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Homosexuality refers to sexual behaviors and desires between males or between females. Gay refers to self-identification with such practices and desires. Gay and homosexual are terms mostly used only for men. Definitions have run into major problems, and nowadays the gender-inclusive concept queer indicates the fluency of sexual practices and gender performances. Since the 1970s, gay and lesbian, queer or LGBT studies (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) is an interdisciplinary specialization, connecting sociology to history, anthropology, and cultural studies. Sociology itself had a late start, although some of the key figures in the field were sociologists.
The term homosexual was first used in 1869 for political claims. Most of the early scholarly work on homosexuality was focused on psychiatry until the sociological breakthrough with Alfred Kinsey. He became the founder of the sociology of (homo)sexuality through his two books on sexual behavior of males and females (Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, 1948; Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, 1953). He produced the first sexual statistics. He found 37 percent of US men have had homosexual experiences and 4 percent exclusively and lifelong. This work changed the focus from the aberrant homosexual with gender identity problems to the society discriminating against homosexuals.
The Chicago School started in the same period to study sexual variation in urban gay subcultures. In 1979 the concept of gay ghetto” was introduced by Martin Levine. After the queer turn of the 1990s, books on space and sexuality appeared. Gay urban histories boomed with George Chauncey’s Gay New York (1994) and David Higgs’ collection Queer Sites (1999). The symbolic-interactionist concept stigma was added to urban sociology, fitting the change from psychology to sociology, from pathology to activism. Gay men went on from psychiatrists into streets and finally to same-sex marriages. Gagnon and Simon (1973) developed sexual scripting,” later named narrative or story (Plummer 1995). Others engaged with the stages of homosexual coming out”: sensitization, resistance, acceptance, integration.
From the late 1970s the research became historical-sociological with Michel Foucault’s 3-volume Histoire de la sexualite (1976, 1984, 1984). The first volume was the founding work of social constructionism.” Herein he remarks on the change from the legal concept of sodomy, an act, to the medical one of homosexuality, an identity that will be insistently researched as part of the politics of the body. He showed how discourses of sexual liberation had been around for two centuries and mainly contributed to normalization and stricter control of sexuality.
The rise of AIDS stimulated research on gay life, especially on sexual and preventive practices. The main aim was to impede risky behaviors and the method surveying sexual behavior. The outcome surprised because numbers of gay men were everywhere lower than those found by Kinsey. Specialized topics came to the forefront ranging from male prostitution, suicide, ethnic and age diversity to bisexuality, transgenderism, and SM (sadism and masochism). Recent issues are same-sex marriage and parenthood, homosexuals in the army, antigay violence, or discrimination.
The main question in gay research is the definition of the object of study. Most research is dependent on self-identification of interviewees, who may be unwilling to disclose their preferences. There are no objective criteria to define homosexuals. Kinsey therefore developed a homo-heterosexual scale from 0—6 of practices and fantasies. Other authors created layered scales that included more facets.
Biology often equates effeminacy and sexual passivity in males with homosexuality, while sociology should study the repercussions of such attributions. The research advice should be to learn the terminologies the respondents themselves use and clarify those. Classifications of homosexualities have been proposed based on gender, age, and class differences.
The new concept of sexual citizenship highlights the social aspects of sexuality. Such elements were hidden by the traditional relegation of sexuality to the natural and private. This terminology draws attention to the intimate or sexual side of citizenship. It is about body politics that are ruled by heteronormativity. These codes pervade all societal institutions and deserve more attention.
- Bell, D. & Binnie, J. (2000) The Sexual Citizen: QQueer Politics and Beyond. Polity Press, Cambridge.
- Gagnon, J. & Simon, W. (1973) Sexual Conduct: The Social Sources of Sexual Meaning. Aldine, Chicago, IL.
- Plummer, K. (1995) Telling Sexual Stories. Routledge, London.