No, I’m not being dramatic. The Supreme Court legalised same-sex marriage in June 2015, but as early as April 2015, assuming that result, over 100 different pieces of anti-LGBT legislation had been introduced in 29 state legislatures [x]. Since SSM became law, that slew of bills became a flood, and many of them are being passed into law. Continue reading →
As science moved from acts to identities, so too did the public consciousness and, very quickly, the law. In England, consensual male-male sex was first prohibited by the Buggery Act of 1533. Plenty of sources will cite it as the first British anti-homosexual law, although of course it wasn’t anything of the sort. It was, however, one of the earliest anti-sodomy laws passed by any Germanic country (previously the only laws concerning sex had prohibited adultery), and it outlawed specifically “the detestable and abominable Vice of Buggery committed with mankind or beast.” The penalty was death.
But what was buggery? And how could it be committed “with mankind or beast”? A succession of trials pertaining to arrests under the Act eventually fixed “buggery” in a legal sense as anal intercourse with ejaculation (male-male, or male-female), or intercourse with an animal. As such, if you were a young man attracted to other young men in Tudor England, you were perfectly safe under the law providing you didn’t indulge in anal sex (and the requirement of the prosecution to evidence ejaculation enabled more than one pair of lovers to escape with their lives, even after they were arrested and tried). Later, men were often tried instead for “attempted sodomy,” a crime which was easier to prove and carried a lesser sentence on paper, although depending on the mood of the crowd, standing in the pillory could be a death sentence of its own. Continue reading →
We often think of sexuality as though it exists on a linear continuum: we talk about homosexuality in Ancient Greek society, for example, when in fact there was no such thing as a “homosexual” before 1868, when the word was coined by German sexologists. It wasn’t used in English until the 1890s.
There were, obviously, other words in use before that time: pederasts, inverts, urnings, sodomites, lesbians, tribads, and so on. Most of those terms referred very specifically to particular socio-sexual behaviour (the active or passive partner in anal intercourse, etc.), and not to identities as we know them. Before the second half of the nineteenth century, when the Germans became obsessed with the idea of how the sex we have affects the people we are, the very idea of a sexual identity would have seemed absurd. Continue reading →
I’ve had this blog well over four years now, and I’m quite proud of it. I enjoy having my own space in which to rant or celebrate or discuss the news of the day. I can spend hours playing with widgets and plugins and colour schemes. What I don’t do is blog consistently, and I know that’s a mistake. Since switching to WordPress a couple of years ago, I’ve been watching my stats and know on any given day there are 50 people on my blog, even when I haven’t posted anything new in a month. I always feel a little bit guilty when I see that, even if those numbers are small fry in the blogging world 😀
So, it’s new leaf time! Starting tomorrow, I’m launching an exciting new regime of daily blogging. From now until Christmas, I’ll be filling the interwebs with 500-1000-ish words on a theme close to my heart: queer studies. From the history of how we moved from pederasty to homosexuality, politics, criminality, backlash, pride, and the equality movement, through brief biographies of the people who helped change the world — or were punished by it — and fictional representations of queerfolk from all dates and places. In a few short months, I want to travel from Ancient Greece to modern times; from Buggery Acts to same-sex marriage; from Zeus and Ganymede, Achilles and Patroclus, all the way to m/m romance.
I’ll be writing this stuff because I know and love it. Because it’s always pouring out of me and hell, I’ve got to use that degree somehow 😛 I hope you’ll find it as interesting as I do. Feel free to get involved in the comments, even if it’s only to disagree with me. The world needs more decent debates, and very little of what I’m going to say can be interpreted in black and white.
Before I take the plunge, some housekeeping. You’ll notice a lovely new tab at the top titled Queer Blogging: that’s where I’ll keep permalinks to all the posts, in order, so they’re easier to follow from the beginning as this project gets bigger. I’m anticipating something in the region of 125 posts, so it’s soon going to get messy otherwise! Posts will be split between history, biography, and fiction, and will move in roughly chronological order.
A note on the word “queer.” I’m going to be using it lots, because when we’re talking about same-sex attractions prior to about the 1860s, any modern term is redundant. I completely understand that plenty of people recoil from that word, and with good reason. I know it’s divisive. However, within an academic context it’s also useful for referring in general terms to non-cis/het folk without imposing upon them terminology or identities which are anachronistic or to which they don’t subscribe. “Queer” will be my compromise when I cannot be specific, and no offence is meant in its use, although I appreciate some will nonetheless be taken, and for that I apologise in advance. (I’ll also be using other words in some posts which might also make you cringe — sodomite, molly, etc. These will be used only within the specific context of the timeframe about which I’m writing, to discuss subcultures to which they applied. Times change, meanings evolve, and I won’t alter history to pander to modern sensibilities.)
