Lines of Dissent at London Metropolitan Archives: Finding and Creating LGBTQ Histories

By Claire Hayward

On Saturday 6 December, historians, archivists and activists joined together at London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) to discuss ‘Lines of Dissent’. The 12th LGBTQ History and Archives Conference at LMA chose queer inheritance as its theme this year, which was run in collaboration with the Raphael Samuel History Centre (RSHC). (Disclaimer: NOTCHES is sponsored by RSHC, and I am also a team member). The annual conference raised questions about recording and reading queer inheritances and highlighting ways that queer history and individuals subvert traditional lines of heritage.

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The day began with a keynote by Daniel Monk, Reader in Law and Director of Birkbeck Gender and Sexuality (BiGS), who discussed the perils and pleasures of queer wills. Monk placed queer history within the history of inheritance, highlighting the ways in which queer wills differ from ‘straight’ wills. For example, queer wills include more instances of friends as beneficiaries, as well as more godchildren, nieces and nephews (and the ‘lesbian clause’ — cats). Monk also argued that while queer wills provide an insight into who queer people have gifted to, they are also significant in who is excluded from wills. Monk posited that wills are also a way for queer people to communicate with family members who have rejected them for their sexuality, omitting them and subverting lines of inheritance through gifts to non-family members. Mixing together money, death, families and friendship with queer history make for a fascinating reading, and in doing so Monk highlighted the importance of the many ways we can interpret and subvert inheritance to reveal LGBTQ histories.

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Masters of Sex: Race, Racism and Responses to Masters and Johnson

Note: Spoilers for seasons one and two of Masters of Sex are below.

By Donna J. Drucker

The Showtime television program Masters of Sex focuses on the real-life American sex researchers William H. Masters (1915–2001) and Virginia E. Johnson (1925–2013). Masters and Johnson are best known for their first two book-length sex research studies: Human Sexual Response (1966) and Human Sexual Inadequacy (1970), which introduced the reading public to the four-stage sexual response cycle: excitement, plateau, orgasm, and resolution and to sex therapy for heterosexual married couples. In addition to storylines about the research itself and the researchers’ complicated personal lives, the writers and producers also include storylines that address questions of race in St. Louis, Missouri, in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Libby Masters (Caitlin Fitzgerald) and Robert Franklin (Jocko Sims) address their mutual attraction in season 2, episode 12 of Masters of Sex

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Intimacy and Globalization in Post-Soviet Cuba

By Tiffany A. Sippial

Anthropologist Noelle M. Stout’s new book offers readers an important new perspective on sexuality in post-Soviet Cuba. Stout distinguishes her work from other studies of post-Communist transitions by shifting her focus away from the macroeconomic questions that characterize most studies in the field. Her work draws key connections between economics and interpersonal relations in order to understand how Cubans “make sense of their lives, their relationships, and their place in … [a] shifting economic terrain” (p. 3). Stout further distinguishes her study by eschewing the typical focus on heterosexual encounters in favor of an examination of homoeroticism and globalization. Stout chose to focus on changing notions of intimacy and love, specifically, because they are “diagnostic of broader social trends brought about by post-Soviet economic restructuring” (p. 186).

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Framing her study as an analysis of “intimate economies,” Stout avoids the pitfall of conflating intimacy with sexuality. Instead, she scrutinizes a range of interpersonal relationships from the familial to the sexual in order to understand how intimacy (as both a concept and a set of behaviors) changed with the introduction of capitalism to Cuba. During the decade she spent in the field, Stout conducted approximately one hundred formal and informal interviews with individuals from a variety of different ethnic backgrounds—including twenty-two foreign tourists—who primarily identified as gay. All of her Cuban-born subjects were raised under socialism, and all of them have experienced profound changes in their intimate lives as a result of the economic and political shifts taking place on the island.

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Challenging Heterosexism: The Haringey Experiment, 1986-1987

By Bob Cant

Who is going to take responsibility for researching the sexual politics of Haringey in the 1980s? Haringey is a multicultural North London borough with a population of around a quarter of a million, and major economic contrasts between different localities; it includes Broadwater Farm estate, which was the scene of major riots in 1985. Its policies in the 1980s that related to lesbians and gay men were part of a broader commitment by the council to equal opportunities. By going into previously unexplored territory, Haringey raised all kinds of questions about civic responsibility towards stigmatised sexual minorities, the involvement of such minorities in the development of these policies, the tensions between liberationist politics and social democratic politics, the political management of negative responses to these policies and also strategies for coalition building.

