Homosexuals

Sexual anxiety and projections are a common, even universal, feature of societal "core dangers". Quite why this is so is open to speculation, but one can claim that such anxieties powerfully feed upon, and create images of, transgression and corrosion, positing a dangerous body/ activity/Other who personifies the threat. It is telling that, for example, the social purity movements of the nineteenth century placed so much emphasis on sexual impropriety, prostitution, and disease. Images of unruly sexual contagion have been referred to in connection with the crowd and hinted at in the different kind of "unbounded pleasure" inferred in relation to the addict. At a general level, sexuality was eminently linkable to the logic of degeneration and its bio-political domains of population, pathology, and heredity; Gilman (Chamberlain & Gilman, 1985) claims that "No realm of human experience is so closely tied to the concept of degeneration as that of sexuality" (p. 191). An erosion, or even seizure, of power by this Other was the worst prospect for society. "Homosexuals" (I use the term for shorthand, although it covers a number of others in the nineteenth-century vocabulary of deviance)6 were considered by some to represent the ultimate spectre of degeneration, with same-sex desire constituting those "dark places" (itself, a Gothic, potentially racial, image) of the psychic and social worlds. So positioned, between criminality, decadence, and fear, it was peculiarly difficult for such subjects to answer back or to gain a voice; "Any actual or political challenge from such marked-out groups was neutralised by the charge of degeneracy" (Greensdale, 1994, p. 18). Whilst I limit my discussion chiefly to sexology and its implications, medicine was by no means the only plane within which the "problem" and "danger" of same-sex desire was highlighted.

The nineteenth-century science of sexology was integral to the carving up of the new territory of psychiatry. Although it is easy now to regard psychopathia sexualis as an obsolete science, it had widespread influence, including the formation of psychoanalysis (Freud borrowed extensively from it, whilst transforming its terms) and on many taken-for-granted post-Victorian representations of sexuality (Bland & Doan, 1998). In an over-dramatic yet interesting claim, Foucault (1979b) argues that medicine effectively "invented" the homosexual (he cites 1870 as its birth date), in so far it was only from this moment in time, supposedly, that "homosexual became a personage, a past, a case history, a life form and a morphology, with an indiscreet anatomy and possibly a mysterious physiology . The sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a species" (p. 43). In his view, sexology represented a generative way of specifying individuals, classifying natures, and identifying disorders, the realm of "perversions". Similarly, Reed (2001) traces the move from "acts to natures", "sodomites to homosexuals", and the significance of the gathering of new kinds of "evidence" in psychiatry and sexology, including the use of the deviant "case study" as exemplar and iconographic devices (e.g., photographs) as identifiers of "types".

Sexology classified bodies, defining the true nature of feminine and masculine beings and, by complement, identified those beings who veered off into inversion or deviation; "Healthy subjects—structurally equivalent and behaviourally similar—would behave rationally and appropriately" (Gilbert, 2007, p. 6). In this regard, sexology is relatable to the processes of "normalising judgment" and "hierarchical observation" identified by Foucault (1977) in his notion of the "disciplinary society". As for nineteenth-century and fin de siecle anxiety, Showalter (1990) describes the panoply of fears that ran through England, especially those that threatened cherished belief in the separate spheres and proper places of men and women. Was England in danger of becoming feminised from within and losing its virility? Showalter draws connections between fears of sexual erosion and those related to class challenges and racial "mixing"; likewise, Somerville (1994) emphasises the racial dimension in segregated America, with the twin pathologisation of the non-white body and the non-heterosexual body.

Why was the figure of the homosexual, or invert, so central to the nosological project of sexology? And how did concerns about relationships between and within the sexes take on the importance that they did? These are large questions. In France, birthplace of degeneracy theory, Nye (1989) notes that by 1900, homosexuality was considered a grave threat to the nation and this in spite of the fact that, unlike in the England of the time, homosexuality between men was not illegal under the French penal code. It was assumed that effeminacy in men (including, but not exhausted by, homosexuality), reproductive sterility, and fears around the emancipation of women, presaged doom. Nye argues that as medical ideas around the human sexual economy were tied in to the capacity to engender, reproductive ideals and family were enshrined as central, unquestioned principles. Sexual energy was a finite resource and so perversion signified an excess, misuse of, or deficiency in, sexual expenditure. Nye (1989) contends that "rising rates of alcoholism, insanity, crime, syphilis and other organic and social pathologies bred widespread fears amongst critics of culture and the political elite that La Grande nation was in a state of irreversible biological decline" (p. 36).

Masculinity, as assertion or perversion, was both a source of such problems and a part of the solution to them. It can be suggested that sexology provided a measure of reassurance, in so far as medical and psychiatric science added weight to prevalent definitions of normality and traditional masculine identity. In other words, sexology offered a discursive resource through which sexual selfhood and biomedical reality was defined and assured. Sedgwick (1994) emphasises the hardening of homo/heterosexual definitions, with the latter dependent for its own definition on its derogated other: homosexuality. Her case is that in such "world-mapping", everyone became assignable to a binarised identity, an exclusive homo- or a hetero-sexuality, although her view is not without qualification (Brickell, 2006, analyses the complexities of sexology). The binary of sexual identity was nevertheless congruent overall with the medical bipolarity: normal and pathological (Nye, 1989).

