Category Archives: History

The History of Gay Porn, Part III

The previous two days' posts were written in 2011. The gay porn industry has changed quite dramatically since then. In 2011, Falcon Studios was mainly selling DVDs; now, Falcon is streaming most of their content. Yes, you can still buy DVDs of gay porn, but how many people actually do anymore? The internet has taken over the porn industry. Sites like Helix Studios, Sean Cody, Corbin Fisher, or Bel Ami are nearly all online now. Sean Cody has been bought by MindGeek, who owns Men.com and is arguably the largest of the studios at this point. Of the studios mentioned, Sean Cody is the only one who does not produce DVDs. Yet, the vast majority of their use is online.

Online companies also have to compete against free sites, such as Pornhub, XVideo or XTube. You also have gay porn blogs. While Blogger has largely done away with gay porn blogs, Tumblr is still alive and well. Tumblr only allows for a maximum of four minutes for a video, but considering that Tumblr is a short-form blog, it is made for quickly getting off. In the four minutes it allows, Tumblr gives you the best parts of a clip. Most of the websites for gay porn have 20-25 minute scenes.

The main thing is that gay porn in the last six years has become virtual. While this trend was begun in the early 2000s, since 2011, it has become more and more web-based. Whether you are into twinks (Helix), military men (Active Duty), college frat boys (Corbin Fisher or Sean Cody), Europeans (Bel Ami), or more masculine men (Men.com), there is something for you. There are even more specialized/fetish sites like Bound Gods, SpankingCentral, and others that are able to produce web-based content to a specialized audience that DVDs just didn’t really allow.

I think the days of big studios producing DVDs is a thing of the past. Falcon, Titan, Rascal, etc., are all producing mostly web-based content. Gay porn is also evolving in other way. You can get Helix and Corbin Fisher on Roku, bringing porn back to your big screen TV. How many other studios will follow and make themselves available on streaming TV, but it is definitely an alternative for those who don’t want a collection of DVDs. Porn has become more portable than ever, and this is a trend that I don't see going away.

Gay porn has also changed in one other major way. It is nearly all condomless these day. PrEP has allowed barebacking to become legitimate in porn again. In 2011, gay porn studios were still using condoms. Only studios on the edge such as Treasure Island Media allowed for condomless porn, but with frequent STD testing and PrEP barebacking is all the rage in gay porn again. Falcon was one of the last studios to start using condoms and it was one of the last to end the use of condoms.


History of Gay Porn, Part II

This is a post originally published in 2011.
 
Sexual Revolution and Gay Pornography
MANual Enterprises Publication

During the 1960s, a series of United States Supreme Court rulings created a more liberalized legal environment that allowed the commercialization of pornography. MANual Enterprises v. Day, 370 U.S. 478 (1962) was the first decision by the United States Supreme Court which held that magazines consisting largely of photographs of nude or near-nude male models are not obscene within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. § 1461. It was the first case in which the Court engaged in plenary review of a Post Office Department order holding obscene matter “nonmailable.” The case is notable for its ruling that photographs of nude men are not obscene, an implication which opened up the U.S. Postal Service to nude male pornographic magazines, especially those catering to gay men.

Wakefield Poole’s Boys in the Sand, starring Casey Donovan, can be considered one of the first gay pornography feature films, along with the works of filmmakers such as Pat Rocco and the Park Theatre, Los Angeles, California, circa 1970. Boys in the Sand opened in a theater in New York City in December 1971 and played to a packed house with record breaking box office receipts, preceding Deep Throat, the first commercial straight pornography film in America, which opened in June 1972. This success launched gay pornographic film as a popular phenomenon.

The production of gay pornography films expanded during the 1970s. A few studios released films for the growing number of gay adult movie theatres, where men could also have sexual encounters. Often, the films reflected the sexual liberation that gay men were experiencing at the time, depicting the numerous public spaces where men engaged in sex: bathhouses, sex clubs, beaches, etc.

Peter Berlin’s 1973 film Nights in Black Leather was the first major pornographic film designed to appeal to the gay leather subculture and drew some mainstream gays into this culture.

The 1960s and 1970s also saw the rise of gay publishing with After Dark and Michael’s Thing. During this time many more magazines were founded, including In Touch and Blueboy. Playgirl, ostensibly produced for women, was purchased and enjoyed by gay men and feature full frontal nudity (the posing straps and fig leaves were removed).

