September 22nd, 2007
|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:
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
|Date:||September 22nd, 2007 05:57 pm (UTC)|| |
I'm gonna practice until I get it right.