual simply because he will have access to the debates on the question of homosexuality, to medical writings, and so forth. (Tamagne, A History of Homosexuality in Europe Berlin, London, Paris 1919-1939, p. 207-208)

Depending on how you look at, 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 homosexuality 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 in to wider use, doctors defined homosexuality precisely, and condemnations of homosexual acts were definitely inscribed in the laws of the European countries. (Tamagne, A History of Homosexuality in Europe Berlin, London, Paris 1919-1939, p.208)

Gay sexual activity has not always been the preserve of a distinct group of people-lesbians and gay men. The existence of a group of people identified as gay is specific to capitalist society. This division between heterosexual and homosexual people connects with the modern distinction which we noted above, between heterosexuality and homosexuality. Gay sexual activity has in the past been seen as a universal potential, not as something embodied in particular individuals. Our present-day notion of a homosexual would have been recognised in mercantile capitalist London in the eighteenth century. But in medieval Europe or ancient Greece, the notion of a homosexual would simply not have been understood. The notion of a lesbian or a gay man with a whole set of particular inbuilt personality traits would have been even more incomprehensible. We can see then, both the practice of homosexuality and its repression have varied enormously between different types of society. This suggests that the contemporary gay sexuality of which we drew a picture in Chapter 1 is itself not stable or eternal. (Gough and Macnair, Gay Liberation in the Eighties, p. 33)

Homosexual behavior: Two Historical Patterns

From a historical anthropological perspective homosexuality was institutionalized and exhibited in two patterns; age structured and gendered role structured. Homosexuality in both of these two patterns had specific cultural and social roles. In the discussion of homosexuality, age structured homosexuality as seen in Greek pederasty and the New Guinea tribal society are the most common examples. While in gendered role structure homosexuality the example you will find is the North America Indian berdache.

Ethnography evidence, drawn from all continents except North America, suggests a special propensity for homosexual relations among unmarried males. It is among males between boyhood and marriage that homosexuality is often permissible and sometimes obligatory. (Adams, Age, Structure, and Sexuality: Reflections on the Anthropological Evidence on Homosexual Relations, p.20 in The Many faces of Homosexuality: Anthropological Approaches to Homosexual Behavior, editor Evelyn Blackwood)

Outside of Western culture, homosexual behaviour seemed to fall into one of two patterns. Adult men, who also married women, had sexual relations with males, who were in some cultures were adolescent boys, and who, in others, were adult men who had permanently adopted a transvestite role situated somewhere between the other two genders. But the active adult male partner in these acts maintained his dominant gender status; adolescent boys left behind their passivity at manhood; and only the transvestite male undertook a new permanent gender role as a result of his sexual conduct. (Trumbach, Gender and the homosexual Role in Modern Western Culture: The 18th and 19th Centuries Compared, in Homosexuality, Which Homosexuality by Dennis Altman, p.151)

These two styles of institutionalized homosexuality, the New Guinea and the North American, (which are the two styles most often encountered in tribal societies) could not be further apart in their primary meaning, and indeed as far as I am able to determine, they never coexist. The meaning of each is also significantly different from the culturally recognized but not instituted homosexuality of the modern West. (Whitehead, The bow and the burden strap: A New Look at Institutionalized Homosexuality in Native North America, p. 83 in Sexual Meanings The Cultural Construction of Gender and Sexuality editors Sherry B. Ortner and Harriet Whitehead.)

Thus, whereas the age-structured form is more often universal but transitory, the trans-gender form applies to only a few men and women, but more often as a long-term career. (Adams, Age, Structure, and Sexuality: Reflections on the Anthropological Evidence on Homosexual Relations, p. 31 in The Many faces of Homosexuality: Anthropological Approaches to Homosexual Behavior, editor Evelyn Blackwood)

These relationships fall into two major categories. In the ancient model, an older male takes a youth in a role-structured sexual relationship. In the Melanesian model, older bachelors enter role-defined relationships with younger males, though some Melanesian societies also show evidence of the ancient form. (Adams, Age, Structure, and Sexuality: Reflections on the Anthropological Evidence on Homosexual Relations, p.21 in The Many faces of Homosexuality: Anthropological Approaches to Homosexual Behavior, editor Evelyn Blackwood)

