Jeffrey Weeks says: “The legal classification [of homosexuality] and the epithet had […] an uncertain status and was often used loosely to describe various forms of non-reproductive sex. There was therefore a crucial distinction between traditional concepts of buggery and modern concepts of homosexuality.”
What was that distinction?
2. He also says “[…]the emergence of a specific male ‘homosexual role’, a specialized, despised and punished role which ‘keeps the bulk of society pure in rather the same way that the similar treatment of some kinds of criminal helps keep the rest of society law abiding”
What were the two effects this role had?
3. Gayle S. Rubin states: “The success of the anti-gay campaign ignited long simmering passions of the American right, and sparked an extensive movement to compress the boundaries of acceptable sexual behaviour.”
According to Rubin, what else did the right and far right link to “non-familial” or frivolous sexuality?
4. Rubin talks about a “line” between “good” sex and “bad” sex. Describe what this means and the struggle over where to draw the line.
8 Discourse, desire and sexual
Some problems in a history of
Jeffrey Weeks 
The publication by the Kinsey Institute of the book Homosexualities underlines what is likely
to become a truism in the next few years: that we can no longer speak of a single homosexual
category as if it embraced the wide range of same sex experiences in our society (Bell and
Weinberg, 1978). But recognition of this, tardy as it has been, calls into question a much
wider project: that of providing a universal theory and consequently a ‘history’ of homosexu-
ality. The distinction originally made by sociologists (and slowly being taken up by histor-
ians) between homosexual behaviours, roles and identities, or between homosexual desire
and ‘homosexuality’ as a social and psychological category (Hocquenghem, 1978), is one
that challenges fundamentally the coherence of the theme and poses major questions for the
historian. This paper addresses some of these problems, first, by examining approaches that
have helped construct our concepts of homosexuality, second, by tracing the actual evolution
of the category of homosexuality, third, by exploring some of the theoretical approaches that
have attempted to explain its emergence and, finally, by charting some of the problems that
confront the modern researcher studying ‘homosexuality’.
It has been widely recognized for almost a century that attitudes towards homosexual behav-
iour are culturally specific, and have varied enormously across different cultures and through
various historical periods. Two closely related and virtually reinforcing sources for this
awareness can be pinpointed: first, the pioneering work of sexologists such as Magnus
Hirschfeld, Iwan Bloch, Havelock Ellis and others, whose labelling, categorizing and taxo-
nomic zeal led them, partially at least, outside their own culture, and, second, the work of
anthropologists and ethnographers who attempted to chart the varieties of sexual behaviour
and who supplied the data on which the sexologists relied. The actual interest and zeal in the
pursuit of sex was, of course, a product of their own culture’s preoccupations, and the
resulting findings often displayed an acute ‘ethnocentric bias’ (Trumbach, 1977, p. 1), partic-
ularly with regard to homosexuality; but this early work has had a long resonance. The three
most influential English-language cross-cultural studies – that of the traveller Sir Richard
Burton in the 1880s (1888), the work of Edward Westermarck in the 1900s (1906), and the
Human Area Files of Ford and Beach in the 1950s (1952) – have deeply affected perceptions
of homosexuality in their respective generations. Unfortunately, awareness of different
cultural patterns has been used to reinforce rather than confront our own culture-bound
Three phases in the construction of a history of homosexuality are discernible. The first,
manifested in the works of the early sexologists as well as the
Tbinking Sex: Notes /or a Radical Tbeory 0/
the Politics 0/ Sexuality
Gayle S. Rubin
The Sex Wars
‘Asked his advice, Dr. J. Guerin affirmed that, after all other treatments had failed, he had
succeeded in curing young girls affected by the vice of onanism by burning the clitoris with
a hot iron … I apply the hot point three times to each of the large labia and another on the
clitoris … After the first operation, from forty to fifty times a day, the number of voluptuous
spasms was reduced to three or four … We believe, then, that in cases similar to those
submitted to your consideration, one should not hesitate to resort to the hot iron, and at an
early hour, in order to combat clitoral and vaginal onanism in the little girls.’
(Zambaco, 1981, pp. 31, 36)
The time has come to think about sex. To some, sexuality may seem to be an unimportant topic,
a frivolous diversion from the more critical problems of poverty, war, disease, racism, famine, or
nuclear annihilation. But it is precisely at times such as these, when we live with the possibility of
unthinkable destruction, that people are likely to become dangerously crazy about sexuality. Con-
temporary contlicts over sexual values and erotic conduct have much in common with the religious
disputes of earlier centuries. They acquire immense symbolic weight. Disputes over sexual behaviour
often become the vehicles for displacing social anxieties, and discharging their attendant emotional
intensity. Consequently, sexuality should be treated with special respect in times of great social
The realm of sexuality also has its own internal politics, inequities, and modes of oppression. As
with other aspects of human behaviour, the concrete institutional forms of sexuality at any given time
and place are products of human activity. They are imbued with contlicts of interest and political
maneuver, both deliberate and incidental. In that sense, sex is always political. But there are also
historical periods in which sexuality is more sharply contested and more overtly politicized. In such
periods, the domain of erotic life is, in effect, renegotiated.
In England and the United States, the late nineteenth century was one such era. During that time,
powerful social movements focused on ‘vices’ of all sorts. There were educational and political
campaigns to encourage chastity, to eliminate prostitution, and to discourage masturbation, espe-
cially among the young. Morality crusaders attacked obscene literature, nude paintings, music halls,
abortion, birth control information, and public dancing (see Gordon and Dubois, 1983; Marcus, 1974;
Ryan, 1979; Walkowitz, 1980, 1982; Weeks, 1981). The consolidation of Victorian morality, and its
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