The 1980s were a period of transition for gay pornography film. The proliferation of VCRs made pornography videos easily accessible, and, as their prices fell, the market for home videos aimed at adult viewers became more and more lucrative. By the mid-1980s, the standard was to release pornography movies directly on video, which meant the wide disappearance of pornography theaters. Furthermore, video recording being more affordable, a multitude of producers entered the market, making low-budget pornography videos.

This shift from watching pornography as a public activity to doing so in private was also influenced by the discovery of HIV and the subsequent AIDS crisis. Public spaces for sex, such as theatres, became less attended when in the early 1980s it became a much riskier behavior. Masturbatory activities in the privacy of the home became a safe sex practice in the midst of this health crisis.

Gay movies of the 1970s had contained some exploration of novel ways to represent the sexual act. In the 1980s, by contrast, all movies seemed to be made under an unwritten set of rules and conventions. Most scenes would start with a few lines of dialogue, have performers engage in foreplay (fellatio), followed by anal penetration, and ending with a visual climax close-up of ejaculating penises, called a “money shot” or cum shot. Video technology allowed the recording of longer scenes than did the costly film stock. Scenes were often composed of extended footage of the same act filmed from different shots using multiple cameras. The quality of the picture and sound were often very poor.

Major directors such as Matt Sterling, Eric Peterson, John Travis, and William Higgins set the standard for the models of the decade. The performers they cast were especially young, usually appearing to be around the ages of 22 or 23. Their bodies were slender and hairless, of the “swimmer’s build” type, which contrasted with the older, bigger, and hairier man of the 1970s’ gay pornography. Performer roles also evolved into the tight divisions of “tops” and “bottoms”. The “top” in anal sex is the penetrating partner, who would typically have a more muscular body and the larger penis. The “bottom”, or receiver of anal sex, would often be smaller and sometimes more effeminate. The stars of the decade were almost always tops, while the bottoms were interchangeable (with the exception of Joey Stefano, a popular star, who was more of a “bottom”.)

Joey Stefano (bottom left)

This strict division between “tops” and “bottoms” may have reflected a preference by some of the popular directors of the decade to hire heterosexual men for their movies. Heterosexual men who perform gay sex for monetary reasons (commonly labeled “gay-for-pay”) are considered a rare commodity in the gay sex trade, but the biggest producers of the decade could afford them. Many critics attributed the conventionalization of gay pornography of the 80s to this trend.

The gay pornography industry diversified steadily during the 1990s.  In 1989, director Kristen Bjorn started a pornographic business which was considered as setting a standard for gay pornography producers. He was a professional photographer, and the images in his videos were considered to be of high-quality. As a former porn star himself, he directed his models with care, which helped improved the actors’ believability. Other directors had to improve their technical quality to keep up with demands from their audiences.

Another significant change during this decade was the explosion of the niche market.  Many videos began to be produced for viewers with specific tastes (i.e. for amateur pornography, Military (Men in Uniform) pornography, transsexual performers, bondage fetishes, performers belonging to specific ethnic groups, etc.), and this led to a diversification of the people involved in pornography production and consumption.

The gay pornography industry grew substantially in popularity during the 1990s, evolving into a complex and interactive subculture. Professional directors (such as Chi Chi LaRue and John Rutherford), technicians or deck operators during the U-matic phase of video technology, and performers started to engage in pornography as a career, their work sustained by emerging pornographic media and influential critics, such as Mikey Skee.

In the 21st century, gay pornography has become a highly profitable enterprise, ranging from the “straight-guy” pornography of Active Duty and Sean Cody, to the ‘twinks’ of Bel Ami. Many niche genres and online delivery sites cater to various and changing interests. For instance much of Van Darkholme’s work contains bondage and particularly shibari, the Japanese art of bondage and knot-tying, a specialty within BDSM cultures.

On the other hand, Lucas Kazan Productions successfully adapted literary classics: Decameron: Two Naughty Tales is based on two novels by Boccaccio, The Innkeeper on Goldoni’s La Locandiera. Lucas Kazan also found inspiration in 19th and 20th century operas, combining gay porn and melodrama: The School for Lovers, 2007 GayVN Award Winner for Best Foreign Picture, is in fact inspired by Mozart’s Così fan tutte.

