|David and Jonathan|
The following text is from People with a History: An Online Guide to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Trans* History. People with a History is a www site presenting history relevant to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered people, through primary sources, secondary discussions, and images. As will all of Fordham University's Internet History Sourcebooks, this is a tremendous collection of primary sources and other documents from history. I have many times used these sites in my classes.What qualifies as "gay history"?
The issue is reasonably clear for the past hundred years. But before that there are complications. This is especially the case for Medieval studies.
Some commentators, both avowedly gay and otherwise, wish to distinguish sharply between historical evidence about same-sex sexual activity in the past and other evidence about same-sex relationships. In other words they wish to argue, as I take it, that while the evidence about sexual relationships may indeed relate to a history of homosexuality, other non-sexual affective relationships must be subsumed under the sign of "friendship". Often, but not always, there seems to be a belief that while sexuality is complex and constructed in particular ways, "friendship" is an unproblematic category. Some commentators, religious ones in particular, seek to see "friendship" as in some sense "purer" and cleaner than sexual relationships.
|Greek adelphopoiia relationships|
On the other hand we have a huge amount of material on same-sex emotional relationships: poems, letters, sometimes even sermons. We also have quite certain evidence that such relationships were, in various times and places, publically celebrated. (This is the minimal interpretation of the Greek adelphopoiia relationships: but has also been attempted, by Pierre Chaplais for instance, as an explanation of Edward II's relationship with Piers Gaveston; similar interpretations have been given to medieval accounts of men sleeping in the same bed - for instance Philip Augustus and Richard the Lionheart.) Such relationships, it is asserted, were not "sexual" and reflect a variety of other forms of male-bonding.
Turning out attention to modern "gayness" we find a number of interesting points, points that affect how we understand the relationships of the past, and the texts which refer to and refract those relationships.
Now it is true, gay leaders in the 1970s rejected the term "homophile" as conformist, and as a deliberate elision of sexuality. I think, for historical consideration at least, it may be time to resurrect this terminology. "Homophilia" points to a very important aspect of modern gayness - its support of a wide array of same-sex emotional relationships, with a an equally wide degree of sexual expression. Because of AIDS there are now many fairly well formed psychosocial studies of the gay male communities of large cities. I am most familiar with the Martin-Dean study conducted from Columbia Presbyterian School of Public Health in New York City. What these studies have found is that homophilia is a central aspect of modern gayness, in relationships between men whether sexually expressed or not. Some gay men form couples in which sex plays little or no part. Many other gay men form "families", often of other gay men (some of whom may be former sexual partners) and sympathetic heterosexual women, families in which a high degree of emotional and personal closeness is achieved in a specifically "gay" context but where sex is not central.
|Patroclus and Achilles|
Source: Paul Halsall, 3/27/96