One monkey typing Shakespeare, one post at a time - The love that dare not have its name printed

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September 22nd, 2007


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10:48 am - The love that dare not have its name printed



Scott/sirpupnyc’s reminder that The New York Times has given up on any pay-to-read business model and opened up their premium content and archives to all reminded me that the paper has an amazing online archive. They digitized their morgue (which most likely had previously been on indexed microfilm for decades for their in-house use) that dates back to 1851, since the day of their very inception.

What, I wondered, was the first appearance of the word “homosexual,” or its like? I thought I’d start with the search term “sexual invert,” which is how homosexuals were more politely referred to (including by themselves) since about the turn of the previous century.

“Sexual invert,” and “sexual inversion,” mostly appeared in book reviews (of works by or biographies of Proust, Wilde, Radcliffe Hall, Gide, etc.) dating back to reviews of contemporary translations of some of Proust’s works in 1925. They didn’t make their way into news reporting until 1939, in an obituary of Havelock Ellis, a pioneering researcher in the field of sex.

Surprisingly, “homosexual” had even earlier usage. It’s first appearance in the Times was in 1914 in a heralded special article by George Bernard Shaw about “the great war” (which went on to create a huge scandal, one of the reasons it was first published here and not in his own country), who in his typical bombastic style, fulminates “Meanwhile, we must trust to the march of Democracy to de-Russianize Berlin and de-Prussianize Petrograd, and to put the nagaikas of the Cossacks and the riding-whips with which Junker officers slash German privates, and the forty tolerated homosexual brothels of Berlin, and all the other psychopathic symptoms of overfeeding and inculcated insolence and sham virility in their proper place, which I take to be the dustbin.

Matt/badfaggot suggested that I search instead on “sodomy” (and thus “sodomist” and “sodomite”), and sure enough, up pops a reference from 1851, in their second month of publication:


One of the most interesting articles I came across was probably the first in-depth reporting on homosexuality done by the Times, published in 1963. It gives a fascinating account of what life was like for homosexuals in NYC (at least in how it was reported by “the paper of record”) and factors that would lead to the Stonewall riots six years later. It started discretely on the front page, probably tucked into a corner at the bottom (shown here at the start of my post), but continued to almost a full page inside. Its only photograph was a small portrait of the city’s police commissioner inside, although to their credit they did interview a member of the Mattachine Society, a “serious homophile organization.”



The Times, like most news organizations, in part a reflection of their institutionalized homophobia, resisted the use of the word “gay” to describe homosexuals in their reporting for many years. It’s also a common word, so it’s difficult to find its first use outside of alternate meanings or quotations (as is “queer,” “fag,” and “faggot”). Searching for the use of both “gay” and “homosexual” in the same article, it was first used in their reporting in the 1963 article mentioned above, after the author explained how the term (along with “straight”!) was used by homosexuals.

But for the most part “gay” was not widely used by the Times for many, many years, much to the consternation of gay advocates, who felt it conferred the newspaper’s disrespect and an attempt to withhold legitimacy, much like continuing to refer to blacks as “Negroes” would. The word “gay” was first used naturally and predominantly (in a headline) in 1969 in a theater review, “‘The Boys in the Band’ is Still a Sad Gay Romp,” but here it was being used cleverly in both senses of the word -- and “fag” and “queer” were also used directly as nouns in the review, without quotes or special context. “Gay” appeared again, in quotation marks, in their 1970 reporting (a short unbylined piece buried in their Want Ads section) on the first gay rights march. It appeared in headlines occasionally since then, usually as part of a quotation, the title or a review of a book or movie, or the name of an organization, but wasn’t used widely for many years after these appearances.

