Studies of Homosexuality Volume 5 Introduction

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2/17/92 History, vol. 5



History has not always been of concern to learned scribes; before the time of Herodotus in the fifth-century B.C., the ancients had little interest in investigating (as opposed to chronicling) the past. Classical Indian civiliza¬tion, though ahead of the Europeans in such disciplines as lingui¬stics and mathema¬tics, had no interest in history; less organ¬ized soci¬eties often have little historical consciousness.

Yet today, the historical approach dominates scholarship: even scientific articles often begin with a survey of past literature. There is a general assumption that an understanding of most phenomena, certainly those involving human societies, can only come in the context of their development through time. Homosexual behavior is no excep¬tion.

The piecemeal development of scholarship on homosex¬uality recalls, however, the old Indian parable of the blind men reporting on the nature of the elephant. One observer examines the San Francisco gay ghetto and speaks of the culture of gay ethnicity; another reports on the involvement of older teenage self identified heterosexuals in same sex acts during male prostitution and theorizes about cultural reinforce¬ment of the dominant social value of homosexual inferiority; a third labels street transvest¬ite prostitutes and their married customers as "gender confused"; a fourth attends faerie gatherings and writes of homosexua¬lity as a spiritual movement; a fifth psychoan¬alyzes boy-lovers and declares them incapable of responsible relationships; a sixth wonders why cell-blocks in a prison with conjugal visiting are run by homosexual rapists. All these scholars ignore the history of homosex¬uality at the peril of regarding the elephant (if there even is one elephant rather than a pair or even a whole herd) only as a rope, wall, etc. None of them would realize without studying history that each one is examining a separate type of homosexuality which has, for a while, dominated male same sex behavior in entire societies. [For the curious, the types and some examples are: androphilia, contemporary America; ephebophilia, eighteenth-century Japan; gender-differentiated, contemporary Latin America; shamanism, nineteenth-century Siberia (often considered an example of gender-differentiated); pederasty, classical Greece; and dominance-enforcement, classical Rome. Two other major types not yet clearly described as dominating same-sex expression in a society are adolescent experimentation and situational. This illustration is taken from male homosexuality; the picture of lesbian behaviors is comparably complex.]

In short, history (along with anthropology and area studies) is indispensable if we are to avoid taking the part for the whole, mistaking the patterns of our own time and culture for the entire range of what is possible, normal, or even desirable. Yet this is a trap into which many writers on homosexuality have fallen, largely through ignorance of history.

For reasons of space and distribution, the present volume limits itself to Europe and North America from later medieval times onward, but the reader should not neglect the companion volumes on the Ancient World (especially) and on Area Studies, which are also part of this series; readers interested in historical pre literate societies should also consult the volume on Anthropology.

The History of Gay History

Ancient historians such as Thucydides and Tacitus would scarcely have dreamt of treating homosexual behavior as a distinct topic; they included it as a matter of course in their lives of city states and emperors. With the triumph of Chris¬tianity over pagan Rome, however, came a taboo which largely (if not com¬pletely) wiped the chronicles clean of the activity not to be named among Christians.

What may rank as the first comprehensive homosexual history in any society is the mysterious Chinese compilation Records of the Cut Sleeve (Duanxiu pian), edited by an unknown scholar using the pseudonym Wuxia Ameng and attributed to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), but a tradition of specifically homosexual historiography did not crystalize out of this effort.

Thus when Heinrich Hoessli (1784 1864) and Karl Heinrich Ul¬richs (1825 1895) began their researches into the homosexualities of the past, taking advantage of the Enlightenment's loosening of the Church's grip on the subject, they had to create a new field virtually from scratch, using whatever gleanings had survived from ancient Greek, Roman, and Islamic literature. After Magnus Hirschfeld formed the Scienti¬fic Humanitarian Committee in Berlin in 1897 to convince German opinionmakers to reform the sodomy law, the need became clear for a compre¬hensive bibliographical search. The results of this endeavor appeared first in the volumes of the Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufen and then in Hirschfeld's monumental Die Homosexual¬ität des Mannes und des Weibes (1914). Research continued in Central Europe and Iberia until the rise of fascism brought in a briefer if more virulent new suppression.