Some controversy currently exists regarding studios that produce bareback (sex without condoms) videos. Mainstream companies, such as Falcon Entertainment, Hot House Entertainment, Channel 1 Releasing, Lucas Entertainment, Raging Stallion, Lucas Kazan Productions and Titan Media and LGBT health advocates assert that condomless videos promote unsafe sex and contribute to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, both in the pornography industry and in the gay community as a whole. The controversy dates back to the first few years of the HIV crisis, when nearly all gay pornography production companies voluntarily required their models to wear condoms for anal sex.

Chi Chi LaRue

The premise of industry figures, notably Chi Chi LaRue, is that gay pornography serves as a leading forum for teaching safer sex skills and modeling healthy sexual behaviors. At least one bareback studio agrees that porn should promote healthy sexual behaviors, but disagrees on the definition of “healthy” in this context: speaking about the AIDS crisis, Treasure Island Media owner and founder Paul Morris has expressed his belief that, “To a great extent, the current gay mindset surrounding HIV is a result of a generation of men living with PTSD and not getting the support and help they need now that the war is over.  As a pornographer, all I can do in response is to produce work that features men who are openly positive (or negative) and happily living their lives honestly and fully.”


History of Gay Porn, Part I

This is a post originally published in 2011.

Many gay men, and nearly all of the ones that I know personally, love gay porn.  Gay men and their attitudes toward pornography tend not to be as stigmatized as it is with heterosexual men and women, though there are plenty of them who enjoy pornography as well.  Pornography as a whole does not have the stigma that it once did, at least not with the majority of the population; in fact, in some ways, it is becoming somewhat more mainstream.  I’ve noticed even with my students, they are willing to admit that they like porn and are much more likely today to admit that they masturbate than my generation had been.  I think that my generation was the beginning of that change, but as a whole, the attitudes toward sex are becoming more liberal.  I think that part of that is the fact that many people dismiss the AIDS crisis as being something of the past, when it most certainly is not, no matter who well the drug cocktails are working.  All that being said, I thought that I would write a post about the history of gay pornography.
I haven’t done a really salacious post in a while, and 2011 is the 40th anniversary of Falcon Studios. Founded in 1971 by Chuck Holmes, the company is one of the most recognizable brand names in gay pornography. The estate of Chuck Holmes, who died of AIDS complications in September 2000, gave $1 million for the completion of the San Francisco Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Community Center, the largest individual donation ever to any gay community group in San Francisco.

The Swimming Hole (1884–85) by the American artist Thomas Eakins (1844–1916) is regarded as a masterpiece of American painting, and has been called “the most finely designed of all his outdoor pictures”. The painting has been “widely cited as a prime example of homoeroticism in American art”. Eakins himself appears in the water at bottom right – “in signature position, so to speak.” According to Jonathan Weinberg, The Swimming Hole marked the beginning of homoerotic imagery in American art.

Homoeroticism has been present in photography and film since their invention. During much of that time, any kind of sexual depiction had to remain underground because of obscenity laws. In particular, gay material might constitute evidence of an illegal act under sodomy laws in many jurisdictions. This is no longer the case in the United States since such laws were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2003 in Lawrence v. Texas.

However, hardcore pornographic motion pictures (“stag films,” as they were called prior to their legalization in 1970) were produced relatively early in the history of film. The first known pornographic film of any kind appears to have been made in Europe in 1908. The earliest known film to depict hardcore gay (and bisexual) sex was the French film Le Menage Moderne Du Madame Butterfly, produced and released in 1920. Most historians consider the first American stag film to be A Free Ride, produced and released in 1915. But in the United States, hardcore gay sexual intercourse did not make it onto film until 1929’s The Surprise of a Knight.  The Surprise of a Knight‘s plot was relatively simple:

The film opens with an elegantly attired “woman” with short hair as she finishes dressing for a visitor. As the “lady” completes her boudoir, she lifts her skirts to reveal a thick patch of pubic hair. At this point, an intertitle reveals that the screenwriter is “Oscar Wild” (clearly a pseudonym).

The “lady” goes into the drawing room and offers her well-attired gentleman caller (her “knight”) a drink. He refuses it, and she drinks the cocktail. They talk briefly, and then engage in passionate kissing. Whenever the gentleman caller puts his hands on the “lady’s” breasts or genitals, “she” pushes his hand away. Finally, she slaps him coyly. The “lady” then apologizes for her aggressiveness by fellating her partner.

