John Mage on Sodomy

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Fri Dec 1 23:18:47 MST 2000

Since we are discussing the question of capitalism & sexuality, I'd
like to reproduce here an excellent post by John Mage on a related
subject (a historical materialist analysis of sex, gender, &
sexuality, with an example of the origin of sodomy as "a statutory
criminal offense").   Yoshie

*****   Re: Littleton: it's Adorno's fault
jmage at
Tue, 28 Sep 1999 15:38:39 -0500

hi yoshie,
you ask:

>Now, two questions for the list:
>(1) What does a historical materialist analysis of sex, gender,
>'sexuality,' etc. look like -- an analysis that is committed to (or fully
>caught up in) neither empiricism nor left-Hegelianism nor psychoanalysis?

(and with an eye to rakesh on marx/darwin)

abstractly: an analysis of sex, gender, 'sexuality' etc. in which the
emphasis is on causal rather than conceptual necessity, and in which
teleology is restricted to the intentional causality of embodied
human agency and its appearance elsewhere is to be rationally

concretely: an english example (more a research program):

parliament first made sodomy a statutory criminal offense (indeed, a
felony - i.e. punishable by death) in england in 1536. the same
parliament (and in the same year) that legislated the dissolution of
the monasteries. the legislation against sodomy was part of a
conscious campaign directed from the office of royal secretary thomas
cromwell to weaken opposition to the dissolution.

as for the performative nature of the criminalization of sodomy, here
is ralph sadler (cromwell's personal secretary & his successor as
secretary to henry viii) reporting on what he told king james v of
scotland after he had been sent to scotland in early 1540 to persuade
james not to ally with france & the pope but rather to dissolve the
scots monasteries, reform the scots church, and in general ally with
henry -

after first rather insultingly explaining to james that with the new
revenue he would be able to stop being a commercial sheep grazer &
start being a king, and that the monks 'are a kind of unprofitable
people, that lived idly upon the sweat and labours of the poor' he
continued that: "[the monks] profess chastity, willful poverty and to the first that is chastity, I dare be bold to say,
that unless your monks be more holy in Scotland than ours were in
England, there reigneth nowhere more carnality, incontinency,
buggery, sodomy and lechery, and other abominations, than is used in
cloisters, among monks, cannons, nuns, friars..." [incidentally,
sadler was totally unpersuasive and unsuccessful, and perhaps among
the reasons was that he did not understand how minimal in fact were
the realizable revenues of the scots monasteries]

so in building upon the understanding of alan bray (*Homosexuality in
Renaissance England*) that the homosexual identity in england (with
special consequences obviously for the english settler colonies) that
emerged in modernity was an historical product formed in some not
inconsiderable part in response to the threat of sanctions for
samesexsex, an historical materialist analysis would go back - at
least - to the dissolution (and as part of an analysis that places
the dissolution causally in the subsequent creation of an
agricultural proletariat in england & the origin of capitalism).

similarly, there is a complex of property relations between husbands
and wives that underwent major changes at the same time (such as the
prohibition - in the Statute of Uses of 1536 - of the predecessor of
the trust device as a means of preserving a widow and minor heirs
interests in an estate some part of which was held in knight
service), of which i would hope an historical materialist analysis
would understand in isolation from neither the dissolution of the
monasteries nor henry's dysfunctional marriages.

john mage   *****

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