The fledgling American gay movement of the 1950s again took up the task of reconstructing the history of homosexuality, though with little awareness of the vast German effort; in France the activist journal Arcadie, under the guidance of a leading archivist, sought to pursue the matter. University based scholars, however, remained aloof, fearing for their jobs and reputations, until the 1960s. As social and intellectual history gained prominence and a gay student movement spread from campus to campus, the effort accelerated in the 1970s. More recently, a number of good local histories have been published, examining the development of gay subcultures in such places as Berlin, Buffalo, Chicago, and San Francisco; more are on their way.

Vast but uneven progress has been made in uncovering the buried threads of the history of homosexuality, as a perusal of the articles herein or a look at Garland's Encyclopedia of Homosexu¬ality will confirm. Enormous gaps remain, challenging ambitious historians seeking new worlds to conquer.

General Issues in the Historiography of Homosexuality

There is as yet no general agreement on the nature of the subject. Are we dealing with a single phenomenon called "homo¬sexuality" which appears in all cultures and times, and has a unitary history? Or are we describing a gaggle of "homosexu¬alities" with disparate developments and histories? Should we study lesbianism with male homosexuality or separately, perhaps as an adjunct of the history of women? How can we deal with bisexuality without taking into account the history of heterosexuality?

While a final analysis is likely to reveal a more complex picture, it seems useful to think in the meantime of a typology of perhaps seven major models or forms of male homosexual relationships, almost all of them with female counter¬parts; the persistent researcher with sufficient raw material at hand seems to be able to find traces of all or most of these types in any sufficiently well documented period, but usually one of three forms (age or gender differentiated or androphile) is the dominant mode in any given culture.

Thus, the ancient Greeks institutionalized paiderasteia, which fits into the age differentiated model (characterized by powerful, active/pene¬trative adult males involved in time limited relationships with passive/receptive early teenagers whom they train to become adult males); this paradigm persisted as a dominant strain well into modern times, though it has now become marginalized in Europe and North America. But the Greeks also were familiar with ephebophilia (adult passive males involved with 17 to 21 year olds who are already characterized as masculine, often heterosexually identified, and sexu¬ally active/penetrative—though reciprocal and role re¬versed variants exist). They also had some acquaint¬ance with gender differentiated homosexuality (where a passive adult is considered not male or ritually female for life and may pair with any "normal" male, who remains in the active role and relates to females) from their contacts with the West Semites, Persians, and Scythi¬ans. They also had enough awareness of androphilia (reciprocal pairs of theoretically equal ¬status male identified adults, the current dominant model in northern Europe and the United States) to make fun of it as an abnormal, marginal practice. The ancients were also aware of adolescent experimentation, situ¬ational (involving heterosexuals deprived of the opposite sex), and dominance¬ enforce¬ment (prevalent in Rome) models as well, though they would not have conceptu¬alized them as such. We know there was a feminine version of paiderast¬eia in Sparta and on Lesbos, but otherwise have little data on female homosexuality except among prostitutes in the ancient world.

Historians tend to be keenly interested in change, its causes, and its processes. Through the span of European/American history, the phenomena of homosexuality have seen many permuta¬tions. There are conceptual shifts, such as occurred with the triumph of Christianity, when pederasty became sodomy, a sin, and a crime against "nature," later a minor vice, later still a heresy worthy of the stake, but never a bar to marriage; or the rapidly succeeding shifts of the past 150 years, which saw the sinner/criminal personified as "the [exclusive] homosexual" and made him first a medical freak, then a neurotic who went about "spreading his perversion," then a Cold War security risk, and finally a member of a new quasi-ethnic minority. These shifts are the province of the history of ideas, though they certainly show up in literary and other studies.

