Before Homosexuality: Sodomy

Tuesday 11 April 2017.
 

Before Homosexuality: Sodomy

Same-sex sexual acts have a history; today they are called homosexuality. Before homosexuality they were called sodomy. In England during the reign of King Henry VIII sodomy became a civil offense with the passage of the buggery Act of 1533. In Germany in the late 1860s the transition from a religious model to a medical model for same-sex sexual acts begin. It was at this time the term homosexual came about.

Specific sexual behaviors, to be sure, were named, categorized, and judged. This was nothing new. They had been for more than a thousand years. The most famous example of this is the term sodomy." (Blank, Straight The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality, p. 2)

What sodomy and buggery represented and homosexuality was only part of these was rather the disorder of sexual relations that, in principle at least could break out anywhere. (Bray, Homosexuality in Renaissance England, p. 25)

Sodomy entailed improper usage (because a non-sexual organ was used for sex) or aim (non-procreative sex). (Crawford, p. 156, European Sexualities, 1400-1800)

Sodomy was a religious issue and a criminal problem. (Crawford, European Sexualities, 1400-1800, p. 200)

There is a tendency for discussions of male homosexuality to merge with discussions of the crime of sodomy and for both to focus on male-to-male anal sex. But this is highly misleading. ’Sodomy’ as defined by religion and law included a range of condemned practices, ’a way to encompass a multitude of sins with a minimum of signs’, as one critic has cleverly expressed it. (Phillips and Reay, Sex Before Sexuality A Premodern History, p. p. 60-61)

Sodomy as defined by religion and law included a range of condemned practices, a way to encompass a multiple of sins with a minimum of signs as one critic has cleverly expressed it. (Phillips and Reay. Sex Before Sexuality A Premodern History, p. 61)

In ancient and early medieval writings, ’Sodomites’ (from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18-19) were comprehended as enemies of God and the Christian religion. Sodomy was a theological category, alongside and analogous to ’blasphemy’. (Phillips and Reay, Sex Before Sexuality A Premodern History, p. p. 61)

Well into the late medieval and early modern periods sodomy was often unhelpfully described as ’that unspeakable sin’ or ’that unmentionable vice’. (Phillips and Reay, Sex Before Sexuality A Premodern History, p. p. 61)

Despite the term’s enduring flexibility, from the twelfth century sodomy was increasingly associated with sex acts between men. (Phillips and Reay. Sex Before Sexuality A Premodern History, p. 62)

Ever since the twelfth century sodomy anal intercourse either between males or between men and women, as well as intercourse with animals - had been a crime mixti fori, that is, a crime punishable by both ecclesiastical and secular authorities. (Meer, Sodomy and the Pursuit of a Third sex in the Early Modern Period, p.139 in Third Sex Third Gender Beyond Sexual Dimorphism, Culture and History edited by Gilbert Herdt)

Before the eighteen-century, then, it was conceivable that any man or woman might engage in the unnatural act of sodomy, as part of a more generalized bisexual behavior. Sodomites were not fundamentally different from anyone else. They were simply sinners who engaged in a particular vice, like gamblers, drunks, adulterers, and the like. (Merrick & Ragan, Homosexuality in Modern France, p. 12)

Although in the eighteenth century the word homosexual was not yet invented, certain behaviors between the same sexes were similar to those we recognize now, despite being viewed somewhat differently by their own respective societies. The term sodomy was used to describe buggery between two men, but it also included anal sex between a man and a woman, and between a person and an animal. These three categories of sodomy, seen as "crimes against nature" and against God, were deemed sinful and illegal. (Peakman, p. 10 in A Cultural History of Sexuality in the Enlightenment edited by Julie Peakman.

In the older sense, sodomy surpassed all other crimes; in its sinfulness it also included all of them: from blasphemy, sedition, and witchcraft, to the demonic. It was, as many extracts declare, the crime without a name; language was incapable of sufficiently expressing the horror of it. The category was a repository for many items, yet in the eighteenth century a highly specific portrait of an individual, and of a group, was increasingly displacing an undiscriminating, demonic generalization. (McCormick editor, Secret Sexualities A Sourcebook of 17th and 18th Century Writing, p. 118)

Sodomy surpassed all other crimes. In its sinfulness it also included all of them, blasphemy, sedition, witchcraft, the demonic: it is yet without a Name: What shall it then be called? There are not Words in our Language to expressive enough of the Horror of it. The foregoing suggests, however, a degree of insecurity about the range of the activity, and what it ought to be called. It was terrible in its sublimity, but unnamed in its sublimation. What was changing was that a specific kind of portrait of an individual was taking over from a theological category of generalized evil. (McCormick, editor Sexual Outcasts 1750-1850 Volume II Sodomy, p. 5)

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)

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. (Bronski, Culture Clash The Making of Gay Sensibility, p. 8-9).

