I‘ve been asked several times if I could give some introductory literature on „the homosexual“ as a socio-historical construction. Actually there is a key essay on this topic written by the radical British sociologist Mary McIntosh in 1968 that predated Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality by more than ten years. Whereas Foucault viewed „homosexuality“ as an invention of 19th century medical science, McIntosh regarded „the homosexual“ as a social role that first became visible toward the end of the 17th century in the form of a distinct „gay subculture“.
Although historians nowadays largely agree with McIntosh in matters of periodization, it has also been noted that her essay „suffers from the usual defects of a structuralist-functionalist approach, particularly in the purposive effort at social control that it implies“ (Jeffrey Weeks). Furthermore, McIntosh has been criticized for her „residual essentialism“ that suggests the existence of a universal homosexuality taking different historical shapes. This is all too obvious when she unquestioningly adopts the misleading interpretation of cultural anthropologists for whom transgendered people in Native American societies constitute an example of „institutionalized homosexuality“. And finally she lacked an analytical concept like that of „intimate friendship“ that could have enabled her to understand the time before homosexuality.
But nevertheless, Mary McIntosh was the first to ask the right questions. Her essay The Homosexual Role is not only the revolutionary starting point of a field that would later be known as „gay & lesbian studies“. Because of its terseness and clarity it also remains a suitable introduction into constructionist views of the „modern homosexual“. Therefore I took the effort to scan the text and make it available online.