- The Gendering of Men, 1600–1750, Vol. 2: Queer Articulations
Thomas King’s second volume of The Gendering of Men is an ambitious work that offers new theoretical methods by which scholars of gender and sexuality might rethink the way we approach the history of homosexuality. In his introduction, King announces that he is uninterested in the project of recuperating a gay male history rooted in a belief in—and quest for—a fundamental gay male essence; instead, he proposes to search the historical archive for traces of queer practices that inscribe themselves on the surfaces of male bodies.
At the outset of Queer Articulations, King notes the longstanding stereotypes that connect homosexuality to acting. Starting from this conventional idea, he scrutinizes the performative uses of the body that inform both the actor’s repertory of voice, gesture, and movement and the queer man’s campy comportment and theatrical self-display. King identifies the origins of these excessively mannered uses of the body in the politics and erotics of subjection and domination that characterized relationships between and among men within the English and French courts of the early seventeenth century. These performative dynamics of super- and subordination among men lingered on in the bodily practices of those who resisted pressures to conform to emergent models of hegemonic masculinity that insisted that men identify in relation to and against women, that men fully embrace heterosexual desire, and that men define themselves vis-à-vis increasing demands for bourgeois domesticity. Resisters against these injunctions adopted queer practices of both theatricality and sodomy as a means of signaling their refusal to embrace normative masculinity. [End Page 140]
For example, in his opening chapter, King examines the practice of holding one’s arm akimbo—the placement of the arm on the hip with the hand turned back and the elbow extended into space. Examining mannerist portraits of seventeenth-century male aristocrats, King posits that such a posture originally signified sovereign legitimacy, as well as a patriarchal relationship in which the aristocratic figure spectacularly asserts power over others through a dynamics of authority and obeisance. However, by the early eighteenth century, placing the arm akimbo had come to be understood as a gesture signifying effeminate sodomy. During this era, the man with his arm akimbo resurfaces in satirical images intended to ridicule male effeminacy. Examining an array of imagery that encodes bodily performance, King persuasively reads twentieth-century images of the arm akimbo in light of earlier representations of the same gesture.
In subsequent chapters, King examines both textual and visual representations of male effeminacy in bodily practice. His discussion of London’s molly houses of the early eighteenth century (public houses where men were believed to cross-dress, have sex with one another, and perform travesties of marriage and childbirth) usefully aligns representations of masculine women and effeminate men. King identifies both as figures who refused to participate in increasingly normative modes of domesticity and heterosexuality. The spectacular theatrics of the mollies (effeminate men, many of whom were also sodomites) encode in their corporeal performances an already outré mode of aristocratic theatricality, as do the outrageous antics of the “roaring girls”—masculine women who featured in the drama of an earlier age. Through satires, erotic novels, and sensationalized accounts of sodomy trials, effeminate men came to emblematize the inversion of the private, domestic male: the public, ubiquitous, affected sodomite.
In a chapter devoted to the Restoration-era actor Edward Kynaston, King notes the ways that Kynaston, who had played female roles as a boy, was situated “at the margins of manliness” through a lingering effeminacy in his performances, particularly through his canting mode of vocal delivery. King examines defenses of Kynaston by Colley Cibber, whose reputation was also tainted by suspicions of sodomy. While some found in Kynaston’s effeminate acting a sign of inward sodomitical desire, Cibber attempted to deflect such charges by foregrounding Kynaston’s persuasive acting ability. Nevertheless, suggestions of effeminate sodomy persisted in accounts of Kynaston’s life, relying upon an...