Homosexuality in France Part 1

Tuesday 14 March 2017.

Homosexuality in France

“Homosexuality, far from being a monolithic Western construct in this period, varied considerably from society to society in the West, both in terms of its visibility, particularly in discourse, and the difference in attitudes toward sex between people of the same sex. Each of the societies and regions of Europe had, on close examination, a bricolage of contradictions and differences in attitudes toward homosexuality, even among scientists. Thoroughgoing comparative studies of homosexualities in differing European societies in the age of empire remain to be researched and written. Nonetheless, the scholarship within national contexts for this period is well developed enough to provide here a survey synthesis of context for the legal, moral, and medical differences between European societies in this respect. It must be stressed that this survey concentrates in particular upon the social and cultural context of male homosexualities.” (Brady, Homosexuality: European and Colonial Encounters, p. 50 in A Cultural History of Sexuality Volume 5 In The Age of the Empire, Chiara Beccalossi and Ivan Crozier editors.)

“The fear of effeminacy, sexual perversions, and homosexuality was common throughout western Europe in the decades prior to 1914. This widespread public concern was certainly stimulated by growing military tensions, a number of prominent homosexual scandals, and the multiple strains put on sex roles by the social and political emancipation of women. These influences produce in Germany and England the same kind of antihomosexual animus that existed in France, blunting the impetus of fledgling homosexual rights movements, and encouraging defensive denials by homosexuals and their defenders that homosexuality was incompatible with manliness or constituted a threat to national security” (Nye, Masculinity and Male Codes of Honor in Modern France, p.125)

In Homosexuality in History a modern western European focus will come from the nations of France, Great Britain and Germany. The emphasis will be on the time period from the late middle years of the nineteen-century to World War II. In this section the nation of France will be discussed. Of the three nations the most interesting thing is that in France there was no law against homosexuality beginning in 1810. The majority of the information about homosexuality in France is from Robert A Nye, Horning Professor of the Humanities and Professor of History Emeritus European Intellectual History Department of History at Oregon State University.

“The mildness of censorship in France was a legacy of the French Revolution. Certainly French psychiatric and sexological literature was direct and often explicit. But French publications lacked the empirical documentation of bourgeois and elite case studies that characterized most German scholarship. There were no influential French autobiographical works comparable to Ulrichs s pamphlets, published to inform popular opinion, mobilize a homosexual community, or influence political debate. Nor was there a French equivalent of the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, since, of course, adult same-sex erotic relationships had been fully decriminalized in France. The collaborative relationship between medical science and bourgeois subjects that characterized German sexology and the activism it inspired was largely missing in France. The limited contact of French medical professionals to non-institutionalized homosexuals in short, their ignorance of the French homosexual subcultural also accounts for the paucity of ethnographic description in French studies.” (Beachy, Gay Berlin Birthplace of a Modern Identity p. 93)

“Indeed, the French were second to none in the era 1880-1910, when the sexual perversions were being catalogued and described by the first European pioneers. Alfred Binet, Jean-Martin Charcot and Valentin Magnan, Benjamin Ball and many others provided clinical accounts of inversion, fetishism, exhibitionism, bestiality, sadism and other phenomena. French experts differed from students of sexuality elsewhere by resisting the notion that sexuality could be conceived as a force or drive independent of an individual’s sex or sex organs, for which Freud provided the classic arguments in his 1905 book Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, and by generally disparaging the quality of non-heterosexual, non-intromissive sex (Davidson 1987; Nye 1993). Freud argued on behalf of an organic drive, the libido, which was not programmed for any particular combination of sexual aim and object but gained its orientation in the course of an individual’s life experience. For French sexologists, however, sexual aim and object were naturally embodied in sexual individuals, making normal male A wish to insert his genitals in normal female B and her wish to be penetrated genitally by same. Thus, while sexological reformers elsewhere often defended the sexual vigour and masculinity of homosexual inverts, French sexologists expressed their defence of beleaguered gallic heterosexually by formulating contemptuous descriptions of homosexual sexually as hypotrophic and degraded, and above all as effeminate (Rosario 1996).” (Nye, Sex and Sexuality in France since 1800, p. 96-97 in Sexual Cultures in Europe Natural histories. editors Franz X. Eder, Lesley Hall and Gert Hekma.)

