Historiographies of male homosexuality in Victorian Britain that adopt a medico-legal analysis of homosexual identity construction are, frequently, problematic and ahistorical. The medico-legal analysis of male homosexual identity formations has resulted in highly mechanical, theoretical concepts of how late Victorian institutions constructed the modern male homosexual. Historians in the Weeks/Foucault tradition argue that the profession of medicine, or, more nebulously ‘science’, and the institutions of law, combined to construct a pathological and criminal concept. Few alternative approaches, such as essentialist and queer theory, have successfully deconstructed this approach to the question of male homosexuality in Britain. More recent historiography influenced by post-Sedgwick queer theory, such as Cocks’ work, has identified the ambivalent status of the law with respect to male homosexuality and recognised that the phenomenon was ‘nameless’, which fostered a cultural silence around the matter. Cocks argues that it was this namelessness that fostered an epistemology of the closet. Homosexual self-making was influenced by the nameless nature of the crime of sex between men, rather than by purposive attempts by the authorities to construct a category of the homosexual in law. Cocks’ work has done much to undermine the rigid legal analysis of a pejorative homosexual category. His work does not, however, deconstruct or effectively collapse the medico-legal analysis of homosexual identity formations.


British Society Ambivalent Status Homosexual Identity Queer Theory Male Homosexuality 
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© Sean Brady 2009

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  • Sean Brady

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