Something to Listen To: A Relevant Podcast About the History of Gay Sexuality

„The History of Gay Sex“is a podcast discussing the culture and history of gay sex created and produced by Stuart. We asked him to discuss this subject as usually there is no approach to the subject. You can listen to it on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Audible and more.

Wilhelm von Gloeden, Three youths dressed in pseudo-ancient Greek or Roman costume, Taormina, Sicily, ca. 1890. Collection of Royal Academy of Arts, London.

How did you come into the discipline of history?

I have always been fascinated by history from a very early age. I studied the humanities in college and although my concentrations were in political science and history, my degree required me to take several other courses in sociology, philosophy, anthropology, etc. which has essentially become an intersection of the subjects covered in my podcast.

Many male historical figures, including Socrates, Lord Byron, Edward II, and Hadrian, have had terms such as gay or bisexual applied to them; some scholars, such as Michel Foucault, have regarded this as risking the anachronistic introduction of a contemporary social construct of sexuality foreign to their times, though others challenge this.

I agree with Foucault for the most part except historical examples of homosexuality have played a role in the modern (and mostly western) gay rights movement. I wouldn’t truly consider this phenomenon as “proto-gay” but it was consequential nonetheless. Moreover, this podcast has made me give more thought to LGBT terminology than I had ever given before. And as I have learned there is no real generally accepted use of specific words. Some prefer gay vs queer vs homosexuality vs same-sex sex.

Plato wrote that same-sex lovers were more blessed than ordinary mortals. But then he changed his mind, describing the act as ‘utterly unholy’ and ‘the ugliest of ugly things. So why were the ancient Greeks so confused about homosexuality? And I believe we why we are today as confused as before, even our experience can argue differently.

Plato’s views of homosexuality changed a lot over his lifetime and it appears he did not philosophically agree with the environment he was raised in and first accepted as mentioned. This also happened to coincide with “peak pederasty” to a certain degree which began to decline during his life. There are a lot of reasons and theories as to why homosexuality in institutional settings began to die out but this is different than how he may have viewed a citizen engaging in same-sex sex with a sex worker or slave than in a pederastic dynamic. Also, the position that one took during sex was more significant than who they were having sex with and given that his discussion on same-sex love surrounded two citizens there were more elements that were problematic about it than between commoners, non-citizens and slaves.

The image of an idealised non-sexual same-sex love was still powerful enough at the end of the 19th century for Oscar Wilde to think it a good idea to invoke the Greek example – “that deep spiritual affection that is as pure as it is perfect”. Can be a today approach?

Isn’t this what is now defined as “brosexuality?” That may just be an American slang term but it references men who have an emotional connection with each other that supersedes the sexual connections they have with women. In terms of companionship between men, you may certainly find examples of what Wilde was referencing but I personally think he was just veiling his sexual relationships with men and trying to destigmatize same-sex love while legitimatizing it through a non-sexual lens.

James Davidson assert “The sex market had one other consequence. It made it clearer that some men were rather more devoted to handsome boys than others, going well beyond the call of duty, prepared to spend large amounts of money on them and indeed to get into fights over male slaves, while remaining immune to the charms of courtesans – men like Misgolas “always surrounded by cithara-boys, devoted to this thing like one possessed”, or Ariaeus “always accompanied by handsome Striplings”. A new type of person was beginning to emerge – the homosexual himself.”

I am unfamiliar with James Davidson’s work specifically but from my research, I can say that across a lot of cultures and throughout time, when there are hyper-masculine warrior cultures that are segregated by sex, you do see a lot of sexual desire for men by men, especially of adolescents. The cultural emphasis on masculinity extends into sexual aesthetics although this is usually when the males are not fully developed and do not entirely look like men yet. Having adolescent males as either courtesans or slaves is also a symbol of status which can add a level of attraction and desire. Also, in a society where only men are educated it is speculated that only men could have intellectual relationships with each other which may also play into this phenomenon.

Henry Scott Tuke The Critics 1927 Courtesy of Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum (Warwick District Council)

“Sexual Hegemony”, Chris Chitty’s book is interesting at least for a reason the author himself specified. Gay people, he writes, have a particular desire to understand themselves as part of history, for the very reason that we don’t see ourselves in the past. This makes the “homosexual desire for history … itself historical,” he writes, a phenomenon that always leads us to feel out of place, cut off from solidarity. We have an uncertain kinship with the misunderstood and the dead, who have also lost their place in the world. The desire for history that runs so hot through queers today is also a desire to recognize and be recognized.

Every culture, group or civilization has an important connection to their history but homosexuality is a very distinct exception since we cannot reproduce it through familial settings. In fact, our own sexuality may complicate our relationships with our own cultural and familial identities depending on one’s own circumstances. However, If I am being honest, I do not find the LGBT community to be any more interested in their history than contemporaries who are straight. But that is just anecdotal.

How do you do your research? What sources do you use?

My research is almost exclusively done through academic sources. One of the main goals of my podcast is to bridge academic and “general audiences.” Most people do not find academic texts to be accessible but I try to synthesize them into a more approachable setting while still maintaining their integrity and findings.

Your podcast seems a very interesting approach to the history of gay sex. May this what we do not want as a community, yet, to assume. That sex is more than ever what makes the LGBT+ community, micro-society so concentrated and glued.

While there are very noticeable behaviours within the gay communities, we lack a certain coherence and predictability you may find elsewhere in other cultures and communities. The gay experience is incredibly diverse in a way that almost completely fragments it except that we all share two things (usually) in common. We all came out at one point and we all have sex with the same sex. Besides that, the level of difference in the community can be just as strong as the level of similarities.

You can follow Stuart also on Instagram @historyofgaysex

SMART. QUEER SMART.

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