Then there are behavioral changes, such as the turn from boys to ephebes (older teens) and then other adults as the objects of desire, the changing proportions of bisexuality and exclusive homosexuality, the American male shift fromaa preponderance of anal to an emphasis on oral activity, or the presumed if unmeasured decline of situational homosexual¬ity as formerly all male institutions became sexually integ¬rated and premarital heterosex¬uality became easier.

Most evident, perhaps, are sociolo¬gical developments such as the spread of the gay bar and the later decline of the baths, the emergence of the gay residential ghetto, the emergence of gay-dominated occupations, or the rise of the gay movement.

The historical origins of the subculture are a puzzle, with indications of some continuous institutions and social networks in the Low Countries and London preceding the conceptual changes.

One vexing problem is whether the changes evidenced in surviving documents occurred throughout a society or only (at the time) in certain documented strata, such as among literati or aristocrats or city-dwellers.

Many of these changes are involved in the exemplary question of the British history of homosexuality the timing, causation, and nature of the English "paradigm shift(s)" in the dominant type of homosexuality from bisexual pederasty to exclusive andro¬philia, beginning around 1700, examined in Randolph Trum¬bach's article herein; this transition from one dominant type to another (including intermed¬iate, transitional, or class-limited phenomena such as the "molly house" gender-¬dif¬ferentiated type and class differenti¬ated ephebophilia) seems to have preceded similar develop¬ments elsewhere in Europe (though Holland and France may have followed quite soon) and America, drawing historians to seek links to the industrial revolution and its attendant transformations in the general society. The division of gay history into periods, not necessarily corresponding to the watersheds of general histori¬ans, has remained a fountain of controversy.

A major development in the philosophy of history as applied to homosexuality has been the much disputed theory of social construction, advanced by followers of Michel Foucault in the 1980s. The social constructionists insist that each society and era constructs its own sexual patterns, so as to produce marked discontinuities or "ruptures" between historical periods. Hence some of these theorists argued that the "modern homosexual" has existed only since about 1880. Other historians have emphasized continuities and gradual evolution of attitudes and behaviors.

The current time seems to be marked by a global spread of the androphilic type, most notably in Latin America, southern Europe, and East and Southeast Asia, introduced through mass media as an alternative to the locally dominant gender differentiated model. Perhaps we are living through a paradigm shift in progress, though it may also turn out that the globalization of culture will foster pluralism by introducing acknowledged alternative models to all those societies currently recognizing or legitimizing only one type.

Historians of lesbianism are faced with the formidable problem of its general invisibility before the twentieth century in the surviving, male orien¬ted documents and literature. This dearth of documentation reflects a prevalent sense among the men who controlled society and its documentation that the activities of women were not import¬ant enough to be worth describing. As a result, lesbian history has had to sift through much sand to find a few nuggets of often disconnected informa¬tion; this scantiness particularly afflicts non Western cultures such as China and Japan, where the detailed male histories contrast with the relatively meager female ones. Still such pioneering work as Madeline Davis and Elizabeth Kennedy's oral history project in Buffalo has shown the potential for historical studies of the more recent lesbian past.

A major area of concern not yet explored in a systematic fashion is the influence of homosexuality and of homophobia on the general history of culture. This study would draw upon biographical material suggesting the influence of a given person's sexuality on his or her work as well as describing the role of homosexuality in more general phenomena such as the fate of the Templars or the development of piracy or theosophy.

The study of the history of homophobia is a developing field in itself, concentrating on intellectual history but now able to draw on opinion surveys to document changes over the past several decades. Homophobia also presents methodological and hermeneutical problems, for most of the surviving documents and literature from the Christian age derive from the foes of homosexuality, who in turn expunged pro homosexual expression from the historical record through a variety of forms of censorship.

