Work on a book-in-progress on popular understandings of male same-sex sexuality in France between 1870 and 1914. The Freemasonry of Pederasts attempts to reconstruct and analyze how representations of sexuality between men were articulated, shaped and circulated in print culture. The late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century has proven a coherent and privileged moment in the history of Western sexuality since Michel Foucault postulated that during this period the homosexual first becomes "a personage." A body of scholarship has already explored Foucault's insight in terms of medical writing, the workings of the juridical system and canonical French writers.
My project moves beyond elite and official discourses to investigate more ephemeral, less complex and ambitious, less self-conscious and self-confident cultural productions. It draws on a substantial archive of guidebooks, popular sociology, police and prison memoirs, popular and naturalist fiction, newspaper faits divers and coverage of scandals, medical guides for laypeople, and caricature and illustration.
The first three chapters of The Freemasonry of Pederasts chart the development of recurrent tropes or tendencies in the representation and understanding of la pédérastie (the popular term for all male same-sex relations, pédérastie did not convey the contemporary meaning of pedophilia). I delineate the strong association of pederasty with urban criminality, especially prostitution and blackmail; the pervasive and socially disruptive effects ascribed to sexual dissidence; and the description of same-sex relations as perversely imitative of normative heterosexuality. In the final chapter, I trace the emergence—within popular fiction, inexpensive medical handbooks and pornography—of new but inchoate efforts to imagine male same-sex sexuality as a recognizable form of subjectivity.