The “lady” then lies face-down on the sofa with her buttocks in the air. It is revealed that she has no underwear on. The gentleman caller then penetrates the “lady” anally (although no penetration is actually shown). After a minute or so, the gentleman withdraws and sits back on the sofa. The “lady” gyrates her buttocks in the air. This induces him to mount her anally again. Both individuals reach orgasm, and the gentleman caller walks off-camera.

The “lady” stands and raises her skirts to reveal that “she” is really a he. The film’s second and final intertitle announces “Surprise.” His penis is exposed. The man in drag then dances about briefly, making sure that his penis bobs up and down in the air. The gentleman caller re-enters the camera’s view, and helps the other man remove his skirt and most of his other clothing. The gentleman caller (now completely clothed again) dances briefly with the nude young man. After a jump cut, the “lady”—now dressed completely in business attire—walks back on screen, winks at the audience, and walks off screen.

The Surprise of a Knight ushered in a brief period of homosexual hardcore pornography in the stag film era. About a year later, in A Stiff Game, an African American male would engage in fellatio on a Caucasian man without the need for drag. The appearance of gay sexual contact on film would soon end, however, and not reappear until the advent of legal gay hardcore pornography after 1970.

It has been noted that the lead character (the “lady”) is in costume, yet costumes are the antithesis of the hardcore pornographic film (in which nudity and the display of genitalia and penetration during intercourse are key). “The costume spectacle either steals the show…” as film historian Thomas Waugh put it, “…or becomes a grotesque distraction…” The revelation of the “lady’s” penis is not real surprise, Waugh concludes, as audiences knew what sort of film they were getting (e.g., homosexual porn).

The use of drag in The Surprise of a Knight also distances the audience from the performers on screen, Waugh argues. The main character of the film is a drag queen, and yet nearly all the audience members could say that they were not drag queens. Waugh see the film not depicting gay men on screen, but reaffirming heteronormativity and negative stereotypes of gay men and gay sex. John Robert Burger writes that it is unclear from the film whether the visitor knows of the drag queen’s gender before the encounter, and that hiding the gender of the drag queen makes it “faux homosexuality”. Burger also writes that The Surprise of a Knight is an exception to the norm of stag films, in which the receptive parter in same-sex anal sex is typically perceived to be victimised or punished.

Legal restrictions meant that early hardcore gay pornography was underground and that commercially available gay pornography primarily consisted of pictures of individual men either fully naked or wearing a g-string. Pornography in the 1940s and 1950s focused on athletic men or bodybuilders in statuesque poses. They were generally young, muscular, and with little or no visible body hair. Those pictures were sold in physique magazines, also known as beefcake magazines, allowing the reader to pass as a fitness enthusiast.

The Athletic Model Guild (AMG) founded by photographer Bob Mizer in 1945 in Los Angeles, California, was arguably the first studio to commercially produce material specifically for gay men and published the first magazine known as Physique Pictorial in 1951. Tom of Finland drawings are featured in many issues. Mizer produced about a million images, and thousands of films and videos before he died on May 12, 1992. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the advent of 16mm film cameras enabled these photographers to produce underground movies of gay sex and/or male masturbation. Sales of these products were either by mail-order or through more discreet channels. Some of the early gay pornographers would travel around the country selling their photographs and films out of their hotel rooms, with advertising only through word of mouth and magazine ads.

The 1960s were also a period where many underground art film makers integrated suggestive or overtly gay content in their work. Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising (1963), Andy Warhol’s Blow Job (1964) and My Hustler (1965), or Paul Morrissey’s Flesh (1968) are examples of experimental films that are known to have influenced further gay pornographic films with their formal qualities and narratives. Tyler Gajewski is a noted actor and model of the period who appeared in Warhol’s and Morrissey’s films, as well as in Mizer’s work at the AMG. Also of note is Joe Dallesandro, who acted in hardcore gay pornographic films in his early 20s, posed nude for Francesco Scavullo, Bruce of L.A. and Bob Mizer, and later acted for Warhol in films such as Flesh. Dallesandro was well-known to the public. In 1969 Time magazine called him one of the most beautiful people of the 1960s, and he graced the cover of Rolling Stone magazine in April 1971. Dallesandro even appeared on the cover of The Smiths’ eponymous debut album, The Smiths.


