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Toward Stonewall

Toward Stonewall: Homosexuality and Society in the Modern Western World

Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 384
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    Toward Stonewall
    Book Description:

    As recently as the 1970s, gay and lesbian history was a relatively unexplored field for serious scholars. The past quarter century, however, has seen enormous growth in gay and lesbian studies. The literature is now voluminous; it is also widely scattered and not always easily accessible. In Toward Stonewall, Nicholas Edsall provides a much-needed synthesis, drawing upon both scholarly and popular writings to chart the development of homosexual subcultures in the modern era and the uneasy place they have occupied in Western society.

    Edsall's survey begins three hundred years ago in northwestern Europe, when homosexual subcultures recognizably similar to those of our own era began to emerge, and it follows their surprisingly diverse paths through the Enlightenment to the early nineteenth century. The book then turns to the Victorian era, tracing the development of articulate and self-aware homosexual subcultures. With a greater sense of identity and organization came new forms of resistance: this was the age that saw the persecution of Oscar Wilde, among others, as well as the medical establishment's labeling of homosexuality as a sign of degeneracy.

    The book's final section locates the foundations of present-day gay sub-cultures in a succession of twentieth-century scenes and events-in pre-Nazi Germany, in the lesbian world of interwar Paris, in the law reforms of 1960s England-culminating in the emergence of popular movements in the postwar United States.

    Rather than examining these groups in isolation, the book considers them in their social contexts and as comparable to other subordinate groups and minority movements. In the process, Toward Stonewall illuminates not only the subcultures that are its primary subject but the larger societies from which they emerged.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-2396-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Part 1 Making a Subculture

    • Chapter 1 Origins
      (pp. 3-16)

      Can there be any such thing as a history of homosexuality stretching back much beyond the late nineteenth century to the early modern, let alone the medieval or ancient worlds? Or are the terms we employ in discussing homosexuality—gay, lesbian, homosexualityitself—and the meanings we attach to them so much a product of modern Western thought that meaningful comparisons, let alone a sense of continuity, are chancy at best, all but impossible at worst? That, in essence, is the central issue in the theoretical debate surrounding gay history, the debate between the so-called essentialists and the so-called social...

    • Chapter 2 Patterns of Repression
      (pp. 17-32)

      The sodomitical subcultures that emerged in northwestern Europe at the close of the seventeenth century were bound sooner or later to attract public attention, hostile public attention, since the conditions that had fostered or simply allowed for their growth also ensured that they would be seen as symptoms and possibly as sources of social disorder and moral decay. The growth of London, Paris, and Amsterdam led to serious problems of criminality and public order and thus to demands from local authorities and respectable citizens for better law enforcement. The cosmopolitanism of these cities bred xenophobia; it is no accident that...

    • Chapter 3 Sodomy and the Enlightenment
      (pp. 33-46)

      The crystallization of the image—and self-image—of members of the sodomitical subcultures of northwestern Europe as in some way a distinct and identifiable category of persons was certainly the most important development affecting these subcultures in the decades following their emergence and repression early in the eighteenth century. Scarcely less significant was the development of similar subcultures in parts of northern Europe beyond the small Paris-London-Amsterdam triangle. Of these by far the most important was in Berlin, the city that was to be at the forefront of the movement to achieve greater knowledge and understanding of sexual deviance in...

    • Chapter 4 Europe Divided
      (pp. 47-60)

      Contemporary with the Enlightenment but rarely intersecting with it, the Protestant nations of northern and western Europe, Germany and England in particular, experienced religious revivals so widespread that they have often been referred to as the second reformation. There were significant differences between the movements in Germany and England, perhaps the most important being that German Pietism was quietist and inward looking, while English Methodism and later Evangelicalism within the Church of England were activist and outward looking. But the similarities were greater. Both decried the dry formalism of the established Protestant churches, which seemed to have lost their zeal,...

    • Chapter 5 Conclusion to Part 1
      (pp. 61-66)

      Even without the French Revolution and the generation of war that followed, the various nations of northern and western Europe would have followed different paths so far as their attitudes toward the proper role of the public in private morals was concerned: the French toward a laissez-faire policy, at least as far as state intervention was involved, England and Prussia toward a more intrusive policy of enforcing moral norms not only through social and religious pressure (as, of course, the French did too) but also through law. The general tendency of Enlightenment thought, centered in France, on the one hand,...

