an incomplete timeline of sexual diversity – part 1* (and a few happy announcements)

I’ve been trying to post every Monday and Thursday these last few weeks, but this Thursday, I skipped out. I promise I have a good reason though: there’s a new gal in my life these days. These last three days, to be specific. She was born on Wednesday afternoon, a month premature, to MamaE (who is doing well despite the rather unexpected turn of events) and Mama M.

For those who aren’t familiar with my odd and wonderful queer family, here’s the short version: my ex-partner T provided sperm to a dyke couple early in our relationship. The result was the Spawn, born of MamaM, who is now a charming and articulate nearly-4-year-old. Thanks to him, I became known in certain circles as Spaunty Andrea. Not too long ago the mamas asked Spuncle T if he’d be up for a second round, this time with MamaE as the bearer. This time, the result is the brand-new and very pink Spawnlet, a charming and not very articulate (but pleasantly squeaky and squirmy) nearly-4-day-old.

Spuncle T and Auntie H and myself and the two bois packed up our things, rented a car and descended upon the mamas and the Spawn within hours of hearing the news, and we’ve spent the past several days helping to orchestrate the meals, hospital visits, mama-supporting, house-tidying, laundry-doing and Spawn-sitting that necessarily surrounds such momentous events. Blogging comes second to bright shiny babies.

Anyway, I’m snatching a few quiet moments to post this before the entire family (those in town at least) arrive back at home from the hospital, with MamaE and Spawnlet discharged from the hospital this afternoon in good health and excellent spirits.

***

On a completely different note, for anyone who’s in Montreal this coming week, I’ll be giving a talk and two workshops. Here are the details!

  • Monday, November 10, 4:30-6 p.m., I’m giving a talk on BDSM vs. Abuse and Assault for SACOMSS, the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students Society (but open to the public, no charge), at McGill University Students Society Building, 3480 McTavish, Lev Bukhman room, 2nd floor.
  • Thursday, November 13, 4-6 p.m. I’m doing a double-whammy workshop on fire play and needle play at McGill University, Arts Building (just up from Roddick Gates at the centre of campus), room 145, as part of the Queer McGill Fruity Festival (also no charge).
  • That same night from 7 to 9 p.m. I’m teaching Take Five: The Pleasures of Fisting at JoyToyz, 4200 St-Laurent suite 415. Register at joytoyz.ca. $30 per person.

Please spread the word! I’d love to see some friendly faces there!

And that’s it for your announcements today. Back to your regularly scheduled programming!

***

*I originally wrote this in April 2007. It’s a three-parter… here’s part 1. Fun! Geeky! Sexy! Mmmm.

***

This week, I had the honour and pleasure of being invited as a guest lecturer to a women’s studies class at Vanier College. I was asked to speak on the topic of sexual diversity.

Most of the time, when people say “sexual diversity,” what they actually mean is “gay and lesbian issues.” Needless to say my take on diversity is a little more… well, diverse than that. So I decided to put together my very own Incomplete Timeline of Sexual Diversity.

Clearly, this is a project somewhat too ambitious for a one-hour lecture; stacks of books have been written on the topic. But I picked a number of the most commonly recognized and historically significant dates and events and kept things fairly specific to North America, Canada, Quebec and even Montreal when I could – it’s really cool to see just how many times my home province and hometown come up on the list, not by design, but because we occupy a prominent place in Canada’s sexual-diversity history.

It occurred to me that this might make for an interesting blog post. Then it occurred to me that seven pages of detailed notes might be a bit overlong to post in one shot. So I’m splitting it into parts for your ongoing entertainment.

For starters, here’s the quote I opened with. It’s from Gayle Rubin’s 1984 article Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality. Her work served as a really good framework for my talk thanks to its articulate explanation of the hierarchy of socially acceptable sexualities – which still firmly stands today. The last date on my timeline (which will probably end at part three or four) is a really strong example of exactly the kind of pyramid structure Rubin is talking about.

Anyway, the quote:

“Modern Western societies appraise sex acts according to a hierarchical system of sexual value. Marital, reproductive heterosexuals are alone at the top of the erotic pyramid. Clamoring below are unmarried monogamous heterosexuals in couples, followed by most other heterosexuals. Solitary sex floats ambiguously. The powerful nineteenth-century stigma on masturbation lingers in less potent, modified forms, such as the idea that masturbation is an inferior substitute for partnered encounters. Stable, long-term lesbian and gay male couples are verging on respectability, but bar dykes and promiscuous gay men are hovering just above the groups at the very bottom of the pyramid. The most despised sexual castes currently include transsexuals, transvestites, fetishists, sadomasochists sex workers such as prostitutes and porn models, and the lowliest of all, those whose eroticisim transgresses generational boundaries.”

And here are the first few dates of the timeline – covering the 1800s, specifically. Please note that I have shamelessly borrowed text directly from both Wikipedia entries and, in some later cases, the CBC archives; the idea was expediency, not writerly elegance or scholarly merit. I was teaching, after all, not writing a paper myself. But the timeline itself is straight outta my own little head. (Thanks to E for her evening of diligent research assistance.)