There is, however, a crucial distinction between traditional concepts of sodomy and modern concepts of homosexuality. The former was seen as a potentiality in all sinful nature, unless severely execrated and judicially punished (it is striking, for example, that death penalties for many crimes were abolished in the 1820s, but not for sodomy). Contemporary social sciences have treated homosexuality as the characteristic of a particular type of person, a type whose specific characteristics (such as inability to whistle, penchant for the color green, adoration of mother or father, age of sexual maturation, "promiscuity") are exhaustively detailed in many twentieth-century textbooks. (Weeks, Movements of Affirmation: Sexual Meanings and Homosexual Identities, p. 71 in Passion and Power Sexuality in History editors Kathy Peiss and Christina Simmons with Robert A. Padgug)

It was during the 19th century that the sodomite a criminal before God, quilty of an infamous act that deserved the supreme penalty gave way to the homosexual, who did wrong against society, but was also sick, perverse, degenerate, and as much a case for medical treatment as for the law courts. (Tamagne, The Homosexual Age, 1870-1940, p. 167 in Gay Life and Culture: A World History editor Robert Aldrich.)

Before Homosexuality: Sodomy

Sodomy/sodomite were the words used to define and describe same-sex sexual acts or behavior before the concept of homosexuality/homosexual. Sodomy was at first a generally specific act, a sexual one, which became more broadly used as an ecclesiastical offence, a category covering a wide range of transgressive acts that was any activity that challenged the Nature of the church-state authority.

Many authors have claimed that the model of sodomy as a sinful act was replaced by a model of the sodomite as a sexual identity in the eighteen-century. Traditional male sodomy was the anal penetration of a young boy by an adult man; the new sodomites were men of equal age. The traditional sodomite seduced both women and boys, and was considered to be masculine. The new sodomites had an exclusive interest in their own sex, and were considered to be effeminate.

The English monarchy in a struggle with the Papacy of the Roman Catholic Church created their own state religion, the Church of England and also started taking legal, secular jurisdiction of individuals and their behavior. Sodomy came under secular state control in 1533 through the Buggery Act of 1533.

Sodomy was a religious issue and a criminal problem. (Crawford, European Sexualities, 1400-1800, p. 200)

The dual definition of sodomy led to endless confusion in the public mind, as well as in law courts throughout Europe when civil law later replaced church control of sexual misconduct cases. (Gilbert, Conceptions of Homosexuality and Sodomy, p.62 in Western History in Historical Perspectives on Homosexuality editors Salvatore J. Licata PhD and Robert P. Peterson.)

Clearly when we come across a writer using the words sodomy or buggery in relation to homosexuality we do the words less than justice if we simply disregard their other meanings. The one word was used because the one concept was intended, and this was a broader concept than simply homosexuality. The notion underlying these passages was not homosexuality but a more general notion: debauchery; and debauchery was a temptation to which all, in principle at least were subject. (Bray, Homosexuality in Renaissance England, p. 16

Because of the historical silence surrounding the subject of homosexuality, it is not all that easy to determine what was being punished in the past. One thing is clear, however: The words sodomy and sodomite had dual meanings. On one hand sodomy referred to unspecified sexual relations between males, and on the other hand it meant a particular mode of sexuality, usually anal sex. Understanding the dual nature of sodomy is an important antidote to the false assumption made by so many scholars that there was only one meaning, a relational one. (Gilbert, Conceptions of Homosexuality and Sodomy in Western History, p. 61-62 in Historical Perspectives on Homosexuality edited by Salvatore J. Licata, PhD and Robert P.Petersen.)