The past three decades in particular have witnessed epochal changes in the visibility, legitimacy, conceptualization, subcultural cohesive¬ness, and political influence of homosexuali¬ty in the European American cultural zone. This volume itself is a product of those changes. While various historians have made piecemeal attempts to examine this transformation, it remains only partially chronicled and a major challenge to those looking for causal factors, while theoretical approaches to it have remained inchoate.

Working Around the Taboo

Historians of homosexuality are dealing with a subject whose very existence Christian society sought to extinguish for well over a millennium, censoring all mention of "that detestable and abominable sin not to be named among Christians" from histori¬cal and literary documents and public discourse. Only in the past few decades has the force of this taboo begun to fade, hence it dominates the attempt to reconstruct any history of homosexu¬ality in the Christian world.

The historian of homosexuality must be resourceful in devising ways around this censorship, frequently relying on unconventional sources: police records, Inquisition reports, folklore, psychi¬atric case histories, trial transcripts, graffi¬ti, art, fiction and poetry, slang terms, song lyrics, and the like. These sources join whatever can be unearthed from diaries and letters, whereby a talent for deciphering deliberately obscure and indirect referen¬ces is essential. One of the many consequen¬ces of this type of research is that the conclusions drawn are seldom clear cut and self evi¬dent; the reader must in many cases rely on the researcher's interpretation of scanty data or subtle clues, which to someone unexperienced in the furtive side of homosexual life (perhaps including future generations of gay scholars) may seem labored and unconvincing. Genuine disagreements even among researchers familiar with these problems are legion, handicapping the formation of scholarly consensus on the facts, much less the theory.

The existence of vast areas with little or no surviving data presents an almost irresistible temptation to fill the blank spots with speculation, sometimes with little more foundation than the "here be dragons" of late medieval mapmakers, in other instances through feats of intellectual sleuthing worthy of a Sherlock. B. R. Burg's 1983 book on the Caribbean pirates of the seventeenth century illustrates both the pitfalls and the advantages of this approach. His work has met criticism for reasoning backwards from what is known today about situational homosexuality in all male groups, and the dangers of applying contemporary paradigms to other eras are well known, yet Burg does succeed in shedding considerable light on an otherwise unknown subject. He goes to great lengths to examine the sociological patterns of the English youths who provided the manpower for the pirate ships, and concluded that both pederasty and androphilia were present, though for different social strata of the pirate crews. One cannot readily dismiss his conclusions, speculative though they may be, for lack of direct primary sources.

The use of demographic data to suggest fluctuations in the incidence of homosexual activity rests on suppositions regarding situational homosexuality, a type for which investigation has languished in current times due to a preoccupation with homosexu¬al identity and exclusive orientations. Demographic data can provide clues both to changes in the demand (that is, the number of young males without regular heterosexual opportunity, which fluctuates with marriage ages and rates for both sexes, polygamo¬us trends, female infanticide, life expectancy, etc.) for and in the supply of passive male partners (boys, slaves, prisoners of war, apprentices, servants, prostitutes, the poor, etc.), which may permit valid inferences on levels of activity.

Chronicling the Homosexual Movement

The modern homosexual movement, in stark contrast to everything before it, has created a mountain of documents, but only a small number of them are readily accessible, and histori¬ans have used only a minuscule portion of them. The Nazis burned the archives of the Scientific Humanitarian Committee on May 10, 1933, obliterating at a stroke most of the records, though not the published works, of the first movement, together with 20,000 uncatalogued volumes Hirschfeld had collected.

The publications of the second movement, starting in the early 1950s, went uncollected by public and university libraries until the 1970s, so many of them have been lost to historians. The private libraries of the organizations them¬selves sporadically suffered pilferage, and usually disappeared when the organization folded. Not until 1979 did the Interna¬tional Gay and Lesbian Archive open as a public institution in Los Angeles. Other North American archives are the Baker Memorial Library at ONE, Inc., also in Los Angeles, the Homosexu¬al Information Center in Shreveport, Louisiana, the Canadian Gay Archives in Toronto, and the Lesbian Herstory Archives in New York. Foster Gunnison maintains a large but unorganized archive of material from the 1960s and 1970s movement in Hartford, Connecticut. The Netherlands has two lesbian archives of its own.

