Monday, February 28, 2011

Homostudies Six: The Homophile Paradigm

In the last analysis, the Homophile Paradigm must be seen as a component of a major shift in the ethos of Western industrial societies, especially in the United States. Put in its briefest possible terms, this shift was one away from conformity and self-restraint (sometimes labeled the "Protestant ethic") towards a new emphasis on expressivity and self-affirmation. The old fogies were vocal in their disapproval: the new mode simply meant unrestrained gratification and acting out. For most participants, however, the change fostered, essentially for the first time in Western history, a real possibility for self-realization.

A more specific influence was the emergence of the Second Gay Movement in Western history in Los Angeles in 1950-51. The new emphasis on gay identity, sometimes assuming the guise of outright separatism, served to increase the gap with heterosexuals. This sense of distinctiveness, and the confrontationalism that the times fostered, stood in direct contrast to Alfred Kinsey’s integrationism (1948ff). There was an emphasis on distinct gay/lesbian culture as seen in poetry, fiction, art works, film, and fashion. Reflecting the influence of the feminist and civil rights movements, white males tended to be deemphasized in favor of women and ethnic minorities.

Strictly speaking, the "homophile era" refers to the period from 1950 to 1969. As used in this chapter, though, it serves as a kind of extender term, embracing the whole range of scholarship that has flourished from 1950 to the present.


In order better to understand the origins of this paradigm, it is useful briefly to review the history of the gay and lesbian movement (now generally known under the acronym GLBT [movement]).

Historically, the roots of the worldwide movement for gay and lesbian civil rights lie in Central Europe. Following important scholarly contributions by Heinrich Hoessli and K.H. Ulrichs, the world's first homosexual organization came into being in 1897, This was the Wissenschaftlich-humanitäre Komitee (Scientific-Humanitarian Committee), founded in Berlin under the leadership of Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935), a physician who became the leading, if controversial, authority on same-sex behavior in the years that followed.

In the United States, Henry Gerber, who had served in the American Army of Occupation in the Rhineland, attempted to transplant the ideas and organizational forms of the German movement. In December 1924 the (Chicago) Society for Human Rights received a charter from the state of Illinois; it was officially dedicated to "promote and protect" the interests of those who, because of "mental and physical abnormalities" were hindered in the "pursuit of happiness." It lasted only long enough to publish a few issues of the newspaper Friendship and Freedom.

With the exception of Gerber’s heroic effort, The United States had no tradition of homosexual movement activity, though many Americans had lived in Central Europe and Hitler's persecution brought exile and émigré homosexuals to such centers of the American gay underworld as New York and Los Angeles. "Vice squads" of the metropolitan police forces regularly entrapped homosexual men, raided bars, and generally intimidated public manifestations of same-sex proclivities. As early as 1948 in Southern California "Bachelors for Wallace" had appeared as a cover for the gathering of homosexuals, but Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy's campaign against" sex perverts in government" put the gay community on the defensive: its response was the founding of the Mattachine Society in Los Angeles by Henry (Harry) Hay in December 1950.

The courageous work of a small number of individuals during the period from 1950 to 1969 was certainly meritorious. In the difficult circumstances in which it arose, however, the fledgling American homophile movement was essentially a defensive, self-doubting coterie of struggling individuals in California and the Boston-Washington corridor.


Beneath the surfaces, though, changes were occurring. The slow pace of the American movement in the 1950s was accelerated in the early and mid-1960s in part under the influence of the black civil rights movement ("Gay Is Good" derives from "Black Is Beautiful"), then injected with the tremendous energies that accompanied the opposition to the war in Vietnam. With American involvement in Vietnam at its peak, student uprisings shook the campuses of Columbia and Harvard Universities in 1968 and 1969, and by the late spring of 1969 the country was in a mood of unprecedented mass agitation. It was against this background that New York's Stonewall Rebellion of June 27-30,1969, marked the start of a new, radical, and more militant phase of the homosexual movement in the United States. This euphoric era was to last only twelve years because of the eruption of the AIDS crisis that began in 1981.

A different trend was signaled by the appearance of the gay religious leader Reverend Troy Perry in Southern California. In an influential book of 1980, the historian John Boswell sought to show that Christianity was not in essence hostile to same-sex love. Gay churches and movements associated with particular denominations appeared. Gay and lesbian synagogues also became prominent. Yet gay and lesbian Muslims were slower to organize.