“It is important to note that the late nineteenth-century medical conception of homosexuality was constructed in France without the benefit of the word homosexual. Claude Courouve has shown that the word (homosexualitat) was neologism coined by a German-speaking doctor, K.M. Benkert in 1869. The term circulated in German medical circles for a number of years and did not become current in French as homosexualite until the late 1890s.Until that time, and many years afterward, French doctors discussed male same-sex love in ways that built on older words or medical models. Before coining the word invert in 1882, the two favored words were pederasty and sodomy. Pederasty seems to have been regularly used to refer to the seduction of boys by adult males, and was a staple term of forensic medicine, but by the end of the century was used occasionally in connection with adult homosexuality, provoking objections from etymological purists like Andre Gide. Sodomy had an imprecise and old-fashioned biblical quality that made it more popular in literature than science. Once invert began to be applied to adult males, sodomy was used more exclusively to refer to bestiality. The term uranist or urning, coined by the German jurist Karl-Heinrich Ulrichs in the early 1860s never caught on in French, nor did the concept of the third sex, which was popular among German sex reformers.” (Nye, Masculinity and Male Codes of Honor in Modern France, p. 108)

“Long before the eighteen-century, the French words pederast (literally, an adult male who has sex with boys) and sodomite (strictly speaking, a man who engages in buggery [anal intercourse]) had lost their etymological precision and in common parlance referred broadly to any male who had sexual relations of any kind with another male of any age.” (Merrick & Ragan, Homosexuality in Modern France, p. 80-81)

“In strict legal terms, sodomy was any sexual act not leading to procreation, including fellation, anal intercourse and even bestiality. In common usage, however, sodomy meant sexualrelations between two persons of the same sex (usually male). Men who engaged in sodomy were ’sodomites’ or (more rarely) ’buggers’. By the latter half of the eighteenth century, ’pederasts’ (with no connotation of cross-generational sex) had become the more usual term. People also used euphemisms like ’vile creatures’ (infames) or (more humourously) ’men of the cuff (gens de la manchette) or ’knights of the cuff (chevaliers de la manchette), possibly an allusion to the fancy cuffs worn by effeminate aristocrats. Homosexuality (the word dates only from 1869) was then called sodomy, buggery, pederasty or even ’the philosophical sin’, because of either the alleged practices of ancient Greek philosophers or the supposedly lax morality of Enlightenment thinkers who rejected Church teachings. Homosexual acts were ’anti-physical’, which is to say outside the natural order; by extension this made homosexuals ’anti-physicals’” (Sibalis, Homosexuality in Early Modern France. p. 212 in Queer Masculinities, 1550-1800 Siting Same-Sex Desire in the Early Modern World editors Katherine ODonnell and Michael ORourke.)

“To what extent was the discussion of homosexuality in France culturally specific? In many ways, it parallels that elsewhere in Europe. It was subject to similar underlying forces, such as the purity movement, the fear of decadence; demographic concerns were, however, stronger in France. Enquiries into its aetiology took on a similar shape, with analogous divide between those who emphasized environmental factors. For France, as elsewhere, the historian is concerned for to describe modes of categorization of the homosexual and here France, by the beginnings of the Third Republic¸ was in many ways more sophisticated than England, yet proved remarkably provincial in its neglect of more scientific and subtle modes of analysis undertaken in Austria and Germany. If there was a culturally specific content to the debate in France, it lay in the absence of any criminal charge for homosexual acts in private, in contrast to England and Germany.” (Copley, Sexual Moralities in France 1780-1980, p.135)

“Historians of homosexuality in France have recognized a cultural specificity to social, legal, and medical attitudes toward homosexuality in this period. As Antony Copley argues, representations of homosexuality in scientific discourse were much more prevalent, prominent, and sophisticated than in England. As we have seen, publication of such scientific discourses on homosexuality was nigh impossible in Britain in the period in question. This notwithstanding, French scientific treatises proved "remarkably provincial" and neglected more subtle modes of analysis being developed by sexologists in Austria, Germany, and Italy in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. In one fundamental respect, the debates in France were differentiated from those in Britain, the German states, and Austria; acts of sex between consenting adult males were legally tolerated. The Code Napoleon had ensured that since 1805, acts of sex between men in private were not criminal offenses. Nonetheless, local statutes and regulation of offenses against public decency, particularly after 1848, ensured that acts of sex between men in public places, such as urinals and parks, and male prostitution were criminalized, and that male homosexuality in the late-nineteenth century became heavily associated with criminality and" moral degeneracy.” (Brady, Homosexuality: European and Colonial Encounters, p. 50-51 in A Cultural History of Sexuality Volume 5 In The Age of the Empire, Chiara Beccalossi and Ivan Crozier editors.)