The Invention of “Heterosexuality”

The 1901 Dorland’s Medical Dictionary defined heterosexuality as an “abnormal or perverted appetite toward the opposite sex.” More than two decades later, in 1923, Merriam Webster’s dictionary similarly defined it as “morbid sexual passion for one of the opposite sex.” It wasn’t until 1934 that heterosexuality was graced with the meaning we’re familiar with today: “manifestation of sexual passion for one of the opposite sex; normal sexuality.”

If the above paragraph interests you, which it did me (thanks Susan for sending me this), then it’s well worth your while to read the whole article by Brandon Ambrosino. 

You can find the article here: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20170315-the-invention-of-heterosexuality.


Stonewall

Something unremarkable happened on June 27, 1969 in New York’s Greenwich Village, an event which had occurred a thousand times before across the U.S. over the decades. The police raided a gay bar. The events that followed marked the beginnings of the Gay Rights Movement.  

The Stonewall riots were a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations against a police raid that took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn, in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City. They are frequently cited as the first instance in American history when people in the homosexual community fought back against a government-sponsored system that persecuted sexual minorities, and they have become the defining event that marked the start of the gay rights movement in the United States and around the world.

For more information about the beginnings of the Gay Rights Movement in the United States and the Stonewall Riots, please check out my series of post on Stonewall.

HAPPY GAY PRIDE!!!

Keep It Real

Last night I watched “Is Genesis History?” which my boss recommended. The program tries to prove that Genesis is literal history. It attempts to convince the viewer to believe that yom (י֔וֹם) means a literal day not a period of time. Yom can mean either. It also tries to say that the Grand Canyon was created by the Great Flood of Noah. I just don’t buy it. If Genesis is literal than mankind is only 6,000 years old, but we know from science that mankind has been around for much longer. I believe that Genesis is allegorical. All I have to say to the filmmakers is the same thing on the guy’s shirt above–keep it real.


Whitman Sampler

Walt Whitman would have turned 198 years old last month had he not succumbed to bronchial pneumonia way back in 1892.

To mark the occasion, Whitman superfan Hugh Ryan at Broadly has been poring over what appears to be a series of seven nude black and white photographs of a man who bears a striking resemblance to the great American poet.

The photos, labeled simply “Old Man,” were taken 141 years ago by famed artist and photographer Thomas Eakins (July 25, 1844 – June 25, 1916). They depict a slender man (with just a slight ponch) with a long white beard fully naked from several different angles: full-on, in profile, and from behind.

Ryan sent the photos to several different Walt Whitman experts to get their opinions.

Karen Karbiener, a Whitman scholar and professor at NYU, replied to Ryan’s inquiry by saying:

The size fits. He was six feet tall, never had a gut, was always in reasonably good shape even when he was older… I haven’t seen a lot of 80-year-old men naked, but presumably this is good shape for an 80-year-old man!
Not just that, Karbiener said, but Whitman was one of the most photographed men of the 19th century, and he also wasn’t shy about things like sex and nudity, as anyone whose read Leaves of Grass knows.

“I don’t think Walt would have any shame about posing for these,” she hypothesized. “Especially for Eakins. There was a mutual affection and respect there.”

Eakins and Whitman met around 1887 and bonded, no doubt, over their mutual affection for younger gentlemen.
Ryan also approached Ed Folsom, a Whitman scholar and co-director of the Walt Whitman Archive online, about the photos.

Folsom wasn’t sure if the man in the photo was Whitman, so he submitted them to a neurologist. His hope was that the neurologist would find physical evidence of the strokes and other health problems Whitman suffered in the years when this photo was taken. (Whitman had his first of several strokes in 1873.)

The results? Inconclusive.

In his investigation, Ryan concludes:

Whitman would have been 198 years old today; were he still alive, perhaps that photo would grace his Grindr profile. Some might consider it indecorous to commemorate one of America’s literary treasures with an investigation into his penis, but it’s oddly fitting for Whitman. This was a man who loved puzzles, new technology, and—yes—penises. He reveled in the body, and in thumbing his nose at Victorian morality. Sharing this photo, whether or not it is actually of Whitman himself, is perhaps the most Whitman-ic way we could celebrate his birthday.


