Class Outline

University of Toronto: Department of History

History 430Y

Instructor: David Higgs, office UC F303
Office tel: 978-8145

Since 1980 social and cultural historians have produced a substantial body of research dealing with the ways in which governments and individuals in the Christian West dealt over time with aspects of minority sexual behaviours that did not conform to the majority heterosexual norms. The effects of the latter on women had been discussed in The Second Sex of Simone de Beauvoir, first published in 1949.

This seminar will provide a historical perspective on social relations, cultural manifestations and the political issues related to the existence of dissident sexualities, primarily before 1981. The historical literature is less rich for the period before 1900 than that afterwards when more writers were addressing the contemporary history which they had experienced, like the Radclyffe Hall novel of 1928, The Well of Loneliness.

Most of the Second Term will consider the Contemporary Era since 1900. We shall consider some aspects of research in other parts of the world on manifestations of sexual diversity. (See Stephen O. Murray, Homosexualities (Worlds of Desire) (2000) and Dennis Altman, Global Sex (2001).

More historical information and research is extant on past varieties of male homosexualities than that on lesbians, but six sessions of the course will be entirely devoted to discussions of investigations into women's dissident sexualities.

Becki L. Ross writes: "In spite of the very different social and historical bases of the subordination of male and female homosexuality, some theorists have/ attempted to treat lesbianness and gayness as indistinguishable. [footnotes early work of Dennis Altman and essays by Kenneth Plummer] Yet the inclusion of lesbians in one seamless, undifferentiated gay/lesbian movement, community, or minority obliterates and distorts the specificity of lesbian lives. Rather than collapse gay and lesbian under the unitary category of homosexual, thereby implying that lesbians are simply female counterparts of homosexual men, sociohistorical analysis must address the particularities of female same-gender experience. Moreover, critical attention to differences among lesbians along lines of class, race/ethnicity, age, region, and ability disrupts singular notions of `lesbian identity' as universal, transhistorical and transcultural." Becki L. Ross, The House that Jill Built: a Lesbian Nation in Formation, Toronto, UofT Press, 1995, 6-7.

Where relevant lesbian material will be discussed in other sessions.

Class Outline
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