The only other counter I’ll offer to “queer” is that we shouldn’t surrender words to our oppressors and allow slurs against us to stand unchallenged. Minorities benefit from reclaiming the language of aggression and rendering it redundant. And if you can’t accept that, I still understand, and hope you know that when I use terminology which makes you uncomfortable, I’m not referring to you, but speaking in the abstract.
And on that note, I’ll leave you until tomorrow, when I’ll start my epic history of homosexuality by explaining why there is no such thing as a history of homosexuality 🙂 I hope you’re looking forward to it as much as I am!
Anyone who knows me, knows I love books. I was the child reading by torchlight under the covers when I was supposed to be asleep, I was the kid who took a personal library on camping trips and car journeys. I did two degrees in literature and listen to audiobooks in the car. I have been known to sit outside my destination with the engine running for many many minutes, until my friends send out search parties to find me, because “I’m just finishing this chapter.” I’m also a history geek, a data-sponge. I have the sort of mind which remembers that the fastest human ever recorded lived in Australia 17,000 years ago and could sprint through wet mud quicker than Usain Bolt can run the 100m, but can’t remember whether or not I turned the oven off.
If I could only read one type of book ever again, it would either be historical or non-fiction. Whether we’re talking Bronte and Renault, or Ellmann and Wildeblood, I don’t care. I’m as happy reading Wuthering Heights as I am Richard Ellmann’s lyrical biography of Oscar Wilde. One of my all-time favourite books is Peter Wildeblood’s Against the Law. Wildeblood is a name largely lost today, although if I ruled the world, there would be statues of him in every town square. He was the first man in modern history to stand up and state before a court and before the press that he was gay (actually, he used the word “invert”). This was in 1954, and it cost him eighteen months of his life.
It’s a question I see a lot. Sometimes it’s bandied about as a badge of honour. In any group dedicated to the reading or writing of queer fiction, there’s a thread somewhere asking who’s ‘out’ and who’s ‘closeted’ about what they do. Most people don’t seem to think it’s a big deal, but I do and here’s why.
We’ve all heard the term LGBT, right? Gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans*. Do you know how many groups consider that acronym redundant? The NYT ran an article recently on what it dubbed “Generation LGBTQIA”. Here’s just a sample of some of the labels you can apply to your sexual identity: gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, transgender, queer, homosexual, asexual, pansexual, omnisexual, trisexual, agender, bigender, third gender, gender queer, intersex, two-spirit, polyamorous… The list goes on.
Do we really need all these different definitions? Is it really necessary to split our community into smaller and smaller chunks of identity? At what point does an identity become so individual that it ceases to have any relevance to a wider group – and are we damaging our own equality movement by getting bogged down in a plethora of unnecessary labels?
We’ve all heard the expression LGBT Community. Yet too often that very thing – community – is most lacking. There are lines drawn in the sand all over the place: between gay men and women; between gays and bis; between trans* and everyone else; and between all the different shades of grey that make up each stripe of our little rainbow. Humans are essentially contrary creatures and too often it’s the case that the more marginalised we are ourselves, the quicker we’ll kick discrimination down the line to someone else.
Why that should be, no-one knows. Personally, it riles me no end that we can’t all get along as human beings without having to distinguish between creed, colour, race, religion, gendered or sexual identity. Someone once said that the day we actually discover alien life will be a watershed, not because we’ve proved that we are not alone in the universe, but because for the first time we’ll all be united as a single species. Chances are that even then we’ll find something to disagree with our neighbours about.
Well no more, those men are finally getting what was coming to them.
I’ve just got back from watching Skyfall. Twice. I was kinda double-booked this weekend. There’s a great scene in it where the villain, Silva, captures Bond. He ties him to a chair in a pose painfully reminiscent of his unforgettable encounter with Le Chiffre in Casino Royale, and proceeds to examine the scar of a bullet wound on Bond’s shoulder. But then the mood changes, his touch turns lingering, he undoes a button too many on his shirt. He trails his fingers delicately over Bond’s skin. He leans in close, hands on Bond’s thighs, and tells him, There must be a first time for everything…
Deadpan, Bond looks back. What makes you think this is my first time?