LGBTQ History Matters 

LGBTQ people have always existed, but our history has either not been recorded or has actively been erased. Berlin in the 1920s and early 1930s was the gayest city on the planet, easily the San Francisco of its day. Yet the Nazis erased everything, putting gay men in concentration camps, where they were either worked to death or forced to have lobotomies performed. Unlike gay men, lesbians were not generally regarded as a social or political threat. Anthropologists are revealing the existence of LGBTQ people in cultures across the globe.

LGBTQ history is important not only for our community but for everyone. Part of the richness of LGBTQ culture and history is that it poses alternative social structures to the patriarchal and hierarchical model that saturates modern society. Because of the ubiquity of LGBTQ people, our continuing liberation movement is part of and a collaborator with other liberation struggles.

The recent presidential election in the U.S. heightens the importance of all of us resisting together. Saturday, June 10, Vermont will hold an LGBTQ Solidarity March on Montpelier. The March is an act of solidarity with the LGBTQIA National Unity March on Washington. LGBTQ people from across Vermont and other states will march on the Vermont capital of Montpelier.


Memorial Day

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Memorial Day is a United States federal holiday observed on the last Monday of May. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it commemorates men and women who died while in military service to the United States. First enacted to honor Union and Confederate soldiers following the American Civil War, it was extended after World War I to honor Americans who have died in all wars.

Memorial Day often marks the start of the summer vacation season, and Labor Day its end.

Begun as a ritual of remembrance and reconciliation after the civil war, by the early 20th century, Memorial Day was an occasion for more general expressions of memory, as ordinary people visited the graves of their deceased relatives, whether they had served in the military or not.

History

Graves_at_Arlington_on_Memorial_DayBy 1865 the practice of decorating soldiers’ graves had become widespread in the North. The first known observance was in Boalsburg, Pa on October, 1864, and each year thereafter. The friendship between General John Murray, a distinguished citizen of Waterloo, and General John A. Logan, who helped bring attention to the event nationwide, was likely a factor in the holiday’s growth. On May 5, 1868, in his capacity as commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic – the organization for Northern Civil War veterans – Logan issued a proclamation that “Decoration Day” should be observed nationwide. It was observed for the first time on May 30 of the same year; the date was chosen because it was not the anniversary of a battle.

There were events in 183 cemeteries in 27 states in 1868, and 336 in 1869. The northern states quickly adopted the holiday; Michigan made “Decoration Day” an official state holiday in 1871 and by 1890 every northern state followed suit. The ceremonies were sponsored by the Women’s Relief Corps, which had 100,000 members. By 1870, the remains of nearly 300,000 Union dead had been buried in 73 national cemeteries, located mostly in the South, near the battlefields. The most famous are Gettysburg National Cemetery in Pennsylvania and Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington.

The Memorial Day speech became an occasion for veterans, politicians and ministers to commemorate the war – and at first to recall the atrocities of the enemy. They mixed religion and celebratory nationalism and provided a means for the people to make sense of their history in terms of sacrifice for a better nation, one closer to their God. People of all religious beliefs joined together, and the point was often made that the German and Irish soldiers had become true Americans in the “baptism of blood” on the battlefield. By the end of the 1870s the rancor was gone and the speeches praised the soldiers of both the Union and Confederacy. By the 1950s, the theme was American exceptionalism and duty to uphold freedom in the world. In 1882, the name of Decoration Day was formally changed to Memorial Day in “memory” and ‘honor” of those who gave their lives fighting for a common cause, America.


The Habit of Making Historicsl Figures Gay or Trans Is Problematic

With Transgender Day of Visibility and the GLAAD Media Awards occurring during the same week and with Pride Month just a few months away, it made me reflect on LGBT history and historiography. If you don’t know what historiography is, it can be defined as “the writing, methods of scholarship, and selection of materials to create a narrative of history that will stand the test of critical review.” It’s the work that historians engage in to help us understand our past. There are numerous approaches to it that have risen and fallen in popularity over time from Great Man, Annales School, and Marxist to Consensus and New Left, each with its own merits and followings. However, the challenge they all share is how to reconcile their views with the complexity of human existence and its past. As part of that, LGBT history faces the same dilemmas and the same issues with reconciling the past without falling subject to fallacies commonly found in historical thought.

