Homosexuality refers to sexual behaviors and desires between males or between females. Gay refers to self-identification with such practices and desires, like homosexual, both terms mostly used only for men. Lesbian is its female counterpart. Such definitions have run into major problems, and nowadays the concept “queer” is used to indicate the fluency of sexual practices and gender performances.
Since the 1970s, homosexuality has become the topic of an interdisciplinary specialization variously called gay and lesbian, queer or LGBT studies (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender to which sometimes are added QQI: Queer, Questioning and Intersexual). The field is far removed from traditional sexology that has its base in psychology, medicine and biology, and is closely linked to what once were called minority (black and women’s) studies and now gender studies. Most of the disciplines involved belong to the humanities and social sciences: language and literature, history, cultural and communication studies, sociology, anthropology and political sciences, philosophy. Sociology had a late start although some of the key figures in the field were sociologists (Mary McIntosh, Ken Plummer, Jeffrey Weeks), but their work was seen as primarily historical. Michel Foucault made a major imprint with the first volume of his Histoire de la sexualité (1976). Other major sociologists contributed to or supported the field, for example Pierre Bourdieu (1998), Michel Maffesoli (1982), Steven Seidman (1997, 1998). Notwithstanding its important intellectual proponents, the field has a very weak base in the universities and departments of sociology where few tenured staff have been nominated anywhere specifically for the field, not even for the sociology of sexuality. Most often tenured staff started to work on homosexual themes because of personal and social interests. Gay studies has kept a strong interdisciplinary quality, often with close cooperation between sociology, history, anthropology and cultural studies.
The words homosexual and heterosexual were invented in 1868 and first put in print in 1869 by the Hungarian author Károly Mária Kertbeny (1824-1882). In 1864, the German lawyer Karl Heinrich Ulrichs (1825-1895) had come up with the words “uranism” and “uranian” to describe a similar social reality while “philopedia” was created by the French psychiatrist C.F. Michéa in 1849. These words no longer referred to sexual acts that were sins and crimes and were called sodomy, unnatural intercourse, pederasty and so forth, but to sexual identities and desires that were deeply imbedded in persons. Ulrichs and Kertbeny were predecessors of the gay rights movement and wrote mainly against criminalisation of sodomy. They spoke largely from personal experiences and historical examples. Most medical authors who started to use the new terminologies, discussed mainly the causes of such identities and desires and the question whether they were pathological or normal. They set the standards for the search of a biological basis that continues to this day (“gay gene”). Most physicians started to believe that homosexuality was an innate condition (but not the Freudians) and took the position that it was a disease or abnormality that should be healed and prevented. The early research by psychiatrists was mainly based on case histories of what they called “perverts”. They not only began to discuss homosexuality, but other perversions as well that got new names such as masochism, sadism, fetichism, exhibitionism, necrophilia, zoophilia and so forth. The centers of research were on the European continent: Berlin, Paris, Vienna.
The early medical research had several sociological angles. Ulrichs and Magnus Hirschfeld, the founder of the first homosexual rights movement in 1897, came with the first statistics on the numbers of homosexuals that closely resemble the data of today....