Age-structured homosexuality appears in one slice through the ethnographic literature. Besides this clearly intra-gender form is the trans-gender form best known in the Polynesian mahu and North American berdache (Callender & Kochems, 1983; Jacobs, 1968; Katz, 1976, ch. 4) Juxtaposition of these macro structures shows that homosexuality is a relationship with extraordinarily protean content. For participants in age-graded forms, for example, homosexual relations masculinize youths, while for trans-gender forms, they are part of the feminization of male participants. (Adams, Age, Structure, and Sexuality: Reflections on the Anthropological Evidence on Homosexual Relations, p. 31 in The Many faces of Homosexuality: Anthropological Approaches to Homosexual Behavior, editor Evelyn Blackwood)

In the New Guinea case, homosexual is deemed appropriate because one of the two parties is held to be deficient in the traits normally associated with his anatomic sex; in native North America, homosexual practice was deemed appropriate because one of the two parties was held to be possessed of traits normally associated with opposite anatomic sex; and in modern Western culture, homosexual practice, although not deemed appropriate, gives rise, when it occurs, to the idea that one or both of the parties involved is mixed and/or deficient in their expected gender attributes. In a word, in all three cases, we see some manifestation of the dominance of heterosexually as the model for sexual exchange. (Whitehead, The bow and the burden strap: A New Look at Institutionalized Homosexuality in Native North America, p. 110 in Sexual Meanings The Cultural Construction of Gender and Sexuality editors Sherry B. Ortner and Harriet Whitehead.)

It is particularly striking that although many American tribes had a social category like the berdache, some did not, suggesting that it is particular social structures that create such categories, not individual personalities or pre-existent sexual needs. (Horrocks, An Introduction to the Study of Sexuality, p. 149)

Another institutionalized from of homosexuality existed in many American Indian societies. Girls and boys in these societies could refuse initiation into their adult gender roles and instead adopt the social role of the other gender. For example, men who dressed and acted in accordance with the adult female role were known as two-spirited or berdache (originally the French term for these Indians). The berdache often married Indian men. The partners in these marriages did not define themselves as homosexuals, nor did their societies recognize them as such, but their marital sex life consisted of homosexual sexual relations. (Escoffier, Jeffrey. American Homo Community and Perversity, p.37)

A third characteristic of a berache is that she or he was allowed to choose a marital partner of the same sex. This is not necessarily prescribed: female berdaches are known to have married men, and male ones have married women in both cases without losing their berdache status. So the element which determined the identity of the berdache was not the choice of sexual partner but rather her or his occupation. (Wiering, An Anthropological Critique of Constructionis: Berdaches and Butches, p. 224-225 in Homosexuality, Which Homosexuality? by Dennis Altman)

The phenomenon of the berdache in native American cultures has attracted considerable attention from anthropologists, and has sometimes been claimed to be an analogue of the Western ’homosexual’. The berdache is a man in woman’s clothing, carrying out women’s occupations, and having sex with men. Such men are found in many native American societies, but the berdache seems to be defined primarily in terms of female occupation and clothing, and only secondarily by sexual object choice, whereas in the West ’homosexuality’ is defined by the latter. Thus the term ’berdache’ seems more akin to the English term ’transvestite’. (Horrocks, An Introduction to the Study of Sexuality, p. 148)

There has been two great historical shifts in the discussion of homosexuality, which will be emphasized more in the forth-coming four articles: Homosexuality as a Sin a Crime a Disease and today as a Political Identity. The first took place the late 1800’s, particularly the 1880s and the second in the latter half of the 1900s coming at the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s. These two shifts were brought about by those who self-identified as homosexuals, in order to bring about social change. This social change was for a greater acceptance and/or tolerance for homosexuality, but more importantly it was a struggle for the legality of homosexuality. The latter has been more successful than the former.


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