on August 29, 2000
This is a very interesting book to read not only for the essentialists but also even for the constructionists. However, it is regrettable for me that the author didn't mention on the Japanese traditional custom of male-love so much, since in Japan there're more documents and classical texts about "paiderastia" than the ancient Greek, and in premodern Japan male/male love was highly recommended and praised. I suggest three books "Male Color" by Gary P. Leupp , "The Love of the Samurai" by T. Watanabe & J. Iwata, and "Partings at Dawn" to read .
on January 31, 2005
I used to believe that it would take advanced biology to refute the absurd claims of social constructionists as they pertain to the origin of homosexuality...and then I came across this gem of a book. Norton demolishes the vast bulk of queer theory via historical references alone. The ridiculous claim of queer theory that "the homosexual" is a 19th century social construction is abundantly refuted by a huge amount of historical evidence concerning the existence of pre-19th century homosexual subcultures and the conceptualization of homosexuality or bisexuality as types of personalities rather than phenomena consisting of unusual sex roles or sex acts only. Norton describes the indigenous taxonomy of various homosexual types, including the active partner, in various cultures.
Norton shows that queer theory is a political theory. The reason that queer theorists date the construction of "the homosexual" to the 19th century is that the 19th century is the era of bourgeois capitalism that can be subjected to Marxist analysis; an earlier date simply wouldn't work. Queer theorists even talk about the production and distribution of sexualities, as if sexualities are economic products! Would bourgeois society want to construct "the homosexual"? In 1741, 17-year-old Dutchman Jan Jansz was convicted of sodomy and spent the remaining 57 years of his life in solitary confinement. Dutch authorities then sometimes destroyed any records of the persecution of homosexuals, and did not use them as negative examples to enforce or define normality. Would these same authorities want to construct "the homosexual"?
Much to the chagrin of social constructionists who associate the rise of capitalism with the control of sexuality, i.e., insist that the ruling class would want to discourage the pursuit of "fruitless pleasures" among the working class, Norton provides examples of capitalism fostering male bonds and homosexual relations.
Queer theory makes much of the variability of homosexual behaviors in the historical record and across cultures, but this results from inadequate recording, the variability of suppression of various types of homosexual behaviors, and the variability of criminal prosecution. For instance, the sudden appearance of homosexual subcultures in several parts of Europe in the 1700s was a result of discovery, thanks to a better organized police force, not social construction resulting from the rise of capitalism.
Norton argues that it is not a coincidence that the portrayal of male homosexual behavior by queer theorists in terms of a clear line of development from ancient pederastic relationships through early/modern patron/protégé relationships to modern egalitarian relationships resembles the Marxist dialectic leading from feudalism through capitalism to a classless society. The fact is that pederasty has far from disappeared in modern times and that egalitarian homosexual relationships have been recorded as far back as in ancient Egypt. On a similar note, butch/femme lesbian couples were quite prominent in the 1950s U.S.A., but appeared to have disappeared in the 1970s, and in the 1990s, bisexual women started becoming more prominent. Is there some social construction going on here? "In the 1970s, butch/femme roles were rejected by lesbian feminists as being a retrogressive legacy of patriarchy and an aping of heterosexist roles." The butch/femme couples encountered so much hostility that they simply stopped going to gay bars; they did not disappear, and butch/femme couples finally started reasserting themselves in the late-1980s. Similarly, it is not that bisexual women did not exist in the 1970s, but the prominent man-hating feminists of the 1970s would have considered feminist women sleeping with men as an abomination, and there could not have been any opportunity for the bisexual feminists to occupy the limelight with the man-hating exclusively homosexual feminists.
Norton has argued that any apparent relationship between a political ideology and the persecution of homosexuals is accidental. For instance, consider the persecution of homosexuals by leftists in the early- and mid-20th century; the leftists then viewed homosexuality as a form of bourgeois decadence or fascist perversion.
Norton shows that the conceptualization of sexual orientation as a homosexual-heterosexual binary, which is alleged by the social constructionists to be held by the "essentialists," has been socially constructed by the queer theorists. Most "essentialists" do not dispute the existence of bisexuals. In summary, Norton persuasively argues for a transhistorical and transcultural essence to homosexuality.