The rise of modern gay scholarship must be seen within this larger framework. It stemmed from the homophile movement, gathering strength even as that movement morphed into other manifestations. This changes were not without controversy, as illustrated by disputes over terminology: gay vs.homosexual; lesbian and gay; queer; LGBTQ. While these wrangles seemed arcane to many, they inevitably affected the scope of the subjects to be studied by the new scholarship.


The incipient homophile period (in the strict sense, 1950-69) saw some efforts at gay scholarship, as seen in the pages of ONE Quarterly. In his popular sociological work, The Homosexual in America (1951), Donald Webster Cory (Edward Sagarin) attempted an overview of US gay life at mid-century, with some historical asides. In general, however, the little activist groups were too weak, and hostile pressures too strong, for much of lasting significance to be accomplished.

In the immediate aftermath of Stonewall in 1969, gay editors at New York trade publishers scrambled to bring out gay books. Most of these were hastily contrived to meet a demand that quickly subsided, and have been forgotten. More substantively, there was a growing production of gay novels and poetry. However, these contributions lie outside the scope of the present inquiry.

In 1974 a small book by John Lauritsen and David Thorstad, The Early Homosexual Rights Movement (1864-1935), represented an important breakthrough. At a time when the origins of the American gay-rights movement were still little known, this volume traced its antecedents in Central Europe. The reconstruction of a parallel English movement was less convincing. However, such authors as J. A. Symonds, Edward Carpenter, and Havelock Ellis had been refreshing rays of light in an English-speaking world which for long sought to ignore issues concerning same-sex behavior. The work of Lauritsen and Thorstad was buttressed by another study by James D. Steakley, The Homosexual Emancipation Movement in Germany (1975). At the same time, the Arno Press in New York issued reprints of important primary works by Benedikt Friedlaender, Ferdinand Karsch-Haack, and K. H. Ulrichs; as knowledge of German was rare among most Anglophone scholars of the subject, these books remained largely unknown.

In 1976 there appeared a pioneering collection of of 186 documents, many little known, on North America from 1528 to the early seventies. This was Jonathan Ned Katz, ed., Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A.: A Documentary (New York, 1976). A supplementary collection by Katz, Gay/Lesbian Almanac, appeared in 1983.

A major landmark was the two-volume bibliography issued by ONE Institute in Los Angeles. A grant had been obtained from the Erickson Foundation in 1965, but the finished work did not appear until 1976, This was Vern Bullough et al., Annotated Bibliography of Homosexuality (New York, 1976), providing about 13,000 entries arranged in twenty broad subject categories. Some notion of the enormousness of the whole subject is conveyed by the fact that, even at that date, the number of entries could probably have been doubled. Unlike most of the other American bibliographies, this work is international and multilingual in scope; unfortunately the two-volume set is marred by thousands of small errors and lacunae, especially in foreign-language items. The title notwithstanding, annotations are very sparse, and uncertain in their critical stance. Full subject indexes, which would have served to offset some of these shortcomings are lacking; instead each volume has its own author indexes. The shortcomings of this major work, undertaken largely by volunteer staff working under movement auspices, illustrate the problems that have, as often as not, been made inevitable by the social neglect and obloquy in which the subject has been enveloped. To his credit, W. Dorr Legg, the project director, realized that an altogether new work was needed, one that would remedy the all-too-evident faults of the existing work. After several years of intense work, it was found that fundamental disagreements prevented the editors from concluding the task, which had reached the letter M. The copious materials for this unfinished project are now preserved in the ONE archives at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

A decade after the appearance of the ONE compendium, Wayne R. Dynes produced a selective but still comprehensive bibliographical work, Homosexuality: A Research Guide. See the electronic version: In 1990, with Dynes as general editor, there appeared the Encyclopedia of Homosexuality, the first comprehensive work of its kind. Electronic version:

Some scholars treated particular eras. Thus Sir Kenneth Dover revived the German discussion of same-sex behavior in ancient Greece, while Michael Rocke produced original scholarship on Renaissance Florence. In a series of important publications, Stephen O. Murray addressed same-sex behavior in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. These are only a few of the highlights.

In 1974 Charles Silverstein founded a quarterly, The Journal of Homosexuality, which has served ever since as a clearing house for information and reviews, particularly in the social sciences. For most of its lifetime the Journal was guided with great flair and determination by Professor John De Cecco of San Francisco State University.

In 1967 Craig Rodwell opened the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop in New York's Greenwich Village. Ranking as the first gay and lesbian bookshop anywhere, this store soon had many imitators in North America and in Europe. Today, with major changes in the marketing of books, many of these establishments have regrettably disappeared--including the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop itself.


