Friday, March 11, 2011

Homostudies: Introduction

The account unfolding in this and the following seven postings takes its start in the nineteenth century. That is when “the homosexual” was first consistently postulated as a distinct human variant (though not always in so many words).

To be sure, some anticipations of homostudies should be noted, among them the ancient Greek quest for the “inventor” of same-sex love; Orpheus and Laius were the two prime candidates. Assuming the existence of a period prior to the inception of same-sex love, this approach treats that capacity as an innovatory human artifact, not unlike viticulture and ship building, law and democracy. All these discoveries are part of the civilizing process. This approach contrasts with the more recent view, expressed by Goethe and others, that same-sex behavior has always been with us.

There are also the lists of famous homosexuals, a tradition starting in early modern Europe with the curious seventeenth-century text known as Aloisia Sigea. Finally, some attention is owing to parallel efforts in medieval Islam, China, and Japan. However, that cross-cultural task will not be addressed in these pages.

The structure of the present work, "Homostudies," owes much to the method of delineating successive paradigms introduced by Thomas Kuhn, the Harvard historian and philosopher of science. Yet in contrast to Kuhnian paradigm theory, which is linear and supersessionist, none of the models traced in the following account has been discarded. Reckoning with this survival factor, my approach may be termed combinatory and dialectical.

That being said, there is a progressive aspect as well. Over the centuries in Western Europe a vast deposit of prejudice, fabrication, and defamation had accumulated. There was no way that this burden could be lifted in a single generation. The improvements in understanding had to proceed step by step. I have sought to depict the major phases of this salutary process in these pages. At the outset the journey must inevitably seem somewhat obscure. But if the reader will persevere, matters will become clearer as we go on.

Inevitably there will be some quibbles about terminology. The term "gay studies" strikes many as old-fashioned and anachronistic. In keeping with current fashion, some would prefer "LGBTQ studies"; yet that expression is also anachronistic, indeed more so than gay studies. A common objection to the words gay and homosexual is that they privilege the male. Point taken, but a faithful account of the relevant scholarship must foreground the male narrative because that is what most of the studies have been concerned with historically.

Perhaps one should coin a new term: "homosexology." Yet the story is not solely about sex research, for it also concerns the culture and perception of same-sex love. Indeed, in his comparative studies of poetry Heinrich Hössli, arguably the ultimate progenitor of the field, gave pride of place to the cultural realm. Taking this dimension into account one might speak of "homosapience" or "homophrenos"; yet the first is too cute, the second too recondite.

Nonetheless, thanks to a suggestion of Dr. Erwin J. Haeberle, a solution presents itself. The appropriate term stems from the world of contemporary Dutch scholarship, which has made an immense contribution--too little appreciated outside the Netherlands--to our subject. That term is "Homostudies."

At a time when these important topics enjoyed very little entree into American and British universities, the first formal gay and lesbian studies programs were established at the Universities of Amsterdam and Utrecht in the Netherlands in 1978. Under the rubric of homostudies, their aim was to remould scholarly attitudes towards homosexuality and homosexuals, changing the way in which homosexuality was represented in academic curricula. This aim remains valid.

I regret that I have not found it possible to provide fuller coverage of issues pertaining to bisexuality. See, however, the opening section of the last chapter, together with Erwin J. Haeberle, "Bisexuality: History and Dimensions of a Modern Scientific Problem," at

In order to bring out key themes, coverage is necessarily highly selective. Since no attempt has been made to identify all significant works and scholars, omission of any particular name or group does not constitute a judgment of value. The narrative in the following postings is not a roster of scholars and their works; I undertook that task twenty-five years ago in my Homosexuality: A Research Guide. See the electronic version:


1) In 1836-38 Henrich Hössli, an independent scholar in Switzerland, introduced the method of comparative study of attitudes towards same-sex love, providing evidence from two main sources: ancient Greece and medieval Islam. Directly or indirectly, he was able to draw upon an abundance of classical scholarship for the former, and a smaller deposit of Orientalist studies for the latter.

2) The nineteenth century witnessed a great interest in classification and nomenclature, including descriptors of homosexual behavior and orientation. This concern has continued into our own day with the deployment of such terms as “gay,” “queer,” and “LGBT.”

3) In early twentieth-century Germany some homostudies scholars boldly essayed a comprehensive approach. Impressive as their efforts often were, they were generally limited to the Western tradition from ancient Greece onwards.

4) A complementary trend emphasized non-Western and tribal cultures. This trend has continued in our own time in anthropological research on the subject.

5) Alfred Kinsey situated same-sex behavior in the universe of sexual behavior, seeing no qualitative difference between heterosexual and homosexual acts, which he and his associates viewed as part of a continuum. His statistical and nonjudgmental approach has been subsequently been adopted in surveys conducted in many countries.

6) The inception of the homophile movement in the US in 1950-51 opened the way for a new series of studies, whose impetus has continued down to the present day.

7) There are other possible paradigms. The concept of bisexuality is of long standing. The newer approaches known as Social Construction and Queer Theory have attempted to supplant earlier paradigms, though in the writer’s opinion with limited success.



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