The unpublished papers of the leaders and thinkers of the movement are in even worse shape from the historian's point of view; much of this material essential to an intellectual and sociological history of the movement and the revolution in gay consciousness that accompanied it has been thrown out, more of it has simply been lost, and with the increased mortality of the early leadership, this disaster for current and future historians continues to grow. Nor has oral history record¬ing attempted to replace lost documents with recollections. Few of the key figures have become the subject of biographies, and such general histories of the movement as have appeared have often been politically biased and polemical rather than scholar¬ly, while entire areas of American movement history such as the bisexual movement, pedophile activism, the dialogue with the churches, the growth of community centers, the gay press itself, and interorganizational links have remained largely unexplored. The rescue of what remains of this material is an urgent task for the present generation of scholars.


Problems of concealment are prominent in the biographies and autobiographies of homosexually involved people, though more and more mainstream biographers are at least alluding to the sexual life of their subjects, if not exploring the effects of this aspect on their work. Biography, invented by the ancient Greeks, is also one of our main sources for the history of homosexuality in the ancient and recent modern worlds. Sigmund Freud himself contributed to this literature with his 1910 study of the homosexuality of Leonardo da Vinci. Much, however, remains to be done in this realm, as the proclivities of various promi¬nent figures of history have become known, but without evaluation in a biographical fashion.

The problems confronting biographers in dealing with a subject believed to be homosexually involved may be daunting. Even where documentation exists for same sex activities, there remains the task of situating the individual's sense of self within the larger context of prevalent attitudes towards homosex¬uality. In many if not most cases, however, a self protective survival instinct caused the individual to lead a closeted life. In some instances it may be hard to establish whether the subject is a deeply closeted individual, whose secrets will nonetheless emerge with determined effort, or whether malicious gossip and specula¬tion have labeled someone as sodomitical or homosexual who in fact was not. With many historical figures, we have abundant evidence for their passionate "friend¬ships" with companions of their own sex, many of them lifelong and characterized by effuse declarations of love, and yet are unable to point to any solid evidence of a sexual intimacy.

There are a number of indicators which, taken together, point to homosexuality: unmarried status (or a "failed marriage" which never developed intimacy), known proclivities of his or her associates, interests or pursuits fashionable among homosexu¬ally inclined people of the day, unusual turns of phrase or speech, unexplained resignations or hasty exile, the homosocial crossing of class or other boundaries, a preference for same gen¬dered environments, allusions to classical symbols such as Ganymede or David and Jonathan, and others. Being familiar with the period, the biographer becomes alert to clusters of such indicators. Still, care must be taken to eliminate "false positives," individuals who appear on these counts to have been gay or lesbian, but who probably were not. And even where the evidence of homosexual interests is convincing, the biographer must avoid jumping to the conclusion that heterosexual elements in a subject's life were necessarily camouflage; instead, they may demonstrate bisexual inclinations.

Having established the sexual aspect of the subject's life, the biographer confronts the challenge of examining its effects on the subject's self image, interests, personality, ideas, and creativity. Difficult for a Walt Whitman, this problem is daunting indeed for a Charles Gordon or an Alan Turing, whose public work (military leadership and mathematics in these cases) does not lend itself to the expres¬sion of personality.

A recurrent feature of homosexual biography, especially of the nineteenth and twentieth century, is that of travel and exile. Some, such as William Beckford and Michael Davidson, found it prudent to move abroad to escape the threat of (British) law. Most, however, left voluntarily, sometimes stilling their wanderlust by settling in hospitable émigré communities, such as Capri and Tangiers. A comprehensive history of this bundle of phenomena remains to be written.