On the one hand, historians confirmed sodomy’s capaciousness: it means masturbation, several of forms of same-sex sexual behavior, bestiality, non-procreative sex (oral or anal most commonly) between a and a woman, or any form of sex in which conception was impossible. (Crawford, The Sexual Culture of the French Renaissance, p. 4)

There was also a more narrow use of the term sodomy. This was its application almost wholly to sex between males. Even here there were possibilities for confusion and national variations. In some countries, all genital contact between males might be considered sodomitical. In other places, it was necessary to prove anal penetration and ejaculation for a successful prosecution. Again through, practice differed from legal definitions. The reality was sodomy (or buggery) was most often used to refer to any genital contact between individuals of the same sex (though lesbianism was extremely rare and only seems to have been included as an after-thought). Most of the other crimes technically under the rubric of sodomy had more specific terms (e.g. bestiality, masturbation) which were used more frequently. (Naphy, Sex Crimes From Renaissance to Enlightenment, p. 104)

Sodomy, defined as anal penetration or any sexual act that did not intend procreation, was until the eighteenth century a sin for which the death penalty could be imposed. The ’philosophes’ of the Enlightenment criticized the severe penalties for sodomy and indeed this ’infamous crime’ disappeared from many lawbooks after the criminal code reform in France: France itself in 1791 the Netherlands in 1811, Bavaria in 1813. (Hekma, A History of Sexology: Social and Historical Aspects of Sexuality, p. 175-176 in From Sappho to De Sade edited by Jan Bremmer.)

Sodomy: What one does: Behavior

Sodomy as defined by religion and law included a range of condemned practices, a way to encompass a multiple of sins with a minimum of signs as one critic has cleverly expressed it. (Phillips and Reay. Sex Before Sexuality A Premodern History, p. 61)

Despite the term’s enduring flexibility, from the twelfth century sodomy was increasingly associated with sex acts between men. (Phillips and Reay. Sex Before Sexuality A Premodern History, p. 62)

The history of ’sodomy’ as a tool of political control is unavoidable, but should not deflect from our abiding concern with histories of sex and desire between men. The nature of surviving sources, with few descriptions in court records from before the fifteenth century, means that most of our remaining examples come from the late medieval or early modern periods. Viewed sexually, sodomy was excessive rather than perverted sex, part of a propensity to loss of control rather than a specific tendency: Bernardino of Siena said in the 1420s that all ’unbridled and crazy young men’ were prone to sodomy because of their acute lust. (Phillips and Reay, Sex Before Sexuality A Premodern History, p. 65)

People were not accused in the premodern courts of being homosexual; nor was homosexuality a cause of defamation or sexual slander. Men were punished for buggery and sodomy, but these infractions were generally considered the excesses of mankind in general rather than the practices of a specific group. (Phillips and Reay, Sex Before Sexuality A Premodern History, p. 86)

Initially, sodomy was a theological construct, serving only intermittently to refer to a clear variety of sexual activity or to bring into focus the behaviour of a particular kind of person. (Mills, Male-Male Love and Sex in the Middle Ages, 1000-1500, p. 14 in A Gay History of Britain Love and Sex Between Men Since the Middle Ages editor Matt Cook)

Sodomy was a massively meaningful category in medieval culture, but partly to the extent that it was not clearly defined – it was not consistently or inevitably associated with a distinct configuration of sexual partners, or even with a particular kind of sexual act. (Cook, A Gay History of Britain Love and Sex Between Men Since the Middle Ages, p. 23)

In general usage, sodomy was not an exact term and did not merely refer to a specific sexual act. Rather, it described the whole range of homosexual behavior, sexual or otherwise, which belonged, as one Regency pamphlet put it, to the ancient lechers of Sodom and Gomorrah. This Biblical idiom was as commonplace in the nineteenth century as it had been in the previous ones. It implied that sodomites shared both the practices and the fate of the inhabitants of that mythical city and that sodomy represented all that was terrible, nameless and immoral about them. (Cocks, Secrets, Crimes, and Diseases, 1800-1914, p. 111 in A Gay History of Britain Love and Sex Between Men Since the Middle Ages, editor Matt Cook.)

Sodomy was the name, taken from the Bible, for an unmentionable sin that was defined as any lustful act which could not result in procreation within marriage. From the thirteen-century, it was not only a sin, but also a capital crime. Sodomy included extramarital heterosexuality, non-vaginal sexual acts, all forms of same-sex behaviour, bestiality, masturbation and so forth. The best-known examples of persecution of sodomy were directed against males having anal sex with other males. (Hekma, Same-sex relations among men in Europe, 1700-1990, p.79 in Sexual Cultures in Europe Themes in Sexuality editors Franz X. Eder, Lesley A. Hall, and Gert Hekma)

The early Church punished sodomy much like other sins, with long penances. But what they understood as sodomy did not map into our present-day division between heterosexual and homosexual. The definition of sodomy rested on the distinction between natural and unnatural acts. For clerics, the distinction was between sex for procreation within marriage, an unfortunate necessity, and sex that was not for procreation, which could include oral or anal sex between a man and a woman, or a man and a man. (Clark, A History of European Sexuality, p. 73-74)