It’s easier, then, to search by the terms (and concepts) of “gay men,” “gay pride,” and “gay rights.” Thusly, we can see the progression:

1854 sodomy
1914 homosexual
1925 sexual inversion
1935 queer + homosexual
(review of book by Christopher Isherwood)
1950 perverts (in prominent reporting, meaning homosexuals)
1963 gay (in prominent reporting)
1964 deviants (in prominent reporting)
1971 gay pride (in text)
1971 gay men (in text)
1972 gay rights (in text)
1978 gay man (in text, probably in a quote)
1986 gay rights (in a headline)
1987 gay man (in a headline)
1989 gay men (in a headline)
1989 gay pride (in a headline)

And lastly, while on the subject of usage and reporting, we can note the number of hits certain terms get (although in some cases they are part of a prejudicial quote):

alleged homosexual: 39
admitted homosexual: 31
avowed homosexual: 102
practicing homosexual: 58
notorious homosexual: 9
alleged heterosexual: 0
admitted heterosexual: 1
avowed heterosexual: 1
practicing heterosexual: 3
notorious heterosexual: 0


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Comments:


[User Picture]
From:joebehrsandiego
Date:September 22nd, 2007 03:01 pm (UTC)
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Cool and fascinating stuff - big thanks for assembling it.

Are you a researcher/database guru in your professional life? You have a gift for it.
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From:thornyc
Date:September 22nd, 2007 03:09 pm (UTC)
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Bingo.

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From:kitchenbeard
Date:September 22nd, 2007 03:28 pm (UTC)
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Awesome post. Great info that I think many people don't know about.
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From:thornyc
Date:September 22nd, 2007 03:48 pm (UTC)
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Thanks!

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From:stivalineri
Date:September 22nd, 2007 03:51 pm (UTC)
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I wonder if future gay historians will attribute the sea change among pyschiatrists and psychologists, towards a neutral non-pathological assessment of homosexuality, as the by product of the widespread analysis of gay men and women in New York in the 1960s? It was only ten years from that NYT article until the removal of homosexuality from the DSM-IV.
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From:thornyc
Date:September 22nd, 2007 05:30 pm (UTC)
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I'm not familiar with the history, but it was certainly a major factor. But I remember at the time what a long, slow struggle it seemed like, and largely the result of efforts by gays and lesbians both outside and within the profession.

Given its importance, I'm sure this history and analysis thereof (no pun intended) is referenced in a number of books.

[User Picture]
From:badfaggot
Date:September 24th, 2007 05:55 pm (UTC)
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I would recommend looking at the works of Evelyn Hooker in particular, a research psychologist whose studies of gay life in Los Angeles in the fifties and sixties were some of the first works in the professional literature which did not define homosexuality exclusively in terms of pathology.

There's also a neat little documentary film about Hooker, Changing Our Minds.
From:grammarcub
Date:September 22nd, 2007 04:06 pm (UTC)
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This is absolutely fascinating stuff. Might I suggest you shop this around to some of the national gay magazines? With a minimum of editing, this could be a really solid analysis article for The Advocate or something.
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From:thornyc
Date:September 22nd, 2007 05:34 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for the compliment, but have you looked at The Advocate any time recently? They seem to be more interested in which young male TV actor has the tightest six-pack. There are a few journals that might run something like this, but they'd want it to come from a scholar with a degree.

From:grammarcub
Date:September 22nd, 2007 05:39 pm (UTC)
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Still, I think it's fascinating stuff, and I bet there's a wider audience for it.
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From:thornyc
Date:September 22nd, 2007 05:42 pm (UTC)
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Thank you, I appreciate your esteem.

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From:danibearess
Date:September 22nd, 2007 04:15 pm (UTC)

What a world, what a world‽‽‽

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.
It does boggle the mind how far (and yes, how fast) we've gone in such a very short time.
In Canada, it's been just one generation from the last man jailed for being homosexual to queer marriage.

that (alleged, admitted, avowed, notorious) SpencerBear

p.s. it's being out that changes things, one connexion at a time.
[User Picture]
From:quirkstreet
Date:September 22nd, 2007 04:17 pm (UTC)
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Such a time capsule. This article, in particular, is from the year I was born, so it feels resonant. What a jumble of stuff ... homosexuality as seduction by the mother, Socarides, homosexuals who make an outward show of masculinity, hatred of women as revealed in not flattering women's natural curves in fashion--which last makes me think of those fabulous curve-revealing gowns designed for women on Star Trek by a gay designer. ;-) Etc etc etc.

