Before 1886, society had no real terminology to describe the relationship between same sex individuals. Indeed, the term Homosexuality was coined by Richard Von Krafft-Ebing in his widely published book 'PsychopathiaSexualis' and since then, the dichotomy of homosexuality, and subsequently heterosexuality, have become mainstream terminology to describe same sex attraction and sexual orientation. Before this time, same sex relationships instead relied on cultural terminology to define the relationship and was categorised by a different set of values regarding the philosophy of love.
Throughout the course of history, time and across cultures, social attitudes towards same sex relationships have varied. Same sex relationships have been considered an expectation that all males would at some point in their youth engage in a same sex relationship, to the idea of casual integration to acceptance, to seeing homosexuality as being considered a sin, and repressing same sex relationships through legislation and judicial mechanisms inclusive of the punishment of death for practicing homosexuality.
From modern research, and through the study of ancient texts, artworks and social practices, we have now come to the conclusion that homosexuality is considered to be ubiquitous across the globe. It has existed over the course of time, and throughout most cultures in human history regardless of whether or not it was tolerated. The only factor that has changed with regards to homosexuality in human history is through the degree of openness through which it is practiced.
In 1948, Alfred Kinsey, published the article 'Sexual Behaviours in the Human Male', and this is now commonly referred to as the Kinsey reports. In these reports, Kinsey developed the Kinsey scale, also called the Heterosexual–Homosexual Rating Scale, which is used to argue that the previously thought exclusive dichotomy of Heterosexual and Homosexual could not exist. Rather, that human sexuality existed on this scale with 0 being representative of exclusively heterosexual and 7 as exclusively homosexual and that a person’s position on this scale would change throughout various stages of their life. This was representative of their passion which would ebb and flow throughout the course of their lives, sometimes their passion levels would be non-existent, and other times they’d be sky-rocketing.
The Kinsey Scale supports the ebb and flow of human sexuality and same sex relationships over the course of human history. It is often argued, within modern society and particularly through homophobic religious groups, which the idea of homosexuality only exists in modern times and that is a representation of the moral decline of the world. This article will debunk that myth through the exploration of same sex relationships through varying cultures and the degrees to which it was practiced and understood.
Ancient Cultures (Greeks and Romans)
Same sex relationships existed in most ancient cultures, and we have determined this through archaeological anthropologists who have dedicated their research to the study of same sex relationships on human history. Through their research, we have since determined that the Ancient Greeks and Romans were known to engage in consensual homosexual contact and that these relationships were not only tolerated social practices, but also celebrated through entertainment, arts, and cultural events and activities. Male youth in these cultures were often encouraged to take on the role of being passive to older counterparts in mentoring roles. Often, these mentoring roles would involve a short term sexual relationship. These relationships were a form of intergenerational male love and regarded as a social duty.
The Greek word for a relationship between a man and a youth was paiderastia (the origination of the term pederasty) and was derived from the words pais (Boy) and Eran (Love). These relationships were considered to be harmless so long as both people were consensual and the only factors that inhibited these relationships were age factors and relative status (incestuous relationships were not allowed). The Ancient Greeks believed that homosexual love should be seen as a complementing factor to marriage. Though homosexual relations were encouraged before marriage, they were generally tolerated throughout the marriage as well. In the end the idea that a man could be attracted to both women, and beardless boys was considered to be a natural occurrence and was exemplified through stories of mythology and Greek Heroes. A simple search on Greek heroes/gods and their homosexual lovers will reveal countless stories enshrined within mythology.
The main thing to remember is that either the Ancient Romans or Greeks had any concept of homosexuality, and heterosexuality. You can determine this through an examination through these cultures important artworks which showed a mainstream depiction of live and not an alternative art form or lifestyle. It was just assumed that people would be attracted to both men and women and any deviation from this concept would often be considered as an eccentricity. It's also important to note that as both societies were considered to be patriarchal, the important aspect in homosexual relationships was the status and age of the individual who would assume the 'active' role of penetration. This raises a lot of questions as to when age differing relations was considered to be immoral, or as deviating from societal acceptance and it is something that we will certainly explore in another article.
Same sex relations were not just limited to the Ancient Romans and Greeks and have also been found in a myriad of other cultures across the globe. Indeed, same sex relations were also prevalent in African cultures, though it should be noted that the perspectives on African Culture are primarily driven through European views from within the medieval periods. Between the years 1591-1593 a document titled 'Denunciations of Bahia' specifically refers to a slave culture where a cobblers slave was well known to be a sodomite and for 'performing the duties of a female'. This document pays particular attention to the custom of pagan 'Negros' who would wear clothing to cover the male genitals, but which would leave an opening for the rear for people to serve as passive women and engage in same sex acts.
Despite the fact that Zimbabwe has been subjected to horrific anti-homosexual legislation, there have been rock paintings by the San people which recorded anal sexual activity between men that has been dated back to thousands of years. Same sex relations and the diversity of sexual relations have also been described among Native American peoples through the term 'two spirit'. Though the use of this term is sometimes deemed to be offensive to Native Americans. Men who identified as 'Two spirit' would wear women's clothing, and were revered among their peers as being spiritually gifted and as a gift of god, deemed to have special insight into the world of spiritual matters and were seen as advisors to their peers.
It is thus clear that throughout history, same sex relationships have existed across cultures in varying degrees and forms. It's difficult to prescribe them as being homosexual relationships, because the term homosexual is a term that has been prescribed as a retroactive term. Many of these cultures did not understand, or prescribe to the concept of heterosexuality and the only real way of defining these relationships is to define them as being same sex relationships. So what changed?