QOTD (2011-06-15); or, Symonds and Sexual Liberation

Here’s something nice and liberationist for Pride Month: In this footnote from the first edition of Symonds’ and Ellis’s Sexual Inversion (cut from ensuing editions that revised out more obvious Symondsiana), Symonds argues for the legalization of same-sex sexual relations:

In this case the strength of sin is the law. No passion, however natural, which is scouted, despised, tabooed, banned, punished, relegated to holes and corners, execrated as abominable and unmentionable, can be expected to show its good side to the world. The sense of sin and crime and danger, the humiliation and repression and distress to which the unfortunate Pariah of abnormal sexuality are daily and hourly exposed—and nobody but such a Pariah may comprehend what these are—inevitably deterioriate the best and noblest element in their emotion. It has been, I may say, the greatest sorrow of my life to watch the gradual declining and decay of emotions which started so purely and ideally, as well as passionately, for persons of my own sex in boyhood; to watch within myself, I repeat, the slow corrosion and corruption of a sentiment which might have been raised, under happier conditions, to such spiritual heights of love and devotion as chivalry is fabled to have reached—and at the same time to have been continually tormented by desires which no efforts would annihilate, which never slumbered except through during weeks of life-threatening illness, and which, instead of improving in quality with age, have tended to become coarser and more contented with trivial satisfaction. Give abnormal love the same chance as normal love, subject it to the wholesome control of public opinion, allow it to enjoy self-respect, draw it from dark places into the light of day, strike off its chains and make it free—and I am confident that it will develop analogous virtues, to those with which we are familiar in the mutual love of male and female. The slave has of necessity a slavish soul. The only way to elevate is to emancipate him. There is nothing more degrading to humanity in sexual acts between a man and a man than in similar acts between a man and a woman. In a certain sense all sex has an element which stirs our repulsion in our finer nature….

Nor would it be easy to maintain that the English curate begetting his fourteenth baby on the body of a worn-out wife is a more elevating object of mental contemplation than Harmodius in the embraces of his friend Aristogeiton—that a young man sleeping with a prostitute picked up in the Haymarket is cleaner than his brother sleeping with a soldier picked up in the Park.

Obviously, this was a radical and dangerous sentiment to express in 1897, when English scholars of sexuality (and homosexuals themselves) were still shaken from the Wilde trials. It’s no wonder that Ellis, Horatio Brown, and Catherine Symonds all wanted to see sentiments like this erased from subsequent editions of Sexual Inversion.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s