“Eighteen-century law and public opinion remained largely intolerant of unnatural acts, whether insubordination within marriage, masturbation, or sodomy.” (Merrick & Ragan, Homosexuality in Modern France, p. 58)

“It exemplifies a persistent and deep antipathy toward unconventional sexuality in nineteenth-century France. The legislators of the Constitutional Assembly decriminalized sodomy in 1791, but this change did not make it socially acceptable.” (Merrick & Ragan, Homosexuality in Modern France, p. 95)

“The problem with this otherwise persuasive account is that it does not apply to French sexology, if we may group French writers on sex and reproduction under that rubric. The older style of psychiatric reasoning persisted well into the twentieth century in French literature, including attachments to heterogenitality and anatomical models.” (Nye, Masculinity and Male Codes of Honor in Modern France, p.104)

“In the late nineteenth century, French medical commentators generally saw homosexuality as a scourge on a nation suffering from a low birthrate and emasculated by the Prussian army in 1870. As is now well-known, medical men first defined "homosexuality" as a form of selfhood as a means of identifying and differentiating some people from others at the end of the century. According to Michel Foucault, the homosexual was invented as part of the more general expansion of demographic surveys, laws, and medical tracts aimed at controlling sexuality in the interests of capitalist and competing secular nationalists.” (Dean, The Frail Social Body Pornography, Homosexuality, and Other Fantasies in Interwar France, p.132)

“Despite the existence of a number of shared assumptions that united sexologists across national borders, there were significant differences in national sexological traditions prior to 1914, indicative of the extent to which national political concerns shaped scientific research agendas. In France, anxieties about a declining birth-rate led sexologists to cast the perversions, especially homosexuality, as deviations from, and threats to, heterosexual norms that needed to be bolstered as a matter of national urgency.” (Waters, Sexology, p. 44- 45 in Palgrave Advances in the Modern History of Sexuality editors H. G. Cocks and Matt Houlbrook.)

“As we have seen, until 1894 French medical writers on inversion had stressed several points: inversion was a variety of degenerate insanity characterized by hysterical gender-crossing; it was a form of primitive nervous activity; it was frequently criminal.” (Rosario, The Erotic Imagination French Histories of Perversity, p. 100)

“Throughout the nineteenth century the French were committed to organicist and neurogential theories of sexuality. To certain extend they remained attached to such biological conceptualizations of gender and sexuality.” (Rosario, The Erotic Imagination French Histories of Perversity, p. 166)

“Robert Nye claims that in France to the extent there was any coherent paradigm explaining homosexual difference doctors were wedded to the idea that homosexuality was a form of libidinal weakness. Moreover, the French tended to attribute homosexual desire to anatomical anomalies rather than psychic states, even when they insisted the anomaly was acquired; that is, consciously chosen or a product of circumstances like gender-segregated environments.” (Dean, The Frail Social Body Pornography, Homosexuality, and Other Fantasies in Interwar France, p.139)

“Indeed, I wish to advance a stronger point still: that French psychiatrists and sexologists were encouraged by the domestic environment to represent the sexual perversions, especially homosexuality, in a unique and particularly unsympathetic way. When French sexology is contrasted with sexology elsewhere in Europe, notable differences emerge that help explain why French work in this field made only a marginal contribution to modern concepts of sexual enlightenment and tolerance. As I have argued with the case of sexual identity, bourgeois ideals of masculine honor were similarly influential in shaping the nature as well as the social response to the perversions, in this instance through the projection of keenly felt masculine anxieties onto the bodies and minds of men who engaged in unconventional sexual behavior.” (Nye, Masculinity and Male Codes of Honor in Modern France, p. 100)

“I wish to contend here that this process of medicalizing and pathologizing sexual identity was more widely and deeply developed in France than elsewhere in Europe in the years around the turn of the century. The model of perversions that French doctors favored, particularly as it applied to homosexuality, differed in important aspects from ones adopted elsewhere, and was considerably less generous in its judgments.” (Nye, Masculinity and Male Codes of Honor in Modern France, p.102-103)

“But there are signs that the French, who produced a huge body of writing on sex and sexuality, were out of step with the main stream of the new field.” (Nye, Masculinity and Male Codes of Honor in Modern France, p.103)