It’s only been in the last few decades that being LGBT has moved beyond being seen as merely a sexuality or way of expressing yourself but a genuine group identity. As with any emerging group, there is a drive to create a historical narrative of where we came from, to create a mythology that includes virtuous heroes, and to place us within the greater society. This is nothing new or special, as every group in history has done it — nations, ethnicities, genders, religions, and even various professions. To want to find a place in the historical narrative of humanity is simply an act of being human, yet as such can be entirely flawed and problematic. This is not to say that what LGBT people are doing is wrong — far from it — it’s just that we need to be aware of these problems and work to correct them, as the process can ultimately work against our goals of acceptance.

The major problem where this occurs is the same problem that has plagued other groups, which is forming a selective narrative and projecting our current worldviews into the past. The first part is forming a selective narrative that tends to emphasize the good and play down or ignore the bad. A good example for Americans would be the issue of race. For example, while much focus is placed upon the South’s Jim Crow laws and slavery in our collective history, we tend to overlook that American finance and industry were funded and supported by the slave trade. Additionally, we have yet to fully resolve the contradictions of our hero Founding Fathers with their claim “All men are created equal,” while many still fought to own slaves themselves. In this regard, the LGBT community is quick to proclaim virtuous obvious heroes such as Harvey Milk, Alan Turing, and Bayard Rustin, but tends to play down those that are far less virtuous such as Roy Cohn, a man who helped persecute LGBT people and helped Donald Trump escape greater punishment for his racist housing practices. Another great example of this is J. Edgar Hoover, who helps highlight the second great problem in developing an LGBT history.

J. Edgar Hoover was never proven to be gay, though rumors circulated his entire life. Allegations about his relationship with his assistant Clyde Tolson, whom he was extremely close to, were around for years, along with Hoover’s suspiciously coincidental associations with other closeted gay men like Roy Cohn. Now, while Hoover’s sexuality will likely never be proven to a general satisfaction and many people will debate it for years, it raises a particular issue for LGBT people — that of appropriating historical figures. While there certainly are historical figures we can cite as being part of the LGBT population, such as the Emperor Hadrian, Gustave Flaubert, or Oscar Wilde, it’s when we start to take on those who have more ambiguous histories that we run into issues that may actually end up working against us. For example, it’s often said that Abraham Lincoln was gay and Joan of Arc was transgender because of the behaviors they exhibited that we see now as fitting those identities. Historians have a word for it: “presentism.”

With LGBT people, the issue is that in trying to paint many historical figures who behave in ways that seem to be “gay” that are familiar to us — or err on the side of favorable historical rumors — we run contrary to the contemporary arguments about gender and sexuality that we use to foster our own acceptance. We regularly argue that gender roles and behaviors are a social construct and therefore are constantly evolving. For example, we point out that at one point in Western history it was acceptable to be bisexual or to exhibit same-sex attraction, yet we fail to note that people of the time viewed sexual behaviors in a vastly different than we do, and the period often included complex social values and norms. We also seem to sometimes place modern views on same-sex nonsexual relationships to these figures in that “no true straight person” could have such feelings for a person without it being sexual. We cite letters and poems that express a fondness we consider romantic or sexual, when we know well that in those times and in different cultures expressions of closeness were different. Even in today’s world, while Americans might find men kissing or holding hands an overtly homosexual act, in many parts of the world, it’s simply a sign of affection and closeness, just as men sharing a bed for long periods of time in the past was completely common but seen as “queer” today. The same goes for expressions of gender behavior that we have deemed masculine or effeminate, like dress and occupation, including those that served a specific purpose. When we place a pattern of gendered behaviors from our contemporary culture onto the past, we contradict our own arguments against gender expectations.

LGBT people are not special nor really stand out in misinterpreting, appropriating, or revising history to suit their purposes over any other groups. Reconciling the good and bad LGBT figures from history will come with time and from a more reflective position when values have changed. People project their own values and views so regularly onto the past, it’s practically expected. A huge portion of the work historians do is to counter that. However, there is a unique interest in LGBT history to avoid viewing the past through our current frameworks. If we are to advocate for diversity of expression, to work against toxic views of gender and sexuality, and to show that society is better for embracing such beliefs, we cannot rewrite or whitewash history along those lines, as we end up working against our self-interest. 
AMANDA KERRI is a writer and comedian based in Oklahoma City. Follow her on Twitter @EternalKerri.
Source: http://www.advocate.com/commentary/2017/4/05/habit-making-historical-figures-gay-or-trans-problematic


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