Perverts in Groups: The Social Life of Homosexuals


Contradictory assumptions about the relations of homosexuals to groups have dominated accounts of modern LGBT life. In Western Europe and the United States, from the late 19th century onwards, queers have been presented as profoundly isolated persons—sure that they are the only ones ever to have had such feelings when they first realize their deviant desires and immediately separated by those desires from the families and cultures into which they were born. Yet these isolated individuals were also seen as inseparable, always able to recognize each other by means of mysterious signs decipherable by no one else. Homosexuals were denounced as persons who did not contribute to society, homosexuality as the hedonistic choice of self-indulgent individualism over sober social good. Yet all homosexuals were supposed to be stealthily working together, through their web of connections to one another, to take over the world—or the political establishment of the United States, for example, or its art world, theatre, or film industries. Such contradictions can still be seen in the battles that have raged since the 1970s, when queers began seeking public recognition of their lives within existing social institutions from the military to marriage. LGBT persons have been routinely attacked as threats (whether to unit cohesion or the family), intent on destroying the groups that they have been working to openly join. In this class, we will use these contradictions as a framework for studying the complex social roles that queers have occupied and some of the complex social worlds that they have created—at different times and places and shaped by different understandings of gender, race, class, ethnicity, and nationality—over the past century and a half. Our sources will include histories, sociological and anthropological studies, the writings of political activists, fiction, and films.