“The germans had invented and monopolized the study of contrary sexual sensation until the 1880s, so it is hardly surprising that French writers still burning with animosity in the wake of the Franco-Prussian war-referred to the inversion as the German vice (Dubarry 1896b). Nationalist rivalry was as fierce and vituperative over the study of inversion as over other scientific and political issues. The initial French foray into research on inversion was launched in 1882 with Charcot and Magnan’s articled mentioned at the beginning of this chapter. They not only reviewed foreign publication on the new disorder, but also presented new clinical material and laid out a theory of inversion pathology strongly at odds with the German hypotheses.” (Rosario, The Erotic Imagination French Histories of Perversity, p. 84)

“Medical language and reasoning played an important part though not exclusive role in shaping this public discourse in France, as it did elsewhere in Europe and America. It is my view that the case for the distinctiveness of the French outlook on sexual deviance may be most readily demonstrated by examining this medical language and reasoning in detail. In arguing thusly, I do not wish to be misunderstood to be attributing to doctors or to medical discourse a sovereign power to shape the norms of society. It seems clear enough that the professional status and public mission of medical science gave its practitioners unique leverage on the subject of sexual aberration, but my aim here is to demonstrate, as I have already suggested, that medicalization of sexual deviance, particularly male homosexuality, took different forms in France than elsewhere in Europe and placed its emphasis on different things.” (Nye, Masculinity and Male Codes of Honor in Modern France, p. 108)

France lacked homosexual reform movement and homosexual militancy

France due to no specific legal prohibition of homosexuality there was no homosexual reform movement advocating for homosexuality nor did homosexuals themselves organize into advocacy groups. In France, the model presented was an individualistic model, less assertive and centered on exceptional figures. Another difference was that discussions of homosexuality in France tended to be confined to the literary sphere, which was considered to be a private sphere, unlike that of political writings.

“In France, the influence of a German-style militancy remained very limited, partly because against the law, and partly because any attempt by homosexuals to assert themselves as a community always came up against the republican, universuliste model of the state, which recognized only individuals and not minority groups.” (Tamagne, Florence. The Homosexual Age, 1870-1940, p. 177 in Gay Life and Culture: A World History, editor Robert Aldrich.)

“The difference between France and Germany was not only the absence in France of a reform movement on the Hirschfeld model, but also that medical experts, while prolix in discussing homosexuality, did not provide the rich body of case histories that gave homosexuals a voice even if distorted by the interpretations of the doctors who published them.” (Jackson, Living in Arcadia Homosexuality, Politics, and Morality in France from the Liberation to AIDS, p. 26)

“Besides, homosexual militancy did not really take hold in England and France before the Second World War. Liberation took different forms in those two countries. In England, attempts were made to form homosexual organizations, but they were only a sidebar to the "cult of homosexuality" which characterized the period. And finally, compared to the democratic and militant German models, France presented an individualistic model, less assertive and centered on exceptional figures.” (Tamagne, A History of Homosexuality in Europe Berlin, London, Paris 1919-1939 Volume I, p. 81)

“Unlike Germany and England, France did not experience the formation of homosexual movements in this time period. Perhaps the tolerant legal context accounts for their reticence with regards to associations-there was no repressive laws on the books that required a concerted fight; but French individualism also played a role. The communal approach, more typical for the Anglo-Saxon or Germanic countries, was not part of the French make up. Asserting homosexual rights was thus left to a few key figures, who personally identified with the homosexual cause.” (Tamagne, A History of Homosexuality in Europe Berlin, London, Paris 1919-1939 Volume I, p. 123)

“Also, while France did have an organized homosexual subculture, there was no militancy and French homosexuals remained determinedly individualistic. That is certainly due to the more favorable social climate than in the neighboring countries, but it also had to do with a certain political immaturity. Discussion on homosexuality remained confines to the literary sphere, consideration to be a private sphere unlike that of political writing or social lampoons.” (Tamagne, A History of Homosexuality in Europe Berlin, London, Paris 1919-1939 Volume I, p. 143)

“Already in the inner-war period, there were many ways of affirming oneself as a homosexual or lesbian as a militant protestor, as in Germany, through subversive integration, as in England, or via sensual individualism, as in France.” (Tamagne, A History of Homosexuality in Europe Berlin, London, Paris 1919-1939 Volume I, p. 144)

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