Thanks!
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From:annoyinghandle
Date:September 22nd, 2007 04:51 pm (UTC)
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Wow -- amazing stuff, Thor. What was the earliest movie review you've found referencing 'mos?

"Invert" has always been a favorite....
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From:thornyc
Date:September 22nd, 2007 05:22 pm (UTC)
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Well, it's a big paper, and multiply that by nearly 160 years. I didn't specifically look for any, but I did come across the the original reviews for Cruising and The Boys in the the Band (including a huge feature about the casting of the latter -- the stage production with all its bitchy queens was a big, revolutionary hit. But no doubt there are earlier references depending on what words you're searching with. Maedchen in Uniform?

What was most interesting was the the vast majority of early mentions of homosexuality were in the book reviews, and later, the theater section. Our lives may have gone unreported, but we wrote our own history.

Searching on "homosexual/s" and "movie" or "film," these appear to be the first mentions:
1955 - "M-G-M Solves Its 'Tea and Sympathy' Script Problem
1959 - review of 'Suddenly, Last Summer'
1961 - "FILMS CHALLENGE CENSORSHIP CODE; Studios Seek Publicity for Movies on Homosexuality"

also of interest:
1979 - 1,000 in 'Village' Renew Protest Against Movie on Homosexuals; "'Cruising' Must Go"
[User Picture]
From:annoyinghandle
Date:September 22nd, 2007 05:36 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, I'd think Maedchen, certainly -- Queen Christina as well (specifically regarding what was left out of the film). Unfortunately, I'm not a home subscriber, so the archive isn't available to me.

As for theatre, The Captive, perhaps/
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From:thornyc
Date:September 22nd, 2007 05:47 pm (UTC)
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Actually, I believe that once you register for a log-on ID, the archive and any premium content is now available to everyone. Everyone is limited to 100 premium articles per month. Just opt out of any newsletters/e-mail options.

[User Picture]
From:annoyinghandle
Date:September 22nd, 2007 06:49 pm (UTC)
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I am registered, so maybe I'm missing something. Will investigate further...
From:chewtoy5
Date:September 22nd, 2007 05:04 pm (UTC)

Sodomy in 1851

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I love how sodomy is couched between embezzlement and abandonment. In this hierarchy it was apparently not considered as bad as receivng stolen goods but worse than forgery. And just who got charged with "bastardy" in 1851, the parent or the child?

Thanks for the research and the amazing post.
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From:thornyc
Date:September 22nd, 2007 05:25 pm (UTC)
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This paper -- although talking about bastardy laws and enforcement in England, states that it was the mother who was charged. Remember -- women wouldn't be allowed to vote until many decades later. Men were absolved of any responsibility.

http://www.loyno.edu/~history/journal/1989-0/haller.htm

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From:beartech420
Date:September 22nd, 2007 05:36 pm (UTC)
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Hey in your terms you forgot "practicing homosexual"

That was my favorite!
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From:thornyc
Date:September 22nd, 2007 05:53 pm (UTC)
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I've practiced so much you'd think I'd be an expert by now!!

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From:robearal
Date:September 22nd, 2007 05:57 pm (UTC)
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I'm gonna practice until I get it right.
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From:deafdyke
Date:September 22nd, 2007 06:55 pm (UTC)
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Excellent read, thanks!

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From:beastbriskett
Date:September 22nd, 2007 07:52 pm (UTC)
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You have mad archive skillz!
Thanks for sharing this golden nugget.
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From:smashingstars
Date:September 22nd, 2007 09:05 pm (UTC)
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This is a terrific post! That 1963 article is frightening, with the references to homosexuality being an "illness" that requires a cure.
From:magebear
Date:September 23rd, 2007 02:11 am (UTC)
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Notorious heterosexual, now there's a goal!

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