Orthodox Sex: Alfred Kinsey and the Re-Making of Jewish Sexuality

By Rachel Gordan

In 1949, Alfred Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Male became a bestseller and sparked a widespread conversation about sexual norms and sexual variance in the US. Kinsey’s 1953 volume on Sexual Behavior in the Human Female was even more explosive as it challenged widely held views of female sexuality. Kinsey’s dry and data-filled unexpected bestsellers successfully touched a nerve in American culture, even reaching into the subculture of Orthodox Jews. While it would be an overstatement to say that Orthodox Jewish leaders in the late 1940s and 1950s embraced Kinsey’s findings and his taxonomic approach to sex, several Modern Orthodox Jewish leaders viewed Kinsey’s popularity as an opportunity to publicize what they viewed as Judaism’s more healthy and candid approach to sex.

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Three women react as they read a review about the Kinsey Report on female sexual behavior, 1950s.

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Queer Sex in the Archives: “Canonizing Homophile Sexual Respectability”

By Whitney Strub

Sometimes the queer stars align right when it’s needed most. Philadelphia has spent the past few decades effectively cultivating an LGBT-friendly reputation, as witnessed in last year’s groundbreaking trans-affirmative city ordinance. But a recent, vicious gaybashing incident in Center City, not to mention Pennsylvania’s unfortunate precedent as the first state (singular until very recently) where same-sex marriage is perversely recognized under law and yet can lead to one’s firing through still-legal discrimination, have reminded us of the ongoing injustices in a moment already being inscribed as triumphant. It’s a crucial moment to think critically about historical narratives, and who better to lead the discussion than Marc Stein?

Drum Magazine

Drum Magazine

Stein, whose City of Sisterly and Brotherly Loves: Lesbian and Gay Philadelphia, 1945-1972, first published in 2000, remains not only the definitive queer study of the Quaker City but an exemplar of LGBT communities studies period, was at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania on October 2, 2014 to discuss “Canonizing Homophile Sexual Respectability: Archives, History, and Memory.” The timing was made even better by adjacent co-sponsor Library Company of Philadelphia, who hosted a pre-lecture reception to celebrate the closing of their fantastic That’s So Gay: Outing Early America exhibition, which set record attendance numbers. While that project looked nationally, Stein focused locally. To pull his expansive theme into focus, Stein used the magazine Drum, published in Philly by gay activist Clark Polak between 1964 and 1967.

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Death by Celibacy: Sex, Semen and Male Health in the Middle Ages

By Katherine Harvey

In the late twelfth century Gerald of Wales, archdeacon of Brecon and a prolific author, wrote a tract on the proper conduct of the clergy. Gerald was writing only a few decades after the First Lateran Council (1123) had introduced compulsory celibacy for all priests, at a time when the sexual behaviour of the clergy was the subject of considerable scrutiny, and much of the tract is taken up with his thoughts on this theme.

A bishop in bed. British LIbrary: Royal 10 E IV, f. 241

A bishop in bed. (British Library: Royal 10 E IV, f. 241)

Gerald also recounts a number of anecdotes, including the tale of an archdeacon of Louvain who was elected bishop of that city against his will. In particular, the archdeacon was worried about his ability to remain celibate, and he only became so after his consecration as bishop. Within a month, he became seriously ill; ‘his genital organs swelled up with immeasurable flatulence.’ To those around him, the cause was clear: the bishop needed to have sex for the sake of his health. He was urged to ‘take a woman to himself’ but, fearing eternal damnation if he prioritised the health of the soul over the health of the body in this way, the bishop refused. The swelling grew worse, and he died a few days later.

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Mainline Protestants and the Struggle for Same-Sex Marriage

By Heather White

Four days ago, a federal judge struck down North Carolina’s same-sex marriage ban. This ruling heralded a legal victory for the United Church of Christ, a Protestant denomination, which had sued the state for the right to marry same-sex couples. Since 2005, the UCC has affirmed its support for “equal marriage rights for couples regardless of gender.” Its lawsuit charged that the state’s DOMA legislation was an unconstitutional violation of their religious freedom.