In England, masculinity also faced a crisis, perhaps expressed differently to in France. One response was increasing male solidarity, as exampled in the formation of male clubs and societies—working class and middle class—although greater homo-sociality was paradoxical in its effects. Brady's (2005) research argues that there were no real models of sexuality between men and that "independent, uxorious masculine social status was the benchmark of social inclusion" (p. 221). Weeks (1977) notes a deepening hostility towards homosexuality in the same period, with "male lust" seen as a breeding ground for prostitution and homosexuality and that homosexuality had supplanted masturbation as the chief vice in society. One can readily appreciate how emergent sexualities, and the dangerous identities they suggested, were a powerful threat to the sanctity of procreation and the family, leading to increasing efforts to reimpose natural and unnatural distinctions into human behaviour. Having a long prehistory in the social unconscious, such distinctions, and the corresponding "crimes against nature" that accompany them, were not difficult to resuscitate.

Fears associated with decadence, indecency, and homosexuality came together, spatialised in the new urban centres and city. Walkowitz's (1992) research identifies the city as the maelstrom or labyrinth within which new narratives of sexual danger arose. Cook (2003) notes that the city (his subject is London) was seen in two contrasting ways, either as imperial, cosmopolitan, and lively metropolis or as decadent, degenerate, marred by poverty or immorality. Different districts or segments could typify these contrasts, such as a serious and grand financial district and a feminised, more sexualised West End.

Modern cities could suffer the same fate as imperial Rome and classical Greek society. In his chapter "A grossly indecent city", Cook examines press responses to homosexual scandals and fears, with an increasing journalistic emphasis on the importance of detecting and uncovering vice. The figure of the homosexual, leading a double-life, was one of the personages to be exposed: "This idea of concealed lives and the need to render them visible was crucial to the maintenance of sexual order, since it brought with it a regime of watchfulness and vigilance" (Cook, 2003, pp. 63-64). Homosexuality was both threat and symptom of a wider malaise, with Cook tracing some of the euphemisms used to describe it—"the hideous crime", "something objectionable", "a certain offence", and so on. The term "morbid" signified inversion, in a culture that stressed "manly assertion" and healthy bodies above all (Greensdale, 1994).

The final point to be made about this ambiguous naming in the press and courts, and the collation of "cases" by the sexologists, is that for some it provided the means by which the excluded could self-identify a desire which had not previously been named or recognised. In other words, some of the indirect references in the public domain had an opposite effect to that intended, in allowing a homosexual subculture to gain confidence in its own undeniable presence. Likewise, whatever the more reactionary aspects of sexology, the discourse of depiction and typology created new narrative and physical spaces within which "inverts" could stand up and naturalise themselves and, indeed, create the possibility of "reverse discourses" modeled on the very cases that were presented (Foucault, 1978b; Reed, 2001; Weeks, 1977).

Conclusion

Concepts of degeneracy permeated nineteenth--century "common sense", traversing different discourses and times, and entering into the very constitution of the social imaginary with its rich constellation of public dangers (Arata, 1996). In a real sense, degeneracy was "the condition of conditions, the ultimate signifier of pathology" (Pick, 1989, p. 8). As we have seen, several personages populated the field of degeneracy, including criminals, vagrants, addicts, perverts, prostitutes, and one or two "other monsters" (Pasquino, 1980). Some degenerates survived, or had an afterlife, into the next century, following the effective demise of the background concept of degeneration.

We have considered alcoholics, addicts, and homosexuals, where some of the overlapping chains between such suspect subjects seem clear—associations to vice, concealed lives, and the corrosions that each sow. Both represented a danger of "habit", deviations from the natural and non-productive, non-procreative wastage, a "solitary vice".

The visible, multiform presence of degeneracy—through types of person and physical stigmata—combined with its invisible effects, as its processes worked silently through the fibres and connective tissues of society. This visible, visual element is important, for as Skelly (2010) argues, "The visual culture of addiction points again and again to the desire for the legible addicted body, which parallels the desire for the legible homosexual body" (p. 171). Yet the hidden aspect is also important in the generation of social dangers and concerns. Hence, the visible/ invisible, present/not-quite-present quality created potent fears, with degeneracy both nowhere and everywhere, with the "mother soil" of social life at risk of fatal contamination. The threat to the social body, to customary ways of life, was judged to be considerable; "Between culture and anarchy, safely and atavistic violence, there was only a 'very thin and precarious partition'" (Pick, 1989, p. 223).

The fascinating field of degeneracy is explored in the next chapter through the medium of the novel, in which degeneracy infiltrates the domestic sphere, hitherto the very interior of safety.

 
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