Sex and the Gender Revolution, Volume 1: Heterosexuality and the Third Gender in Enlightenment London

Randolph Trumbach, Author University of Chicago Press $50 (528p) ISBN 978-0-226-81290-8
Attempting to explain the formation of modern sexual identities, Trumbach (The Rise of the Egalitarian Family) offers a theory of how ""heterosexual identity"" was produced in the 18th century. He attributes it to the rise of the ""Molly,"" a man exclusively interested in sex with other men, who first emerged in 18th-century London. Previously, he argues, it was normal and acceptable for London men to have sexual relations with both boys and women. After the Molly, Trumbach contends, most men (but not women) reorganized their sexual behavior to demonstrate their heterosexuality. Unfortunately, Trumbach never quite makes the abundance of evidence he marshals speak for this theory. Despite a too-brief section on accusations of sodomy, he never links his many long case studies (based on legal records) of the sexual histories of prostitutes, adulteresses and abandoned wives to his theorized changes in male sexual behavior. And while he insists that the ""new heterosexuality"" was a primary cause of prostitution, he never establishes that prostitution was any less widespread in earlier periods. Trumbach's book will be useful as a source of empirical information for scholars, but it fails to synthesize the material well enough to appeal to a broader audience, or to become a definitive study. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 11/30/1998
Release date: 12/01/1998
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