So say the historians who have actually studied the concept. Oh yes, same sex sexual activity has been around since antiquity. But the idea that someone would call themselves “gay” or would see that as the primary basis of their identity: that is something new.
“Scholars don’t think the ancient Greeks had a gay minority. Rather, that civilization thought homosexuality was something anyone could enjoy. In addition to a wife, elite men were expected to take a younger male as an apprentice-lover, with prescribed bedroom roles. The system was so different from ours that to describe specific ancient Greeks as gay or straight would show profound disrespect for their experiences, and violate the cardinal historical rule against looking at the past through present-colored lenses.”
The idea of a “gay person” or a “gay minority” of the population arose relatively recently.
As in, since the mid 19th Century:
So why did a gay minority first appear only a century and a half ago, and only in the West? Some scholars say it’s because that’s when and where doctors began to pathologize people who spoke of same-sex desires or experiences. Those patients developed homosexual identities, which led others to distinguish themselves as heterosexual.
Another kind of analysis spotlights Western economic and demographic trends. Dr. D’Emilio has argued that subsistence outside the nuclear family first allowed urban young men to experience same-sex eroticism in ways that could lead to gay identity. And Katz has pointed to the increased “sexualization of commerce and commercialization of sexuality,” in which entrepreneurs profited from sex-linked books, magazines, films, bars, and baths.
Many LGBT scholars decry the attempt to read “essentialist” notions into sexual orientation.
(Cultural Anthropologist) Dr. Esther Newton noted in an essay that her field has “no essentialist position on sexuality, no notion that people are born with sexual orientations. The evidence, fragmentary as it is, all points the other way.”
I personally have always found it odd that people can simultaneously believe a) that the sex of the body is fluid and socially constructed, while b) one’s pattern of sexual attractions is immutable and genetically hard-wired.
Read the whole fascinating article.