Sex and the Eighteenth-Century Man: Massachusetts and the History of Sexuality in America

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Beacon Press, 2007 - History - 223 pages
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With few exceptions, sex is noticeably absent from popular histories chronicling colonial and Revolutionary America. Moreover, it is rarely associated specifically with early American men. This is in part because sex and family have traditionally been associated with women, while politics and business are the historic province of men. But Thomas Foster turns this conventional view on its head. Through the use of court records, newspapers, sermons, and private papers from Massachusetts, he vividly shows that sex—the behaviors, desires, and identities associated with eroticism —was a critical component of colonial understanding of the qualities considered befitting for a man.

Sex and the Eighteenth-Century Man begins by examining how men, as heads of households, held ultimate responsibility for sex—not only within their own marriages but also for the sexual behaviors of dependents and members of their households. Foster then examines the ways sex solidified bonds in the community, including commercial ties among men, and how sex operated in courtship and social relations with women. Starkly challenging current views about the development of sexuality in America, the book details early understandings of sexual identity and locates a surprising number of stereotypes until now believed to have originated a century later, among them the black rapist and the unmanly sodomite, figures that serve to reinforce cultural norms of white male heterosexuality.

As this engrossing and surprising study shows, we cannot understand manliness today or in our early American past without coming to terms with the oft-hidden relationship between sex and masculinity.

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Includes many quotes from court cases, sermons, and newspapers to illustrate the attitudes of Massachusetts people in the 1700"s to what a male's sexual role was supposed to be, much of that ... Read full review

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You cannot understand pre-modern manhood, unless you understand the concept of third gender -- that of the effeminate male as a different gender or males than 'men,' and how the Christian societies treated (negated) this third gender, leading to western science's negating it as well.
Thomas A Foster fails to debunk Michael Foucalt's assertion that earlier there were sex acts, but no sexual identities based on the gender of the sex. Because, there was a definite identity for the third gender, the effeminate sodomite whose sexual role was to recieve sex from men, like a woman, and thus he was in fact known by that act of receiving anal. However, this in no way involved a 'sexual' identity in the modern sense, because, just desiring men in itself didn't make you a 'gay' (in whatever terms it was known in different areas, in those times). But desiring men in the feminine way made you 'gay' -- and its a huge leap from there to claim that all males, of both masculine gender and feminine gender, and all kinds of male attractions for men belongs as one 'sexual orientation' or one sexual identity, without taking into account their different genders.
Thus, earlier, men like Alexander were not 'gay' because they did not desire men in a feminine way, they did not have a woman inside them. Alexander and all manly males who liked men (and who stayed away from receptive sex, at least publicly, just like today straight males disown desire for men per se, today) -- which includes practically every man, since, sexual desire between men has always been a universal male trait, were straight, and not LGBT.
It was indulging into receptive anal sex that made you a 'gay' ... not a desire for men, per se. It is possible thought, that informally, pressure was built up upon men, by the anti-man forces, to claim that to like men was equivalent to desiring to be anally inserted like a woman. But this could have had only a limited impact. This may have had some effect on men hiding their desire for men -- but they still widely indulged in sex with men, universally. But, since, they did not own up this desire*, led the third genders to believe that the manly males (straight males) are all heterosexual, and exclusively heteroseuxal, and that thus only they (half-men/ half-women) were the ones who desired men. This mistaken belief led to the invalid concept of the 'homosexual' from which flowed other invalid western concepts -- of heterosexual, bisexual and indeed of 'sexual orientation' itself.
Another reason for not owning up this desire was the huge moral/ religious stigma attached to sex between men. It was like this: Desiring men did not make you gay or less of a man, if it did not involve a desire to be penetrated like a woman (thus, masturbation between two men was not seen as something that would effect their identity... nor would doing another male, esp. a 'catamite'/third gender male, who did not have any manhood to start with). However, it was still an immoral if manly vice, that you were expected to keep away from. And so, men of character suppressed their feelings for men, although, in youth, it was common for men to be sexual with other men (often that did not involve anal sex), but, this was not talked about, and it was not to come in the way of marriage -- that was the ultimate test of manhood (the ability of man to penetrate -- not his desire for women, per se).


He Is Not a Man That Hath Not a Woman
Sex and the Shattering of Household Order
Rape and Seduction Masculinity Misogyny and Male Sexuality
Sex and the Community of Men
Halfmen Bachelors Effeminacy and Sociability
When Day and Night Together Move Men and CrossCultural Sex
The Paths of Monstrous Joy

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Page 210 - Edmund S. Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia (New York: WW Norton & Company, 1975); Orlando Patterson, Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982). 21. Joan W. Scott, "The Evidence of Experience," Critical Inquiry 17 (Summer 1991): 776.

About the author (2007)

Thomas A. Foster is an Associate Professor in the department of history at DePaul University. He lives in Chicago, Illinois.

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