Sexual acts not geared toward procreation were commonly referred to as sodomy. In addition to homosexual intercourse, this term might cover anal contact between man and woman, coritus interruptus, bestiality, and even sexual intercourse between Christians and non-Christians (Greenberg 1988, 274-275; Gilbert 1985). (Oosterhuis, Stepchildren of Nature Kraft-Ebing, Psychiatry, and the Making of Sexual Identities, p. 21)

Sodomy was an act, defined either as any sexual act outside of marriage, which did not lead to procreation or as anal penetration, with males, females, or beasts. It had nothing to do with sexual identities. (Eder, Hall, and Hekma, Sexual Cultures in Europe Natural Histories, p.11)

The classical age with which we are concerned did not recognize the word homosexuality but did recognize the legal notion of sodomy-an act of varied anal contact or penetration of a man, woman, or beast. (Delon, The Priest, the Philosopher, and Homosexuality in Enlightenment, p. 122 in Tis Nature’s Fault Unauthorized Sexuality during the Enlightenment editor Robert Purks Maccubbin.

Furthermore, the prevalence of homosexual conduct is attested by the fact that sodomy was regarded from early times as an ecclesiastical offence, although it did not become a felony and thus subject to ordinary criminal jurisdiction until the reign of Henry VIII. (Hyde, The Trials of Oscar Wilde, p. 349)

The strictures against sodomy in the early modern period applied to nonvaginal penetration of any kind, though in practice the juridical consequences of marital, bestial, and same-sex sodomy often differed dramatically. By the second half of the eighteen-century, I would argue, same-sex eroticism had begun to serve as the focal point of social anxieties formerly invested in a broader definition of sodomy. (Merrick & Ragan, Homosexuality in Modern France, p. 61)

In the early modern phase (here roughly before 1688), the term sodomy covered any activity that challenged the Nature of the church-state authority. The logic of sodomy’s deviation from the feudal order was precise but the category covered a wide range of transgressive acts: witchcraft, usury, political dissent, nonconformity, any kind of nonreproductive, non-matrimonial sexuality, and exogamous social relations, for example with Jews or Muslims (Bredbeck, pp. 2-23). By the late eighteen-century, sodomy more or less, narrowed to mean a male-male erotics typified by anal penetration (buggery). (Shapiro, Of Mollies: Class and same-Sex Sexualities in the Eighteen Century p. 159 in In a Queer Place Sexuality and Belonging in British and European Contexts, editors Kate Chedgzoy, Emma Francis, and Murray Pratt.)

Theoretically, sodomy was a fairly general term for most types of crimes that were deemed to beral if it was any position other than the missionary (face-to-face, man on top, woman on her back). (Naphy, Sex Crimes From Renaissance to Enlightenment, p. 103-104)

It is noteworthy that in medieval law and in Christian teachings, sodomy could include opposite-sex as well as same-sex contacts, and contacts with nonhuman animals. (Greenberg, Transformations of Homosexuality-Based Classifications, p. 183 in The Gender/Sexuality Reader Culture, History, Politico Economy, editors Roger N. Lancaster and Micaela di Leonardo.)

Associated in the seventeenth century with anal intercourse-between two men, a man and a woman, or between a human and an animal-in the course of the eighteenth century, sodomy came to denote specifically sex between men. (Bauer, Sex, Popular Beliefs and Culture, p. 176 in A Cultural History of Sexuality Volume 4 editor Julie Peakman)

In the seventeenth century, sodomy was regarded as a monstrous sin against nature and was seen to incorporate three sexual activities, all considered abnormal. These involved anal intercourse between men, anal intercourse between a man and a woman, and any intercourse with animals. Sodomy was therefore a crime of which anyone could be capable, like murder or blasphemy. Yet a subtle shift in attitudes occurred in the following century, when sodomy became more closely associated with sexual activity between two men. It also came to describe a particular type of individual rather than an act itself. (Peakman, Lascivious Bodies A Sexual History of the Eighteenth Century, p. 148)

Sodomy was sodomy no matter whom it involved. Sodomy could take place between a man and a woman, two men, two women, or some other combination of partners. A sodomite was not a kind of person but a person who committed a particular type of sin. In the same way that a unsurer committed the act of moneylending or a murderer committed the act of killing, a sodomite committed the act of sodomy. It was not an identity, but a rap sheet. (Blank, Straight The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality, p. 2)