***

1838 Herculine Barbin was born, the first known intersex person, at the time referred to as a hermaphrodite. Michel Foucault published a book about her in 1978.

1886 Psychopathia Sexualis was published by Richard von Krafft-Ebing in German. (It came out in English in 1965.) The book remains his best-known work. It was intended as a forensic reference for doctors and judges, and thus written in highly academic language. In the introduction he noted that he had “deliberately chosen a scientific term for the name of the book to discourage lay readers.” He also wrote “sections of the book in Latin for the same purpose.” Despite this, the book was highly popular with lay readers and it went through many printings and translations. Krafft-Ebing divided sexual deviance into four categories:
– paradoxia, sexual desire at the wrong time of life, i.e. childhood or old age
– anesthesia, insufficient desire
– hyperesthesia, excessive desire
– paraesthesia, sexual desire for the wrong goal or object. This included homosexuality (or “contrary sexual desire”), sexual fetishism, sadism, masochism, pederasty and so on. The sexual preferences described here are commonly known as paraphilias, and many remain in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual as mental illnesses today.

Krafft-Ebing believed that the purpose of sexual desire was procreation, and any form of desire that didn’t go towards that ultimate goal was a perversion. Rape, for instance, was an aberrant act, but not a perversion, since pregnancy could result.

1895 Oscar Wilde, famous British writer and playwright, was incarcerated for sodomy, thanks to the father of his lover Boyse. He remained in prison until 1898, and died three or four years later alone in a hotel room. A play was recently created by Moises Kaufman based on transcripts of his trial (I reviewed it here this summer). His works are still widely studied and performed today, and his name is a common reference in queer culture (for example, the reading series entitled Wilde About Sappho; and the Oscar Wilde Bookshop, the oldest gay and lesbian bookstore, in New York City).

1897 Havelock Ellis, British doctor, sexual psychologist and social reformer, published Sexual Inversion, the first English medical textbook on homosexuality. Ellis described the sexual relations of homosexual men and boys, something that he did not consider to be a disease, immoral, or a crime. A bookseller was prosecuted in 1897 simply for stocking it. Althought the term “homosexual” is attributed to Ellis, he wrote in 1897, “‘Homosexual’ is a barbarously hybrid word, and I claim no responsibility for it.” Other psychologically important concepts developed by Ellis include autoerotism and narcissism, both of which were later taken on by Sigmund Freud.

1898 In Germany, the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, under Magnus Hirschfeld’s leadership, managed to gather over 5000 signatures from prominent Germans for a petition to overturn Paragraph 175, the piece of German law that criminalized homosexuality. The bill was brought before the Reichstag in 1898. Signatories included Albert Einstein, Rainer Maria Rilke and Leo Tolstoy, but no one admitted publicly to being homosexual themselves. The petition was unsuccessful, though Paragraph 175 was overturned much later (there is a documentary on the subject entitled Paragraph 175.) In 1919, under the more liberal atmosphere of the newly founded Weimar Republic, Hirschfeld was given a former royal palace for his Institute for Sexual Research in Berlin, which housed his immense library on sex and provided educational services and medical consultations. In 1921 Hirschfeld organized the First Congress for Sexual Reform, which led to the formation of the World League for Sexual Reform. Congresses were held in Copenhagen (1928), London (1929), Vienna (1930), and Brno (1932). When the Nazis took power, one of their first actions, on May 6, 1933, was to destroy the Institut and burn the library. The press-library pictures and archival newsreel film of Nazi book-burnings seen today are usually pictures of Hirschfeld’s library ablaze.

***

And that’s the end of Part 1. I’ll post Part 2 sometime next week, and I promise I’ll add other stuff in between just in case some of you aren’t history buffs. Baffling, that, but I hear such creatures do exist.

Oh, a couple of tidbits: word on the street is that Magnus Hirschfeld was gay and a cross-dresser, and that Havelock Ellis was much ridiculed by his friends for being a sexpert with an impotence problem… which was apparently remedied at the tender age of 60 when he became aroused upon seeing a woman pee.

Gawd, I love perverts.


2 thoughts on “an incomplete timeline of sexual diversity – part 1* (and a few happy announcements)

  1. In any history of the sexually diverse, I would include the relationship of Arthur Munby and Hannah Cullwick, the world’s first documented consensual master-slave relationship. They also had a lot of fetishes between them.

    Datenschlag, a German BDSM group, compiled a detailed chronology of BDSM/kink/fetish/queer history, and included a (a href=”http://www.datenschlag.org/english/dachs/index.html”>partial English translation.

  2. Yes indeed… Munby and Cullwick are definitely worth adding. As, surely, are many other facts and stories. Hence the “incomplete” part of the title to this post. I think the absence of Munby and Cullwick also attests to the time at which I put this list together, when I hadn’t yet heard of their story. How lovely that Datenschlag did that – very cool! The Leather Archives and Museum also has a leather timeline on their website. History gives me a boner.🙂 Clearly I’m not the only one!

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