This paper explores the centrality of ideas about youth and sexuality, sexual corruption and age-structured sexual relationships to the emergence and shape of European sexology. We argue that alongside and informing the emergence of an understanding of sexuality that divided people according to a gendered binary (homosexual/heterosexual) was a series of contested debates about youth and sexuality. Indeed the very category of the homosexual, defined by his/her attraction to an individual (of any age) but of the same sex was, in part, a response to the need to distinguish homosexuality from age-unequal relationships, that were increasingly seen as unacceptable. Our paper also puts cross-European dialogue under the microscope. Some of the tensions informing the emergence of gendered models of sexuality were locally specific (e.g. the Oscar Wilde trials, British public school scandals, the German Knaben-Liebe movement), whereas others (e.g. the study of texts and materials from ancient Greece, debates about the age of consent, etiological questions about the extent to which homosexuality was a matter of influence and corruption) were influential across Europe and discussed in European meetings and congresses. The challenges of facing appropriate methodologies for writing about European connections and European differences in the writing of European sexology is thus a key question that our paper will consider.
Sexology, the scientific study of sexuality, emerged in the nineteenth century and powerfully shaped modern trans* histories. Sexology is mainly remembered for its ‘medicalisation’ of trans* bodies, but early sexologists also studied gender diversity from broader historical, anthropological and literary perspectives. Drawing on our research on this cross-disciplinary dimension of sexology, our presentation asks how we can engage trans* communities to explore the overlapping histories of trans* and sexology. We examine recent exhibitions that have dealt with this relationship and reflect on our own engaged research, e.g. as part of Transvengers, a project that empowered young trans* adults to interrogate different historical sexological understandings of trans*. We will ask what can be gained by turning to the history of sexology and conclude by calling for innovative cross-disciplinary and collaborative methods that allow us to explore the past to think through gender and sexuality today.
Rebecca Langlands (University of Exeter) spoke to the Center for Science, Technology, Medicine & Society at the University of California, Berkeley. This paper is the result of interdisciplinary collaboration within the Rethinking Sexology and Sexual Knowledge, Sexual History projects at University of Exeter. Taking as its case study the collaboration between Havelock Ellis and John Addington Symonds, it argues that this new form of sexual knowledge was itself fundamentally interdisciplinary. Even as a number of European medical doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, neurologists and others began to reconfigure sex as a subject worthy of scientific investigation, this new science did not reject history – as has often been assumed – but embraced it as an important part of the scientific project. Our analysis also shows how the heterosexual/homosexual binary, and the idea that homosexuals are “born this way” – still so influential today – was not an inevitable consequence of their study of sexual behaviour. Rather it represented a deliberate, pragmatic choice from among various available models by early sexologists, who had an eye to using this new form of sexual knowledge to further their own social and political goals.
Our director Dr Jana Funke was invited to talk at the Mediating History’s Materiality, 1700-1900 Workshop at the University of Freiburg, July 2014. She spoke on ‘Desiring the Past: Archaeology, History and the Emergence of Western Sexual Science.’
Dr Jana Funke, who directs our project, was the plenary speaker at the Beyond the Victorian/Modernist Divide Conference at University of Rouen, March 2014. Her paper was “Sexual Science, Modernism and the Politics of Anti-Victorianism.”
Our project directors Professor Kate Fisher and Dr Jana Funke were invited to speak at the Sexology and Translation Symposium, Birkbeck University, June 2012, on “Translating the Past: Havelock Ellis as Historian.”