The scholarship on gay male social history identifies a shift that supposedly takes place in the landscape of same-sex desire, practice, subjectivities, and associations during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. According to this historiography, these landscapes were fundamentally and diversely gendered in that the organization of same-sex desire flowed from the varying performances of, and identifications with, masculinity and femininity. Beginning with World War II, however, object choice displaces gender as the defining feature of homosexuality. This essay disputes this periodization and offers a somewhat different perspective on writing histories of male homosexuality. Using insights from queer studies and from ethnographic methods, I argue that gender does not disappear from these landscapes. The dominant narrative glosses over the nonnormative expressions and subcultures that persist throughout these periods that exist parallel to, and at times interrupt, the dominant model of the hetero-homo binary. Just as importantly, the dominant model glosses over the gender sameness — normatively masculine men desiring normatively masculine men — that also defines an important form of erotic subjectivity in the modern period. That sameness — an erotics of normative masculinity — is left uninterrogated as an important historical formation in and of itself and also as a means by which the hetero-homo binary was constructed. Instead, the histories shift their attention from sexual-gender subcultures and subjectivities to gay community building with its attendant “problems” of organization formation, infrastructural development, and liberal politics.

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