LGBT History
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LGBT History

I want to begin this reflection on the twenty-fifth anniversary of Intimate Matters to say, simply, what it must have meant in 1988 for a relatively new subfield to have a synthetic survey of this quality, and especially for a field such as ours that has had to work so hard to establish its legitimacy within the discipline. We all owe John and Estelle a debt of gratitude for the work that they did a quarter century ago on this volume and the work that they have done since to keep Intimate Matters circulating among us. The field looks different because we have had this book.

Now, I began my preparation for this session by rereading Intimate Matters. And my conclusion was that the organizing paradigm that John and Estelle initially devised to synthesize scholarship on sexuality across four centuries holds up better than I can imagine any other framework they might have come up with surviving twenty-five years of new work. The overriding framework, carried through the new edition, is the story of the separation of sex and reproduction and of the changing meaning of sexuality from a sexuality that is procreative and familial in the colonial era, to a romantic yet conflict-ridden sexuality in the nineteenth-century, to a liberalized and commercialized sexuality in the twentieth. It should be said that this narrative is probably a tighter fit for work on sexuality coming out of women’s history than it is for work on sexuality coming out of lgbt or queer history. The dominant story we might tell in lgbt history, at least for the twentieth century where most of the work has concentrated, is perhaps only tangentially about the separation of sex from procreation; and regulation might be more important than liberalism. The overriding narrative might have much more to do with the halting and uneven move from acts to identities; the formation of urban subcultures; and finally, with the (related) establishment of a homo/hetero binary, persistently fragile as it may be, as the work of Regina Kunzel has recently shown us.1

This is not in any way to suggest that John and Estelle missed the mark, but [End Page 11] rather only to point out that the book is, of course, still shaped by the historiographical moment in which it was first written. This was a moment—the end of the 1980s—when women’s history was much more fully formed than was lgbt history. In 1988 exactly five dissertations in what was then called gay and lesbian history had been completed.2 But the fact that lgbt history was then a fairly limited endeavor enabled John and Estelle to do something important: it enabled them to integrate work on sexuality coming out of women’s history and work on sexuality coming out of gay history into one cohesive narrative. This is something the field has rarely done since. Whether there is now, in fact, a sexuality subfield that holds together under some rubric work on reproduction, birth control, heterosexual courtship, and marriage (the women’s history track), on the one hand, and work on same-sex desire, community formation, homophile movements, and gender nonconformity (the queer history track), on the other—I am fairly uncertain.

What I am certain about—and seeing the easy synthesis between women’s history and gay and lesbian history in Intimate Matters reminded me of this—is that lgbt history has had (and still has) a pretty serious gender problem. I say this both as a practitioner of the field and as someone whose own prior work could be labeled with this charge. lgbt history has had a pretty serious gender problem in a couple of different senses. First, while this field owes a lot conceptually to feminism, understanding gender subordination has not been a priority for lgbt history. There have been some exceptions: I think of Craig Loftin’s marvelous exploration of homophile hostility to the swish as one example.3 Second—this has been said before, but it is important enough to say again—lgbt history has been and continues to be predominantly and unapologetically about male experience...