Katz - Invention of heterosexuality.pdf - -~-~ Jonathan Ned...

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SEXUALITY Reading 13 THE INVENTION OF HETEROSEXUALITY JONATHAN NED KATZ H eterosexuality is old as procreation, ancient as the lust of Eve and Adam. That first lady and gentleman, we assume, perceived them- selves, behaved, and felt just like today's heterosexuals. We suppose that heterosexuality is unchanging, universal, essential: ahistorical. Contrary to that common sense conjecture, the concept of heterosexual- ity is only one particular historical way of perceiving, categorizing, and imagining the social relations of the sexes. Not ancient at all, the idea of het- erosexuality is a modern invention, dating to the late nineteenth century. The heterosexual belief, with its metaphysical claim to eternity, has a particular, pivotal place in the social universe of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries that it did not inhabit earlier. This essay traces the historical process by which the heterosexual idea was created as ahistorical and taken-for- granted. '" By not studying the heterosexual idea in history, analysts of sex, gay and straight, have continued to privilege the "normal" and "natural" at the ex- pense of the "abnormal" and "unnatural." Such privileging of the norm ac- cedes to its domination, protecting it from questions. In making the normal the object of a thorough-going historical study we simultaneously pursue a pure truth and a sex-radical and subversive goal: we upset basic preconcep- tions. We discover that the heterosexual, the normal, and the natural have a history of changing definitions. Studying the history of the term challenges its power. Contrary to our usual assumption, past Americans and other peoples named, perceived, and socially organized the bodies, lusts, and intercourse of the sexes in ways radically different from the way we do. If we care to un- ~er~tand this vast past sexual diversity, we need to stop promiscuously pro- JectIng our own hetero and homo arrangement. Though lip-service is often paid to the distorting, ethnocentric effect of such conceptual imperialism, the category heterosexuality continues to be applied uncritically as a universal Katz, Jonathan Ned. "The Invention of Heterosexuality." Socialist Review, vol. 20, no. 1, Jan.-Mar. 1990, pp. 7-34. -_. 150 Jonathan Ned Katz 151 analytical tool. Recognizing the time-bound and culturally-specific character of the heterosexual category can help us begin to work toward a thoroughly historical view of sex .... ® BEFORE HETEROSEXUALITY: EARLY VICTORIAN TRUE LOVE, 1820-1860 In the early nineteenth-century United States, from about 1820 to 1860, the heterosexual did not exist. Middle-class white Americans idealized a True Womanhood, True Manhood, and True Love, all characterized by "purity"- the freedom from sensuality. I Presented mainly in literary and religious texts, this True Love was a fine romance with no lascivious kisses. This ideal contrasts strikingly with late-nineteenth and twentieth century American incitements to a hetero sex.* Earl~ Victoria~ True Love was only realized within the mode of proper procreatIOn, marnage, the

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