Sunday, October 01, 2006

October is Lesbian and Gay History Month

October is Lesbian and Gay History Month. The most usual approach to these kinds of "subaltern group month" [i.e. a none-elite group whose history has often been ignored] is to take a Great Person approach. [See for example 1/10/2006].

There is a problem with this kind of approach to history, best summarized by Wayne R. Dynes in Homosexuality: A Research Guide (New York; Garland, 1987):182
The impulse to draw up extensive biographical lists of notable homosexuals of the past began with the 19th century homosexual scholars in German-speaking countries. Parallel tendencies occur with scholars representing other minority groups, where such lists seem to function to provide historical witness of the collective worth of an ostracized group. This "hall of fame" approach has recently been criticized as skewing homosexual and lesbian history towards an unrepresentative elite, effacing historical variety and class differences. The search for famous homosexuals also provokes a largely fruitless series of debates over whether figures of the past, such as Socrates or Caesar, were truly homosexual.

I accept Dyne's point as legitimate, but very often we know about the elite, or we know about no one at all. As we weave our history, all our investigations are legitimate.

As gauche as it might seem to modern historian, there is a stage of the history of almost any oppressed group where people will make lists of past members of the group. Womens/Black/Jewish historians have all manifested the approach, and it is a starting point. History cannot stop at this point; it needs to go on to look at why oppression occured, how groups resisted oppression, and at the underlying constructions of sex and gender in any given society.

I have web site that deals with the whole topic at People with a History.

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