Issues in European History

A few sparse records, as explored in books by John Boswell and Michael Goodich and in the articles by Warren Johansson and Iwan Bloch in this volume, permit glimpses of medieval urban subcultures the actual life of individuals who sought contacts among their own sex. Medieval monasteries, the prime sex segregated institution of the era, reveal more evidence of same sex friendship than of genital contact.

Regrettably, there is more documentation of the dire consequences of homophobia than of a happy gay life. The provisions of Christian influenced laws, are the chief source. However, as Kari Ellen Gade (herein) and others have shown, there was autochthonous homophob¬ia of pre Christian origin in Scandinavia. In the early four¬teenth century the persecution of the Templar Order showed to what tragic lengths medieval "fag baiting" could go.

The Renaissance produced, albeit cautiously, a new explorat¬ion among scholars of classical homoerotic motifs; see Giovanni Dall'Orto in this volume. However, Christian homophobia survived with undiminished virulence. In some respects Venice was a special case, owing to its traditions of independence; here, too, however, repressive machinery developed. Study of Inquisition records in Spain and Portugal, by Rafael Carrasco and Luiz Mott respectively, has brought a harvest of social data running through the whole class structure.

It might be thought that the Reformers, with Martin Luther and John Calvin at their head, would have evolved a more sensible view of same-sex behavior. However, their antisodomitical zeal was as vigorous as that of their medieval predecessors. Indeed, they sought to score points over Catholics, charged with laxity in the matter. Monasteries and nunneries were regarded as places of temptation, if not outright hothouses of vice. In 1536 an Act of Parliament in England empowered royal visitors to scrutinize monasteries for "manifest sin, vicious, carnal, and abominable living." Although the results were disappointing (for the most part only masturbation was discovered), the abbeys and convents were dissolved anyway (their assets reverting to the crown). A full account of the use of homophobic charges in Protestant-Catholic polemics is a real desideratum.

Another little-explored area lies in small groups of advanced thinkers of the Libertine current. This trend gave rise to a remarkable defense of pederasty, Antonio Rocco's L'Alcibiade fanciullo a scola (1652?). There seems also to be a link between homosexuality and the rise of atheism.

As noted above, some (including Randolph Trumbach herein) hold that the early eighteenth century marked a basic watershed in the conceptualization of homosexuality, at least in England. It is not clear how far these changes affected the first great decriminalization, in France in 1791, which took place under the aegis of the French Revolution following the Enlightenment, and which spread under the Code Napoleon to Holland, Italy, Spain, and Latin America, as well as to their colonies around the world.

Relaxation of censorship during the French Revolution triggered a flood of frank, sometimes scurrilous pamphlets. Of these the most pertinent are the anonymous Les enfans de Sodome à l'Assemblée Nationale and Les petits bougres au manège (both 1791), which combine gossip (the first attempts a mass "outing") with serious argument. The Marquis de Sade's La Philosophie dans le boudoir, a dialogue that is both didactic and pornographic, should also be seen in this context.

Further study will doubtless bring to light class dif¬ferences and contacts. For example, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it was common for wealthy northern Europeans to travel to Italy and Greece, where they found popular forms of gender differentiated and pederastic homosexuality of ancient vintage. As northern Italy progressed economically, however, it more and more adopted the northern European model, which gradual¬ly spread southward to some extent as well.

The nineteenth century was a less violent age for homosexu¬als, though law reform did not mean the end of prejudice. Indeed the old laws survived in Central Europe—where, however, they engendered, by way of reaction to their retention (and the spread of the Prussian criminal code to the rest of Germany), the first homosexual civil rights movement. Further intellectual history remains to be written to explain how this movement got started, and why in Berlin. The misguided support of movement leaders for the medicalization of homosexuality (in a vain attempt to undermine criminal prosecution), with its far-reaching consequences, calls for reflective examination. In England the Oscar Wilde trial marked a significant breakthrough in the struggle for public awareness of homosexuali¬ty.

