The UK’s Socialist Worker has an article by Colin Wilson to mark LGBT History month.
It has some very Foucauldian overtones:
It seems hard to imagine that people’s personal lives were different in the past. Family, friendship and sexuality seem deep-rooted and part of our personalities.
Yet they have changed over the centuries. Back in 1600, “family” could refer to the people who lived with you, whether you were related to them or not. In richer households that included servants.
Men who were close friends – at least, wealthy men – kissed and embraced each other.
They might share a bed, swear vows of friendship or even be buried together. None of this implied a sexual relationship.
No one believed that humanity was divided between gay, lesbian, bisexual and straight people. Sex between men – sodomy – was a terrible sin. But anyone might be tempted to commit it, just as anyone might commit murder or adultery.
Sodomy was harshly punished. Sodomites were hanged in England, and burned at the stake elsewhere in Europe. But this was rare – years passed without any prosecutions.
The sodomite was conceived of as a monstrous creature, a bogey-man. Sodomy was much more than a sexual crime. It was associated with treason, Catholicism, foreign countries – a general rejection of accepted English values.
Wilson also argues:
Historians sometimes describe them as “socially constructed”.
This phrase is particularly associated with the French historian and writer Michel Foucault. It’s often assumed that Foucault was the first historian to trace historical changes in sexuality.
Yet Karl Marx’s collaborator Frederick Engels reached similar conclusions over 100 years ago. His book The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State was first published in 1884.
Engels’ book compared different societies – ancient Greece and Rome, and the Iroquois, a Native American people. He argued that what he called “modern individual sex love” did not exist in all historical periods.
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