The first thought (read: string of tangents) that popped into my mind as I read the excerpt from Ellis’s “Studies in the Psychology of Sex” was this youtube video – which I think aptly captures the progression of gay rights activism and views on homosexuality from the 1900s through to today. Like many other videos on youtube, the comments section is atrocious and brings up many other issues that, for the purposes of this blog post, I am deciding to ignore it; I’ve also decided to ignore the political side of this video and the fact that it is a trailer of sorts for a documentary. What I am really interested in are how the views on homosexuality have (or have not) changed since Ellis’s time. Let’s begin by retrieving parts of Ellis’s time capsule.
Ellis’ observation that two consenting adults who choose to engage in sexually intimate acts have not committed indecency would have been a bold and radical statement during his time, but to most of modern society this view seems commonplace. Modern society seems to turn a blind eye towards things that go on behind closed doors – which leads to Ellis’s idea about perception. In the same paragraph, Ellis comments on the fact that acts can only be regarded as indecent if the participants or witnesses choose to view it thus. Simultaneously, Ellis implies that the context of acts, i.e. where the acts are performed, affects people’s perception of them as decent or indecent. He gives the example of childbirth, an act that by itself is not indecent, but may be seen as such if carried through in public. To me, this gray area of human perception and the difficulty of straddling the line between the concepts “decent” and “indecent” are immensely interesting. We struggle with similar dilemmas today of which the laws governing indecent exposure (which vary widely around the world) are an example. However, sodomy laws, to use an umbrella term, have mostly been repealed or struck down – at least in the United States. Was the question of morality ever tied into our judgments of things as decent or indecent? Perhaps by touching on this idea of “impropriety” being a product of our own perceptions, Ellis reaches the bigger, more elusive, and timeless topic of morality.
Morality encompasses the values that delineate the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad. Such principles apply to people and people form societies. It should come as no surprise that society’s views can shape moral values and vice versa. Having been under the impression that most people who view homosexuality as a disease also find it to be immoral, I was initially surprised by Ellis’s concession that homosexuals could be completely moral people aside from their inversion; their “condition” did not detract from the fact that they could be good and just people. In contrast, today’s view of the immoral homosexual seems to pin “immorality” on homosexual thoughts and actions, instead of actions alone. Perhaps the shift in the point at which homosexuality becomes immoral is only an illusion because Ellis’s views do not reflect average society or religious society’s views on homosexuality as immoral behavior. In the end, Ellis rises above it all and calls for balance and reason: to eliminate inverts would be unreasonable and may “destroy also those children of the spirit which possess sometimes a greater worth than children of the flesh” (336). It leaves me unsatisfied to read that subduing their homosexual desires is the moral thing for inverts to do and that they may live on as children of spirit by denying something that is still intrinsically part of them as individuals. The origin of the moral versus immoral aspect of homosexuality and how people’s perception of this issue has changed throughout history interests me greatly and is something I would like to explore in the future.