In the aftermath of World War I, Paris became a major international center of gay and lesbian intellectuals, some of them Americans seeking an escape from "normalcy" and Prohibition. Important lesbian circles developed around such figures as Gertrude Stein and Natalie Clifford Barney. The writings of these women raise the issue of the problematic relation of literary modernism to sexual variance.

After Hitler crushed the German movement and murdered his own gay friend, Ernst Röhm, the Nazis unleashed a gay Holocaust, whereby sexually unorthodox males were rounded up and sent to concentration camps, where they were effectively worked to death. The number of Hitler's male homosexual victims (the Nazis ignored lesbians) remains uncertain, estimates having ranged from five thousand to a million; further research may clarify the matter. A troubling question for the historian is whether the Nazi holocaust was made possible by the efforts of the German homosexual rights pioneers to publicize the concept of "the homosexual" as a distinct type of person, and one who could be considered a medical problem.

Issues in American History

Before the European immigration, homosexuality was already well established in the gender differentiated form of the berdache among the indigenous tribes of the American hemisphere, but the written record remains spotty, largely the accounts of missionar¬ies and explorers, and we have little written information on how these traditions have fared in the conflict with homophobic Christen¬dom, though there are contemporary claims that oral transmission has preserved their essential features to be revived in our time.

Many of the first colonists came in organized, often religious, groups; some came in predominantly male settler expeditions; but other, later, settlers may have been fleeing the homophobia of their native lands. Subsequent migration to the West attracted unmarried males who felt confined within the orderly, churchgoing communities of the settled East and longed for the anarchic freedom and nearly unlimited privacy of the overwhelmingly male frontier. Surely this lure must have been particularly powerful to homosexuals, but to date these mass movements have remained unexamined for homosexual presence.

The settlers did bring with them European attitudes, not just the straitlaced homophobia of the early arriving British, Irish, and Germans but also the more relaxed attitudes of the later waves of Italians, Greeks, Scandinavians, and French; see the article herein by Oaks for the colonial era. While the Anglo Saxon establishment made its views official and normative (introducing androphilia on the one hand and endorsing the medical and psychiatric models of homosexuality on the other), the gender dif¬ferentiated type of homosexuality survived with little notice among the work¬ing class descendents of the southern European immigrants and among the descend¬ents of slaves imported from Africa, while pederasty continued quietly to perpetuate itself and ephebophilia became quite noticeable in the mid nineteenth century (when Whitman was its most celebrated exemplar).

Many obscure corners of the homosexual history of the United States remain for the scholar to illuminate. Among these are the maritime culture of the sailing ships, which has left a body of musical evidence in the form of homoerotic references in popular sea shanties and naval disciplinary records; the Western frontier with its great surplus of males, prevalence of "sidekicks," absence of church and state authorities, and contact with native berdaches; the manifestations of a gay subculture in the cities of the East, clearly evident in Walt Whitman's poems; the vast massing of males for years in the military organizations of the Civil War, which did not see a single prosecution for sodomy on either side, and in World War I; the prisons and jails of the previous two centuries; and the anti clerical and anarchist movements which often resisted all church regulation of private morality and which produced "free love" advocates such as Emma Goldman in the early decades of the twentieth century.

While we generally know little of the actual homosexual mores and attitudes towards homosexuality of Americans prior to World War II, one revealing window opens up on a country in transition in 1919. This comes from an examination of the transcripts of trials resulting from a naval investiga¬tion (sponsored by Franklin D. Roosevelt, then Assistant Secretary of the Navy) of homosexuality at the big Newport base (R.I.) immediately after World War I. A major scandal ensued from that investigation, producing a rebuke from the Senate Naval Affairs Committee for Roosevelt.

