Here’s a quote from a recent piece in the Atlantic — “But Were They Gay? The Mystery of Same-Sex Love in the 19th Century” — that displays a degree of ignorance only slightly less astonishing/offensive than the idea of “legitimate rape”; namely, the idea that sex between people of the same gender was somehow invented in the twentieth century. Here, a SENIOR EDITOR of the Atlantic (Jennie Rothenberg Gritz) attributes the “development” of non-heterosexual sex to 1) the Oscar Wilde trial, and 2) the theories of Sigmund Freud. WHAT. Seriously, this kind of writing belongs in the same category as holocaust denial, creationism, and theories linking ethnicity to intelligence, which is to say these are not debatable issues, and to present them as such is intellectually irresponsible and reinforces dangerous stereotypes that have consequences for people fighting for social and political equality right now. In this case — to spell it out — the implication is that because gay sex didn’t exist in the past, there’s really no reason why it should continue in the future, either, like it’s just sort of optional, and gay people should be able to make do with warm hugs and flowery endearments, the way we/they used to do. Except as anyone with a cursory knowledge of history knows, there’s always been gay sex (even if it wasn’t called “gay”), as long as people have been around to describe it, whether through writing, painting, sculpture, or spoken myths of the kind you find in every ancient culture, e.g., the way the Greek god Dionysus had passive/receptive/you-get-the-idea butt sex with a presumably very hot mortal man in exchange for information about a secret route to Hades, which is why penis statues were found at his temples. (But were they gay?) And for the record, Jennie Rothenberg Gritz, we also know that many of the people engaged in this smokin’ hot gay sex had no regrets or guilt, which leads me to the other problem with this kind of writing, i.e., the implication that historical figures are somehow tarnished or reduced by a modern understanding that they were having gay sex, which again implies that heterosexual sex is better than the non-heterosexual kind, which of course is the justification used to deny legal rights and create arbitrary classes of people. So to sum up, that people were having gay sex since the dawn of time is NOT a debatable proposition: it’s a fact. Anything short of an official apology and recantation from the Atlantic for this tripe should raise all sorts of questions not only about the writer herself, but also about everyone affiliated with the magazine.
(via Band of Thebes).