As European intellectual and social life revived after the defeat of Nazism in 1945, homophile organizations took on new life. They were no longer centered in Germany, but flourished in several countries. In neutral Switzerland, Der Kreis (founded in 1933), which was both a magazine and an organization, had thrived throughout the war, continuing until 1968.

In France in January 1954, André Baudry founded the review and group Arcadie, following the model of Der Kreis. The group enjoyed the support of such figures as Jean Cocteau, Michel Foucault, and Roger Peyrefitte. The early years were difficult, and in 1955 Baudry was prosecuted and fined 400,000 francs for “offenses against morals.” In the 1970s the group and its monthly magazine came to be seen as old-fashioned, and they were disbanded in 1984.

The new mood of radicalism that ensued in France after the events of May 1968 saw the emergence of such figures as Guy Hocquenghem, Dominique Fernandez, and Michel Foucault. While Foucault was openly gay, it is generally conceded that he owes his influence to his broader, more “universal” concerns.

One undoubted masterpiece emerged from gay scholarship in France, the monograph of Claude Courouve: Dictionnaire de l'homosexualité masculine (Paris, 1985). In addition to their lexicographic interest, the numerous citations this work provides constitute much valuable material for the study of the history of homosexuality in France.

In 2003 the journalist Didier Eribon edited the Dictionnaire des cultures gays et lesbiennes (Paris, 2003), which may be consulted for many topics of French interest.

In the Netherlands several gay organizations emerged after the liberation. These groups were responsible, in the first instance, for the adoption of the word “homophile” (which had, however, been coined in Germany in 1925). In 1978 departments of homostudies were formed at the Universities of Amsterdam and Utrecht, world firsts. In recent years distinguished contributions to objective scholarship in this field have been made by such scholars as Gert Hekma, Theo van der Meer, and Rob Tielman.

In Germany important work has been contributed by Paul Derks, Erwin Haeberle, Manfred Herzer, Joachim S. Hohmann, and Rüdiger Lautmann, among others. Beginning in 1987 Herzer has edited the journal Capri. which prints well-documented articles on earlier German gay figures. As is appropriate, German gay scholars have applied themselves with particular determination to documenting the fate of homosexuals during the period of National Socialism. See the bibliographical compilation of Wayne R. Dynes:

Italy has produced several noteworthy figures, including Massimo Consoli, Giovanni Dall’Orto, and Francesco Gnerre. Dall’Orto’s prodigious scholarship, essential for the study of Italian gay literature and history, may be found at his website


Despite this overall roster of accomplishment in the field of publication, gay studies largely failed to take root as an academic discipline in US universities. In some respects this failure reflected continuing prejudice, masquerading as a claim that gay scholarship was not a “serious” endeavor. Internally, there were disputes among gay academics themselves about the proper methodology and the appropriateness (or not) of linking gay scholarship with advocacy. In 1981 the AIDS crisis began, and much academic attention was committed to the cause of AIDS awareness. Finally, postmodernism and Queer Theory (see the following chapter) shifted the focus, not always to the benefit of the subject.


Crompton, Louis. Homosexuality and Civilization. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003.

D’Emilio, John. Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940-1970. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1983.

Duberman, Martin Bauml, Martha Vicinus, and George Chauncey, Jr., eds. Hidden from History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past. New York: New American Library, 1989.

Dynes, Wayne R., et al., eds. Encyclopedia of Homosexuality. 2 vols. New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1990.

Faderman, Lillian. Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991.

Greenberg, David F. The Construction of Homosexuality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988.

Jackson, Julian. Living in Arcadia: Homosexuality, Politics, and Morality in France from the Liberation to AIDS. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.

Lautmann, Rüdiger. Homosexualität: Handbuch der Theorie- und Forschungsgeschichte. Frankfurt: Campus Verlag, 1993.

Legg, W. Dorr, David G. Cameron, and Walter L. Williams, eds. Homophile Studies in Theory and Practice. San Francisco: GLB Publishers, 1994.

Loughery, John. The Other Side of Silence: Men's Lives and Gay Identities: A Twentieth-Century History. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1998.

Murphy, Timothy F., ed. Reader's Guide to Lesbian and Gay Studies. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 2000.

Murray, Stephen O. American Gay. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

Zimmerman, Bonnie, ed. Encyclopedia of Lesbian Histories and Cultures. New York: Garland, 1999.



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