The Origins of Homosexuality
Updated: Jan 12
Pride month’s here! Pride is an integral part of the queer community. Every year during the month of June, queers around the world get to express themselves the way they want, safe from the fear of homophobia and judgment they receive from the heteros. Amidst the excitement that pride holds for all queers, it’s important not to forget the roots of homosexuality, how it all started, and how it was perceived in ancient societies. So, during this prelude to pride, take a look at the origins of homosexuality.
The first mention of homosexuality in Asia can be dated back to 600 BC in China, being poetically described as ‘The Pleasures of the Bitten Peach’. Homosexuality was widely accepted in ancient China, with writings claiming that homosexuality was as common as heterosexuality in the late 3rd century. Confucianism focused primarily on social and political philosophy, giving little importance to sexuality, whether heterosexual or homosexual. However, men were still obligated to marry women, whereas homosexuality was seen as only a recreational, secondary practice. It all started going downhill for queers during the rule of the Tang dynasty during the eighth century when certain writers attributed homosexuality to the influence of Christian and Islamic values. Some scholars argue that it was only in the 14th century, under the Ming dynasty, that anti-homosexual views had become the norm, while others say that it was under the formation of the Republic of China in the 19th and 20th centuries that such laws had come into force; however, we can say with certainty that colonialism had played a role in bringing homophobia to China when it conquered provinces in China in the 1860s. In the Middle East, homosexuality was a common practice during the pre-Islamic era but was not given much importance, negative or positive. However, cross-dressing was very common among men. In ancient Sumer, now Iraq, a set of priests known as “Gala” took female names, spoke in a dialect reserved for women, and even engaged in homoerotic activities. It was only during the Islamic era that homosexuality saw its decline. Trade between Europe and Asia saw a fusion of cultures, and amidst this fusion, a few European cultural ideals spilled over to the Middle East, thereby furthering the anti-homosexual movement.
Traveling over to our former colonial rulers’ home, Europe, the earliest documentation of homosexuality in Europe can be traced back to ancient Greece. The etymology of the word homosexual comes from the Greek word “homo”, meaning same, and the root of the Latin word, “sex”, its exact translation meaning, “Of the same-sex”. Male homosexuality was a complex construct in which relationships with women as well as relationships with adolescent boys could be part of the average man’s love life. Homosexuality was a formal yet erotic relationship between an adult male and an adolescent of the same sex. It was valued for its pedagogical benefits and as a method of population control. Aristotle, the founder of formal logic, often spoke up for homosexuality and its benefits. Unfortunately, religion was what ultimately caused the negative outlook of homosexuality in Europe. The Christian emperor Theodosius decreed a law in the year, 390 AD condemning only “the bottom” in male homosexual relationships to be burned at the stake. This law was later expanded to “the tops'' as well under the reign of Justinian in the year 558. During the Renaissance, Florence, and Venice, two wealthy Italian cities were renowned for their widespread practice of same-sex love among a considerable part of the male population; however, an equal part of that population was getting fined, prosecuted, and even imprisoned by “The Officers of The Night Court”, a group created to regulate homosexual activities. The final wave of homophobia in Europe came under the modern industrial age. Russia, Austria, and Prussia brought their sodomy laws into Poland in 1795, furthering the spread of homophobia in Europe. Executions for sodomy continued in the Netherlands until 1803 and until 1835 in England. This wave continued until these laws were repealed in most European countries in the 20th century. However, the general outlook on homosexuality was of disdain. This changed in 1969 during the infamous gay liberation movement, notorious for its riots and violence, ultimately bringing about the happy, positive view of homosexuality that Europe is widely acknowledged for today.
In the Americas, homoerotic behavior was a common practice, with evidence of homosexual activity being discovered among many civilizations, the Aztecs, Incas, and Mayas to name a few. It was only during the medieval age when the Spanish first stepped onto the Americas, they were shocked to see sodomy being an openly practiced norm and introduced various anti-sodomy laws and anti-homosexuality laws. The Spanish viewed those practices as savage, which drove the natives to abandon those practices and adopt the classic anti-homosexual view that has a heavy Christian influence. Africa, too, has been a victim of colonialism, their once homosexual-friendly practices, though mostly undocumented, has now been evaporated as their laws reek of British and French influence that Africa has been unable to shake off till this day. In the modern era, homosexuality has mixed opinions and houses some of the most homophobic countries globally; most of these attitudes can be directly traced back to the 1600s when the Europeans introduced these laws.
Although male homosexuality has been largely documented, dissected, and discussed by scholars across the world, female homosexuality remains lost in a sea of patriarchy to this day, with only a few sentences being written about feminine same-sex relationships as opposed to the thousands of pages of documentation that their male counterparts receive. In modern times, lesbian relationships have been grotesquely fetishized by cishet men despite the overall empowerment of female sexuality. It begs to be seen as to when female homosexual relationships will be able to shake off its largely fetishized view. Until then, the men that objectify lesbian relationships deserve a swift kick in the nuts and should perhaps take a lesson on being decent human beings.