During the early modern period, sodomy was not well-defined, nor was the concept of male eros derived from classical history. The first was a term of contempt, the other one for reverence. Between these two conceptualizations there existed a gray zone which seems to be have used by sodomites, an undefined free area that could cover (to give only some examples) mutual masturbation and intercural intercourse. (Hekma, & Sodomites, Platonic Lovers, Contrary Lovers: The Backgrounds of the Modern Homosexual, p. 436 in The Pursuit of Sodomy: Male homosexuality in Renaissance and Enlightenment Europe edited by Kent Gerard and Gert Hekma.)

"If anything the medieval has left us with a challenge worth noting-unlike homosexuality or the homosexual, the term sodomy or sodomite rarely invited identification or self-identification." (Puff, Sodomy in Reformation Germany and Switzerland, 1400-1600, p. 11)

Sodomite: Who one is: a Person

Although the legal and religious definition of sodomy referred only to certain sexual acts, especially anal intercourse, of which anyone, in theory, was regarded as being capable, within urban subculture in Britain, France, and the Netherlands, a more specific sodomitical role evolved as early as the first half of the eighteenth century. (Oosterhuis, Stepchildren of Nature Kraft-Ebing, Psychiatry, and the Making of Sexual Identities, p. 241)

Homosexuals had always existed in England, though the word homosexual was not current until the nineteenth century. They were called sodomites, a term which emphasized the biblical injunction against them because it reminded everyone of Gods destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. (Goldsmith, The Worst of Crimes Homosexuality and the Law in Eighteenth-Century London, p.5-6)

The sodomite of the traditional European culture which existed between the 12th and 17th centuries had been a man who had sex with both boys and women. (Trumbach, Compared in Homosexuality, Which Homosexuality by Dennis Altman, p.153)

Sodomy, again, followed a traditional pattern of periods of toleration interspersed with vicious persecution and moral panics. The change during the eighteen-century, from the image of the foppish but still, even hyper-, masculine bisexual libertine to that of the effeminate sodomite, was influenced by the hardening of categories already mentioned, concurrent with the emergence of a visible homosexual subculture in large cities such as London. (Hall, Sexual cultures in Britain: some persisting themes, p. 33 in Sexual Cultures in Europe National Histories edited by Franz X. Eder, Lesley A. Hall and Gert Kekma.)

Previously, to be sexually daring meant having sex with just about anyone (especially, women and adolescent males). By the middle of the eighteenth century, men only desired women. The sodomite became a creature who only desired men and became known as a molly, a word that had originally meant whore. (Naphy, Sex Crimes From Renaissance to Enlightenment, p. 105)

There has been a spirited discussion on the history of sodomy, especially concerning the eighteen-century, to explain the rise of the prosecutions and changes in representations. Many authors have claimed that the model of sodomy as a sinful act was replaced by a model of the sodomite as a sexual identity at that time. Traditional male sodomy was the anal penetration of a young boy by an adult man; the new sodomites were men of equal age. The traditional sodomite seduced both women and boys, and was considered to be masculine. The new sodomites had an exclusive interest in their own sex, and were considered to be effeminate. As the fop, the promiscuous womanizer, had been the example of the feminine man before 1700, the sodomite replaced him as deviant in gender and sexual roles. A concept of sexual identity replaced a concept of unbridled lust and unmentionable sin. In the major cities of north-western Europe, this sexual identity expressed itself in subcultures with their own meeting places, languages, customs, and so forth.

The model of the queen as a sexual identity, it is argued, took over from the model of sodomy as sexual act. (Hekma, Same-sex relations among men in Europe, 1700-1990, p.80 in Sexual Cultures in Europe Themes in Sexuality editors Franz X. Eder, Lesley A. Hall, and Gert Hekma)

Buggery Act of 1533: Secular State Control

The Buggery Act of 1533, formally An Act for the punysshement of the vice of Buggerie (25 Hen. 8 c. 6), was an Act of the Parliament of England that was passed during the reign of Henry VIII. It was the country’s first civil sodomy law, such offences having previously been dealt with by the eccleiastical courts. The Act defined buggery as an unnatural sexual act against the will of God and man. This was later changed by the courts, buggery became defined to include only anal penetration and bestiality.

