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by Stephen O. Murray
University of Chicago Press, 2002
Review by Sundeep Nayak on Dec 26th 2003


Private homosexual conduct has changed in it perception so much in the seventeen years that it took to definitively declare the Bowers v. Hardwick ruling (478 U.S. 186, 106 Supreme Court 2841, 92 L. Ed.2d 140) unconstitutional in June 2003. The magic of history is manifest in its evanescence: yesterday’s headlining Defense of Marriage Act is tomorrow’s footnote. Stephen O. Murray, a comparative sociologist from San Francisco, amalgamates hundreds of citations and culls the published literature for a coherent and incredibly wide-reaching stratification of same-sex behavior through the ages and across national lines in Homosexualities.

‘Age-structured homosexualities’ filters recurring patterns of diversity seen through the prism of cultural diffraction. The normative primary direction of desire is from the older and the direction of duty is from the younger, irrespective of the particular physical sexual acts desired. These loosely documented patterns are but roses by any other name. In the absence of unifying theories, semantics may make things appear more dissimilar than they truly are but a critical dissection clearly indicates the converse. Examples include the universally acknowledged (Japanese acolytes and pages, ancient Greek pederasts, American hustlers) and the chimeratically obscure (boy-wives in the Sudan, cruising grounds in Early Modern Italy, Islamic prostitutes). It is delightful to bask in the non-Eurocentric light that illuminates the effluvia of published literature.

‘Gender stratified organization of homosexuality’ proposes that geographically disparate societies display different levels of acceptance and assign different meanings to loosely established female and male homosexual roles, gender identity and purportedly sacralized roles. Here, it is the penetrated male who eagerly seeks relatively indifferent penetrators. Conventionally masculine males have often been passive, paid by or supported by an unmasculine male eager to be penetrated. The subsection that examines in considerable detail the intertwined roles of religion and homosexuality (Afro-Brazilian Possession religions, Northeastern Siberia’s Transformed Shamans, Prostitution of Peruvian temple functionaries) is extremely lucidly presented to captivate the reader.

‘Egalitarian homosexualities’ pertain to the current avatar of same-sex behavior. It emphasizes that mobility (both in space and occupations different from the conventional norm) is an essential pre-condition for the obvious urban concentration and multiplication of probably exclusive and non-role-bound relationships of modern homosexuality. For the non-status-defined homosexual of today, who is the lover and who the beloved is matters progressively less as the receptive/insertive balance is rarely precisely equal but not clearly structures without the historical finite expectations of dominance, submission, and resistance.

This compendium is an excellent resource that reviews the evolution of societal homosexualities. On the other hand, it establishes firm but hitherto lesser known historical and cultural perspectives that would support full civil rights for gays and lesbian. Homosexualities is not easy summer reading but it illuminates its thousand points of light with crisp celerity.


Read more in:


q       Aldrich R: Colonialism and Homosexuality. 320 pp. Routledge. ISBN 0415196167. January 2003

q       Bray A: Homosexuality in Renaissance England. 165 pp. Columbia University Press. ISBN 0231102895. April 1995

q       Cook M, beer G: London and the Culture of Homosexuality, 1885-1914. 240 pp. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521822076. October 2003

q       Crompton: Homosexuality and Civilization. 623 pp. Belknap Press. ISBN 067401197X November 2003

q       Dellamora R: Victorian Sexual Dissidence. 328 pp. University of Chicago Press ISBN 0226142272. June 1999

q       Edsall NC: Toward Stonewall: Homosexuality and Society in the Modern Western World. 377 pp. University of Virginia Press. ISBN 081392219. October 2003

q       Satinover J; Homosexuality and the Politics of truth. 288pp. Baker Book House. ISBN 080105625X. January 1996

q       Zeikowitz RE: Homoeroticism and Chivalry: Discourses of Same-Sex Desire in the 14th century. 256 pp. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 1403960429. May 2003


© 2003 Sundeep Nayak


Dr. Nayak is an Assistant Professor of Clinical Radiology in the University of California School of Medicine San Francisco and his interests include mental health, medical ethics, and gender studies. A voracious reader and intrepid epicure, he enjoys his keyboards too much. He enjoys sweeping works of literature that span across cultures, generations, continents and international airline hubs.


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