  6. Part 2 Defining a Subculture

    • Chapter 6 Pioneers: The United States
      (pp. 69-84)

      Well before the middle of the nineteenth century each of the major nations of northwestern Europe had established its own peculiar variations on the general theme of how best to regulate deviant sexuality in a modern, increasingly secular society and render it relatively harmless. By drawing a clear line between the acceptable and the unacceptable, and by enforcing that border as much through disapproval as by laws of varying severity, they had succeeded in pushing what had once seemed threatening sufficiently far out on the fringe that it could largely be ignored. But at that point, inevitably, the law of...

    • Chapter 7 Pioneers: Germany
      (pp. 85-99)

      While Walt Whitman was perfecting his views of comradeship in America, from his first use of adhesiveness in his own special sense in the mid-1850s, through the publication of the Calamus poems in 1860 and his tending of the sick and wounded during the Civil War, to the publication ofDemocratic Vistasin 1871, a parallel process was going on in Germany. It too was largely the work of one man, Karl Ulrichs, but of a different type and in very different circumstances. Whereas Whitman had a poet’s vision of what America could be, Ulrichs was involved on a practical...

    • Chapter 8 Pioneers: England
      (pp. 100-109)

      For all the differences between the pioneering prophets of the love between men in the United States and Germany—Whitman the visionary poet and Ulrichs the scholarly lawyer and pedant—they had important characteristics in common. Both belonged to the first generation of modern defenders and definers of homosexuality. Whitman was born in 1819, Ulrichs in 1825, and they came of age in the 1840s, a time of liberal ferment in both countries. The United States was a new and expanding nation that had yet to experience the tragedy of civil war; Germany was not yet a single nation but...

    • Chapter 9 Wilde
      (pp. 110-126)

      If Walt Whitman was the first iconic figure, the first saint, in the modern gay pantheon, Oscar Wilde—certainly no saint—was the first martyr. The trials and imprisonment of Wilde can be read as a purely personal tragedy, the product of the conjunction of the particular players involved, and the law under which he was prosecuted appears at first sight to have made it to the statute book almost by chance. But martyrs rarely come out of nowhere, and martyrdoms do not take place in a vacuum. Seen in context the persecution of Oscar Wilde has about it an...

    • Chapter 10 Degeneracy and Atavism
      (pp. 127-136)

      The trials and imprisonment of Oscar Wilde were seen at the time and have been seen ever since as important symbolic events, and not only in the development of a sense of homosexual group consciousness and gay liberation. Wilde’s persecution was simply one act in a greater cultural, social, even political drama. The increasing visibility and articulateness of the homosexual subculture was contemporary with and linked, or seen to be linked, to a variety of other challenges to mid-Victorian values and conventions: feminism, the free-love movement, secularism, socialism, and the like. Inevitably the forces of conservatism and respectability struck back,...

    • Chapter 11 Purity and Impurity
      (pp. 137-152)

      Although the medical profession and the categories it established rapidly came to dominate the late-nineteenth-century discussion of issues of sexuality and sexual deviance among the educated public, that only begins to answer what is surely the most frustrating question in cultural and intellectual history, namely, the extent to which such ideas influenced opinion in society at large. After all, Tardieu, Caspar and Westphal, Krafft-Ebing, Morel, and Lombroso were specialists writing primarily for an audience of specialists. To be sure, Krafft-Ebing was widely translated and widely read for many decades. But that in a way misses the most important point: like...

    • Chapter 12 The Cult of Youth
      (pp. 153-166)

      The Eulenburg scandal in Germany, like the Wilde trials in England, at once reflected and heightened the fears of degeneration and decadence that were such a potent ingredient of respectable middle-class opinion at the turn of the century. The answer, the antidote to what was often likened to an infection, was to strengthen those institutions that instilled the manly virtues—physical, mental, emotional, and moral. But that was a more complex task than it seemed. As in the movements for national regeneration a century earlier, lurking in the shadows were dangers and contradictions, uncomfortable questions that could not be avoided....

    • Chapter 13 Forster and Gide
      (pp. 167-182)

      Less than a year after Gustav Wyneken presided over the meeting he hoped would lead to the unification of the major German youth organizations, his aspirations were overtaken and destroyed by the outbreak of World War I. Like their contemporaries in all the European belligerents, most of those who gathered at the Hohe Meissner presumably saw military service during the following five years, and many, perhaps a majority, were wounded, gassed, maimed for life, or killed. And surely virtually all of them lost family or close friends and comrades in the war. For many of those who served in World...

    • Chapter 14 Conclusion to Part 2
      (pp. 183-192)

      If André Gide in France and E. M. Forster in England can serve in some measure as representative of those in the pre–World War I generation of intellectuals, straight or gay, who were able to make the transition to the postwar world more or less gracefully, their German contemporary Magnus Hirschfeld typified a no less important element of continuity, the tendency of early-twentieth-century reformers to enlist the experience of World War I in support of their own agenda of social, political, or, in his case, sexual reform. Like many reformers of his generation, Hirschfeld rejected the notion of the...