These documents, excerpted and summarized by Lawrence R. Murphy, evidence a major conceptual conflict between highly placed professionals and the sailors. The enlisted sailors (recruited from the working and farming class), the low-ranking officers investigating them, and cooperative civilians were unfamiliar with the term and concept of homosexuality. They held to the position, characteristic of the gender dif¬ferentiated model, that any male could be an inserter in a same sex act without being different from his fellows or subject to stigma. Insertees only were investigated by the Navy or labeled by anyone; when labeled (even by each other) they were characterized separately according to whether their activity was oral or anal or both. (The old Navy, recent research by James E. Valle has shown, officially banned sodomy but in practice turned a blind eye to it, in contrast to the persecu¬tions in the British fleet during the Napoleonic wars, described in Arthur N. Gil¬bert's article [included].) Navy officials thought nothing of recruiting "normal" sailors as agents to perform sexually in the insertive role in order to entrap the insertees, who were their only target.

Editors and senators, however, being more exposed to European thinking, were outraged that the Navy had recruited sailors to perform (insertive) homosexual acts, and high-ranking churchmen were upset that the investigation had widened to include civilian members of the clergy (see George Chauncey's article, included herein).

Trial transcripts also reveal a fairly well-developed subculture among the Newport insertees, who partied together, frequently cross-dressed, and apparently had no difficulty picking up "straight" sailors for "trade" sex, but who seldom expressed interest in switching roles. Androphilia is hardly in the picture drawn from the trials, but widespread newspaper coverage of the scandal served to publicize the new concept of homosexuality.

Since 1919 the mass media have further spread the establish¬ment's androphilic concepts. Today these nearly monopo¬lize middle class thinking and have even come to dominate much of the folk belief of the working class, but the gender differenti¬ated model has tenaciously resisted obliteration, and today is still clearly visible in the underclass and much of the working class. The survival of this pattern in the face of the triumph of androphile concepts in the media, the government, the churche¬s, the therapeutic and academic communities—in short, all the organs of opinion formation—cries out for investigation.

World War II began with the armed forces ignoring homosexua¬lity, as they had in earlier wars, but from 1944 on the military began to harass and dishonorably discharge homosexually involved men and women. Why did this change, documented by Allan Bérubé, take place? In the wake of victory, McCarthyism launched the most vigorous government persecution of homosexuals in the history of the Republic, a repression which long outlasted McCarthy and persisted into the 1970s. Why was this campaign so successful? The answers to these two questions require considerable histori¬cal spadework as well as theoretical reflection.

The rise and development of the modern gay movement in the wake of McCarthy was accompanied by the gradual weakening of taboos against discussion of homosexuality in the mass media, literature, and the arts, the emergence of a highly developed gay and lesbian subculture with its own intricate infrastructure, massive "coming out," major changes in attitudes and concepts on the part of both homosexuals and the general public, significant changes in the status of lesbians due to the growth of feminism, the emergence of bisexual identity, and major changes in behavioral patterns including an acceptance of promiscuity and a decline in effeminacy. In the 1980s the AIDS crisis decimated the ranks of male homosexuals, reoriented gay political work around health issues and the allocation of public resources, and effected drastic changes both in sexual behavior and public awareness. Some of these effects will remain long after AIDS has faded as an issue, while others will prove to be temporary phenomena, but it is difficult in the midst of the pandemic to identify which is which. All these shifts took place in the setting of major shifts in attitude toward sexuality since World War II throughout the Euro-American world. The many facets of these changes and the relationship of homosexual behavior to them call for continuing study.


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Benstock, Shari, Women of the Left Bank, Paris, 1900-1940, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986.

Bérubé, Allan, Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War Two, New York: Free Press, 1990.

Bleibtreu Ehrenberg, Gisela, Tabu Homoseualität: die Geschichte eines Vorurteils, Frankfurt: S. Fischer, 1978.

Bonnet, Marie Jo, Un choix sans équivoque: recherches historiques sur les relations amoureuses entre les femmes, XVIe XXe siècle, Paris: Denoël, 1981.

Boswell, John, Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980.

Bray, Alan, Homosexuality in Renaissance England, London: Gay Men's Press, 1982.

Brown, Judith C., Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy, New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.

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