Sodomy was not a crime in common law until 1533 when the Act for the Punishmentof the Vice of Buggery was introduced. Buggery remained a capital offense in England until 1861, the last execution taking place in 1835. (Peakman, Lascivious Bodies A Sexual History of the Eighteenth Century, p. 151

As we have seen, sodomy had been made a civil offence in 1533 by Henry VIII, a law confirmed during the reign of Elizabeth I. Although the 1533 Act did not attempt to define what was meant by buggery, later jurists attempted to specify what the act of sodomy actually described in law. (Cocks, Nameless Offences Homosexual Desire in the Nineteenth Century, p. 32)

It was a short piece of legislation, which originated in the House of Lords, declaring the detestable and abominable Vice of Buggery committed with mankind or beast to be a felony subject to the penalties of death and loss of property customarily suffered by felons, without the benefits of clergy, which meant that offenders in holy orders could not claim to be tried in ecclesiastical courts. (Hyde, The Other Love An Historical and Contemporary Survey of Homosexuality in Britain, p.39)

The Act (25 Henry VIII, c. 6) was repealed in 1547 by Edward VI, along with other legislation passed in his father’s time, but it was re-enacted in 1562 (5 Elizabeth c. 17), when Parliament ordained that it was to be perpetual. It remained a capital offence until the beginning of the nineteenth century, when the death penalty was abolished for this as for many other offences at the instigation of Sir Robert Peel, then Home Secretary. (Hyde, The Trials of Oscar Wilde, p. 350)

The Buggery Act remained the basis of legislation for prosecuting acts of anal sex between men until 1967. When sex between two men in private was decriminalised for men over 21, the Sexual Offenses Act of 1967 did not distinguish between anal sex and other forms of sexual contact between men. It is arguable that this legislation, in 1967, was the first English law to distinguish a class of men who sex with other men. The 1967 legislation accommodated the sexual lifestyles of men who, as long as they conducted their various and consenting sexual acts in private and the sexual encounter numbered no more than two persons, would not be prosecuted. (Brady, Masculinity and Male Homosexuality in Britain 1861-1913, p. 94)

Sodomy/Sodomite Becomes Homosexuality/Homosexual

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)

The pursuit of sodomy in early modern Europe brought to the fore some very important changes in the conceptualization and practice of homosexuality. The eighteenth century was a key age for the revision of ideas on sodomy and for the self-awareness of sodomities, especially in northwestern Europe. (Hekma, Sodomites, Platonic Lovers, Contrary Lovers: The Backgrounds of the Modern Homosexual, p. 433 in The Pursuit of Sodomy: Male homosexuality in Renaissance and Enlightenment Europe edited by Kent Gerard and Gert Hekma.)

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.)

In his recent book, The History of Sexuality, Michel Foucault makes some distinctions that are important for historians of homosexuality. Foucault correctly notes that such terms such as homosexuality and homosexual are modern, originating in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This linguistic development stemmed not from some arbitrary desire to find a new word to replace the earlier ones, but rather from the recent creation by society of a new class of deviants. Suddenly there were homosexuals-a group of males who because of heredity or childhood training chose to seek sexual partners from members of their own sex. The sodomite had been someone who sinned by performing a deviant social act. The homosexual was not a sinner in the old religious sense but someone with an identifiable lifestyle revolving around the choice of sexual partners of the same sex. The distinction is important, for it marks the beginning of the treatment of a segment of the population as a race apart. (Gilbert, Conceptions of Homosexuality and Sodomy in Western History, p. 61 in Historical Perspectives on Homosexuality edited by Salvatore J. Licata, PhD and Robert P. Petersen.)

There is, however, a crucial distinction between traditional concepts of sodomy and modern concepts of homosexuality. The former was seen as a potentiality in all sinful nature, unless severely execrated and judicially punished (it is striking, for example, that death penalties for many crimes were abolished in the 1820s, but not for sodomy). Contemporary social sciences have treated homosexuality as the characteristic of a particular type of person, a type whose specific characteristics (such as inability to whistle, penchant for the color green, adoration of mother or father, age of sexual maturation, "promiscuity") are exhaustively detailed in many twentieth-century textbooks. (Weeks, Movements of Affirmation: Sexual Meanings and Homosexual Identities, p. 71 in Passion and Power Sexuality in History editors Kathy Peiss and Christina Simmons with Robert A. Padgug)

"If anything the medieval has left us with a challenge worth noting-unlike homosexuality or the homosexual, the term sodomy or sodomite rarely invited identification or self-identification." (Puff, Sodomy in Reformation Germany and Switzerland, 1400-1600, p. 11)

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