"Of all mankind's ideas, the equating of sex with sin has left the greatest train of trouble."
Why this chronology? Basically to assemble the known historical facts about homosexuality in an easily accessible format, to make those facts available to the widest possible audience, and hopefully to peak the interest of future scholars, and dilettantes alike, to delve into the still largely uncharted waters of gay historical research.
This chronology is the result of a labor of love that began almost thirty years ago when I began assembling the few readily available facts that were known about homosexuality in history. Since that time a small host of gay and lesbian historians, have added greatly to that fund of knowledge, and yet the process has just begun. This chronology is an attempt to organize that knowledge in a simple, easily understood format.
The chronological format was chosen, first and foremost because it is easy. Easy to understand, making it more accessible to more people. And easy to write, and update. With a minimum of words, the known facts can be presented without the hard work of trying to figure out what they all mean. A task which is purposely left to the reader.
I make no pretense at painstaking scholarship. I have presented most references as I found them. I have not tried to verify every entry. I have not footnoted the references, as that would have turned this into a drudgery that I have neither the time, energy, nor inclination to pursue. Much of this information is gleaned from the standard works on homosexuality found in any reasonably decent library. Another large portion of the information comes from scattered references from the whole range of human inquiry, to properly identify the sources of this information would require an index nearly as long as the text. Such an index would be undeniably useful, but will have to be done by someone else.
The chronology suffers from a number of biases. It is confined almost exclusively to Western Culture, and to male homosexuality, reflecting not only the limitations of my own research, but also of the available information.
From the first intellectual inquiry into the topic of homosexuality, theory has greatly out-distanced fact. This was true of the first Jewish and Christian commentators on the Talmud, and Bible, and of endless legions of theologians throughout history who followed in their wake, nor was it less true of the jurists who followed in their wake, nor, unfortunately, of the physicians, psychiatrist, and early sexologist who took the issue over in the mid-nineteenth century.
Unfortunately, this penchant to reduce the growing, but still meager historical facts about homosexuality to ideological constructs has been no less true of many of the gay and lesbian historians who have struggled valiantly to rescue the topic from the physicians, psychiatrist, politicians, and priests. Unfortunately, it seems, that interpretations our own political agenda has led to theoretical constructs that often seem to play havoc with the facts as they are known, and lead to untenable “social constructs” that I fear will in the long run do us no good. It is for that reason that I have put an emphasis on fact, and have stayed away as much as possible from theoretical constructions and interpretations. I leave that to the reader, with the caution that they keep in mind that the facts themselves are often skewed by the sources themselves.
Much of our information is narrowly focused, depending on the available sources at any given time and place. For example, in the early Christian period our information about homosexuality comes almost exclusively from church sources, and thus, is heavily weighted as a discussion about sin, penance, and the imagined wrath of God. Later, the sources are penal law and court records, thus casting the subject of homosexuality in terms of criminality, by the nineteenth century homosexuals are more often written about as medical or psychological problems, and, in more recent times, we have pursued a politics of liberation, in which we have defined ourselves in largely political terms. It remains to be seen how own definitions will change as the result of the Aids epidemic.
The history of homosexuality in Western Culture, in the first millennium of the Christian era, is largely the story of Christianity taking a tale of confusing moral import, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, and using it to impose its own anti-sexual, and specifically anti-homosexual bias on a Europe that seemingly had long ago worked out its own rather benign accommodations with male on male sexuality.
Long before the Christian era, Jewish scholars had used the Sodom story as a kind catch-all morality fable, demonstrating the folly of provoking God's anger by not following his rules. That homosexuality was one of the sins these scholars hoped to suppress by the story's retelling, is likely. That it was the only sin attributed to Sodom and Gomorrah is simply inaccurate.
It was the First Century AD Jewish philosopher, Philo Judaeus of Alexandria who indelibly lay the sin of Sodom at the door of the homosexual. As uncomfortable with the thriving homosexuality they encountered in the Ancient Mediterranean world, the early church fathers were quick to adopt Philo's interpretation of the sins of Sodom.
At the beginning of the Christian era, there was nowhere in Europe where homosexuality was penalized, or bared by the law. It was openly practiced, and even glorified by the Greeks and Romans, as it was by most peoples of the Mediterranean. It was reputed to have been wide spread, and respected among the Celts, as well as among the nomadic people of the Russian steppes and Asia Minor. There were no Nordic or Germanic laws against it, and it is not until the 7th Century, that the first European secular law criminalizes sodomy. In Northern and Eastern Europe sodomy did not enter the criminal codes until the 16th & 17th centuries.
Throughout history, outbursts of anti-homosexual scapegoating have accompanied struggles for power, whether it was between church and pagan, the church and secular power, one church against another, as in the Inquisition, the imposition of control of one people over another, as in the conquest of the new world, in the struggle of one nation against another or of one politician against another. Homosexuals like the Jew, the heretic, and the unorthodox is a favored scapegoat in Western Culture.
Except for very ancient times, and very recent times most of what we known about homosexuals, is in their role as outcast and victim. What we have very little record of is an indifference towards, if not tolerance for homosexuality, that, as now, likely co-existed with the more strident official view.
What we know the least about for most of our history is how we found one another, what kinds of social groups we may have formed, what kinds of personal relations we entered into, or what we thought about ourselves and the other homosexuals we came into contact with, or what our families and friends knew about us, and how they reacted to that knowledge. This kind of information will be infinitely more difficult to find, and for many periods of history may not exist. At any rate it must be remembered that our information is skewed, and that as a result any theories we base upon them will reflect those distortions.
I hope this chronology will help encourage an ongoing inquiry into our history.
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