Rev. Troy Perry performs a Holy Union ceremony for Larry Uhrig and Alan Fox, 1970s. (Courtesy of MCC Family Tree - The Archives of Metropolitan Community Churches)

Rev. Troy Perry performs a Holy Union ceremony for Larry Uhrig and Alan Fox, 1970s. (Courtesy of MCC Family Tree – The Archives of Metropolitan Community Churches)

The UCC’s victory in North Carolina has taken place against the backdrop of growing support among Mainline Protestant denominations for marriage equality. This past June, the Presbyterian Church (USA) formally voted to allow its clergy to perform same-sex marriage, thus adding another denomination to a roster of supporters that includes the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, the Religious Society of Friends and Unitarian Universalists. Other denominations are battling issues of formal policy. The United Methodist Church recently opted to retain the credentials of two clergy who were brought under disciplinary review for performing same-sex marriage ceremonies. The Mennonite Church, also grappling with these questions for over a decade, is in the midst of a similar process. Mainline Protestants’ recent policy decisions on same-sex marriage, however, come out of a much longer history of religious debates over same-sex sexuality.

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Dispatch from The G-Spot: Gentrification, Transformation and Queer San Francisco

In keeping with our commitment of fostering a public and widespread discussion of the history of sexuality within and outside of the academy, we at Notches are pleased to introduce the first post in our “Dispatches” series. Here, we publish our readers’ critical accounts of the conferences, symposia, workshops and suchlike that they attend. Interested in writing a dispatch? Send an email to NotchesBlog@gmail.com

By Megan Martenyi

On September 11, 2014, a crowd of around fifty people filled the San Francisco GLBT History Museum’s exhibition room to talk about one of the most divisive political issues in the city. The opening night of The G-Spot: Gentrification, Transformation and Queer San Francisco marked the first of several community seminars and art programs planned to take place over the next six months. Co-curated by Nan Alamilla Boyd, Raquel Gutiérrez, and Don Romesburg, the series is designed to complicate the way queerness figures in the discourse on gentrification by situating contemporary debates within legacies of struggle.

The theme of the first session – “Homelands and Safe Space” – brought the politics of history to the fore. Over the past decade, the Castro has become increasingly legible as a significant site of LGBTQ history. The city-funded “Castro Street Improvement Project” recently installed commemorative plazas, plaques, and rainbow crosswalks to celebrate the neighborhood’s prideful past. At the same time, evictions in the Castro hit a 12-year high as swarms of real estate speculators purchased multi-unit rental buildings to convert into condos and sell for tremendous profits. Many non-property owning residents have been displaced, including LGBTQ seniors and people living with AIDS. In this context, how San Francisco’s LGBTQ history gets told is a vibrant point of contention. Embedded in these debates and coupled with a provocative set of readings – a primary source from the Advocate, an interview with Lenn Keller, and an academic analysis by Christina Hanhardt – the “G-Spot” curators set out to probe the history of political organizing both for and against the creation of The Castro as a neighborhood, a homeland, a commons, and a commodity.

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Before Grindr, or, The Dangers of the “Gay Bachelor”

By Justin Bengry

In June 1967, opposition Conservative UK parliamentarians encountered a new and threatening queer danger. They feared that the Sexual Offences Bill then before them — a measure that would partially decriminalize male homosexual acts — might appear to sanction, and even promote, homosexual activity. Conservative MP Sir Cyril Osborne therefore proposed an amendment that would make publicizing and publishing lists of homosexuals, in other words printing “gay bachelor” or queer personal ads, a new “serious punishable offence.”


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Even if the government was on the verge of partially decriminalizing male homosexual acts, Osborne’s proposed amendment would nonetheless criminalize what he saw as the commercial promotion of homosexuality. It demanded that,

Anyone who indulges in activities tending to promote acts of homosexuality between consenting adults through the publication of lists of names and addresses of known homosexuals or otherwise, shall be guilty of a criminal offence and shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of five years or a fine of £5,000.

In other words, were the act to pass, anyone who “promoted” entirely legal acts of consensual homosexuality would themselves be committing a criminal offence. Punishment for this new commercial crime would in fact be even more stringent than existing laws for most homosexual offences; acts of gross indecency were then punishable by up to two years imprisonment.

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