Mapping Male Sexuality: Nineteenth-Century England

By Jay Losey; William D. Brewer | Go to book overview

The Seduction of Celibacy: Threats to Male Sexual Identity in Charles Kingsley’s Writings

LAURA FASICK

AMONG THE MANY CHARGED TERMS THAT HAVE BEEN USED IN THE debates over homosexuality as activity and as identity, few have been as emotion-laden as the words “manliness” and “effeminacy.” For some time, “effeminacy” has served many people virtually as a synonym for male homosexuality1—a usage that would bonify many past and present practitioners of homosexual behavior.2 “Manliness,” or its more common modern equivalent, “masculinity,” conversely suggests heterosexual desire and activity. Yet the many ironies accompanying attempts to define homosexuality itself must surely include the way in which the holders of all positions along the spectrum of possibilities repudiate “effiminacy” and attempt to associate “manliness” with their own stand and its practitioners. As a result, masculinity has assumed a baffling array of guises—a salutary reminder that masculinity itself is best understood as a social construction, but an obstacle to being sure how to understand the word in particular contexts in which it appears.3 In fact, as numerous commentators have pointed out, the idea of homosexuality as an identity dates, like the word “homosexuality” itself, from the late nineteenth century,4 so much so that some earlier practitioners of sodomy could perceive their homosexual acts as distinct from themselves and their own sexual identity.5 In a somewhat different fashion, one might argue that “masculinity” or “manliness” has constituted a separate identity from biological membership in the male sex.6 Why else would such comments as “He’s a real man!” be used (by some people) as praise that differentiates one male not from women but from other, less worthy men?

This still leaves open the question, however, of the extent to

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