The Haringey story has the potential to be a case study of a historically significant moment for modern sexual politics. Haringey Council’s commitment to support lesbians and gay men in the 1980s brought it into the eye of a storm that had long-term repercussions for engaging with how young people learn about sexuality in the public arena. As someone who helped design these policies, who took on a representational role and who campaigned against the backlash, I do not pretend to be taking an objective view. I am flagging up issues which take this beyond a story of local interest to something that is more universally significant. This post should be read as a call to potential researchers.

Photo of demonstration. Crowd seated on grass facing speakers on platform with large banners: 'Haringey Black Action: Black Lesbians and Gays Fight Back!' and 'Fight Bigotry, Smash the Backlash, Fight Racism'.

Haringey demonstration against bigotry, 1987. (Photo courtesy of Simon Collins)

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Carnivalesque #107

By Katherine Harvey

Welcome to Carnivalesque #107! Carnivalesque is an interdisciplinary blog carnival dedicated to pre-modern history (to c. 1800 C.E.), and NOTCHES is delighted to be hosting the final edition of 2014.  If you are already a NOTCHES reader, then fear not, there is plenty of material on the history of sexuality here! And if you’re new to NOTCHES, welcome! Do take a look at some of our own posts on medieval and early modern sexuality whilst you’re here…

A Receipt for Courtship

A Receipt for Courtship (Library of Congress/ Wikimedia Commons)

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Uncovering Cleveland Street: Sexuality, Surveillance and late-Victorian Scandal

By Katie Hindmarch-Watson

In the summer of 1889 a 15-year-old London telegraph boy named Charles Swinscow had a monumental encounter with his inspector. Charles had eighteen shillings in his pockets, more than twice his weekly salary. Postal Constable Luke Hanks, after discovering this suspicious amount, extracted a statement from Charles that would eventually lead to three different trials, the imprisonment of four men (two for gross indecency, one for libel, and one for obstruction of justice), the lifelong exile of a noted aristocrat, and an international manhunt for a pimp. Charles, a messenger who delivered telegrams between departments at London’s Central Telegraph Office, St Martins Le Grand, had revealed the existence of a house of assignation at 19 Cleveland Street in Fitzrovia, which offered, among other services, sexual encounters between elite men and telegraph boys.

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“The West End Scandals, some Further Sketches,” Illustrated Police News, 4 December 1889.

The subsequent paper trail left by Cleveland Street’s exposure intrigued pioneering historians of the 1970s out to uncover homosexual lives and cultures. Since then, scholars have tended to focus on the elite men who patronized Cleveland Street and on the byzantine twists and turns of the related legal proceedings. The Cleveland Street Scandal also fueled months of sensational headlines and illustrations in London’s tabloid press and has consequently been studied as an example of the era’s journalistic innovations. These days Cleveland Street is a relatively well-known late-Victorian scandal, a prequel to Oscar Wilde’s own disastrous encounters with the law six years later. Cleveland Street has even re-emerged as a London Musical, and there’s an online forum thread devoted to pinning down the former building’s exact location.

Cleveland Street is an acknowledged milestone of London’s sexual past, but it has broader significance to historical developments of the late nineteenth century: what has thus far been missing from discussions about the scandal’s notoriety is that it is as much a revelation about new clandestine information monitoring practices as it is of London’s subcultures. The Cleveland Street Scandal is not only a classic Victorian queer sex scandal; it was the first widely-publicized manifestation of a large, well-coordinated and well-funded postal surveillance system that came into being precisely because of telegraph boys’ prior involvement in London’s pederastic prostitution networks.

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Queering de Sade

By Gert Hekma

51j4LgYnquLOver the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the “divine marquis” influenced literature, philosophy, and artistic and social movements such as Surrealism, Situationism, and Provo. His name became a byword for cruelty and sexual perversion in popular culture, and, as his work was forbidden until the 1960s, for a long time it remained accessible only in underground circles. Despite the celebrated and infamous position that the marquis de Sade holds in such diverse intellectual and artistic traditions and popular imagination, his work has received little serious attention in the fields of gay, lesbian, gender, or queer studies for its discussion of sadism, homosexual practices, and gender variation. And rarely is the life of the author who penned the novel La philosophie dans le boudoir (1795), which includes a tract that is an early declaration for homosexual rights, acknowledged as a predecessor of the gay and queer movements.

William F. Edmiston’s marvelous investigation into Sade as queer theorist stands out for introducing him into these fields. While the violence and cruelty in sexuality that are often seen as typical of Sade’s work receive relatively little attention, themes of homosexuality and incest drive Edmiston’s analysis in a reading that gives a rich overview of gender and sexual transgressions in Sade’s work and life. Literary and biographical analyses frame the third major theme in Edmiston’s work: is homosexuality a practice or proclivity in Sade and his characters?

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