Viv Ellis and Simon Forrest
The forces of inhumanity are overwhelming, but only one’s continued opposition can make any other order possible, can give an added strength for all those who desire freedom and equality to break at last those fetters that seem now so unbreakable.
(R. Duncan in Blasius and Phelan, 1997, p. 233)
This quotation, from an essay written in the 1940s by the American poet Robert Duncan, is an apposite epigraph for this chapter. It is indicative, in a number of ways, of the content of the chapter, and comes from an essay to which we will return in our discussion of the key issue of sexuality and identity. First, it identifies a struggle for human rights, equality and freedom on the part of those oppressed because of their sexuality. In this chapter we will trace some of the history of that oppression and consider the implications of recent events and campaigns for the progress of the struggle for lesbian and gay equality. Second, Duncan’s speculation on the possibility of ‘any other order’ draws attention to a definition of sexuality as a cultural field which is subject to both construction and reconstruction as parts of a historical process. We will consider attempts to define and represent sexuality and show how this is a peculiarly modern enterprise. Third, decontextualized as it is, the quotation appears to allow for diversity of sexual potential rather than delimiting categories such as heterosexual or homosexual. Our discussion will try to focus on conceptions of sexuality per se rather than individual categories, these categories being relatively recent cultural effects. Finally, the epigraph actually comes from an essay by a homosexual male which demonstrates that, even with categories based on sexual behaviour, there is no single or simple identity across the category, no one homosexuality or heterosexuality. Duncan was arguing against such separate identities. So although we may try in this chapter to generalize about sexuality as a cultural field, yet self-consciously hang our comments on a history of categories, especially (but not exclusively) the male homosexual, we will inevitably come back to the very problematic nature of the production of these separate (and multiple) identities (and communities) based on sexual behaviour.