  7. Part 3 Organizing a Subculture

    • Chapter 15 Between the Wars
      (pp. 195-219)

      The Uranian tradition of harking back to ancient Greece as a justification, an inspiration, even as a model for homoeroticism in the modern world, a tradition that had played a central role in the emergence of defined and articulate homosexual subcultures in the nineteenth-century West, would in any event have suffered a decline in the twentieth century as the influence of classical education declined. But the horrors of World War I all but killed the Uranian sensibility, making it seem irrelevant, overly sentimental and effete, indeed little short of obscene, set against the harsh realities of the modern industrial world....

    • Chapter 16 The Making of a Lesbian Subculture
      (pp. 220-240)

      No less a product of the interwar years than what one historian labeled the Auden Generation was the vibrant international lesbian subculture centered in Paris, which flourished up until the beginning of World War II. A remarkable phenomenon in itself, it was all the more extraordinary because virtually unprecedented. Up until that time there had been little or nothing for lesbians comparable to the increasingly well defined and self-defined male homosexual subcultures that had begun to emerge a century or more earlier in northwestern and then in central Europe. The primary reason for the difference is clear. It was not...

    • Chapter 17 Homosexuality and Psychiatry
      (pp. 241-248)

      Auden and Isherwood were far from alone in turning their backs on Europe and emigrating to the United States on the eve of World War II. They were, in fact, part of a mass exodus that began with the Nazi rise to power and accelerated during and after the devastation of Europe by total war. The result was a decisive shift in the center of gravity of Western civilization across the Atlantic, not only economically, diplomatically, and militarily but in the arts and humanities and in the natural and social sciences, including the study of human psychology and sexuality. Among...

    • Chapter 18 False Starts and New Beginnings
      (pp. 249-275)

      With the exception of one exceptional individual, Walt Whitman, and one important social institution, the Boston marriage, the United States played at best a supporting role in the emergence of homosexual subcultures in the nineteenth century and in shaping attitudes toward deviant sexuality. In constructing the laws and customs and social movements that touched on such delicate matters Americans replicated, sometimes closely, sometimes at a distance, those of Europe. The social purity, social hygiene, and eugenics movements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were essentially American versions of foreign models, and the introduction of franker and more permissive...

    • Chapter 19 Reaction
      (pp. 276-299)

      McCarthyismlong ago entered the political lexicon as a convenient shorthand term for the politics of anti-Communism in the post– World War II United States. In a way that is unfortunate, since it personalizes and thereby confines something far wider than Senator Joseph McCarthy, politics, or anti-Communism. It was, in fact, only part of a broad traditionalist social and political reaction to actual, threatened, or perceived changes in wartime and postwar America, changes of which the increasingly visible gay subculture of the 1940s was an especially disturbing example to conservatives. It was no accident that the reemergent gay subculture grew...

    • Chapter 20 Outsiders Abroad and at Home
      (pp. 300-313)

      Accommodation to the politics and prejudices of the 1950s was not the only survival strategy adopted by gay men and lesbians following World War II, but it was certainly the most common. A few courageous or cantankerous individuals refused to accept the tactical necessity of lying low, let alone the dominant view of homosexuality as a negative deviation from social and sexual norms. Like the Mattachine Society, the Daughters of Bilitis, and the Arcadie circle, they tended to turn inward—they had little choice—but in different ways and to different ends. Many in the rising generation of gay American...

    • Chapter 21 From Wolfenden to Stonewall
      (pp. 314-333)

      As in the United States, so too in western Europe, and with particular significance in England, the conventional wisdom about homosexuality, like the taboo on the public discussion of it, began to erode in the 1950s. That England, with its long—and recent—history of persecuting homosexuality and the near total absence of organized opposition to that persecution, should have emerged as the leader among European nations in advancing the rights of homosexuals is, to say the least, surprising. Ironically, it was the virulence of the official campaign of suppression that began to turn the tide. Like the press fascination...

    • Chapter 22 Conclusion to Part 3
      (pp. 334-336)

      The passage of the Sexual Offenses Act in England in the summer of 1967 and the Stonewall riots in New York in the summer of 1969 were the two most important events, symbolically as well as in fact, leading up to the late-twentieth-century gay rights movement. The one a reform from the top down, the other a rebellion from the bottom up, they met and mingled in an extraordinary outburst of organizing, protesting, demonstrating pressuring—and having a damn good time—all in full view of a startled public.

      It is not quite true that if not London in 1967...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 337-352)
  9. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 353-364)
  10. Index
    (pp. 365-377)