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Genealogies of desire : "Uranianism", mysticism and science in Britain, 1889-1940 Smith, Judith Ann

Abstract

This article examines early twentieth-century British "Uranian" same-sex sexualities as a distinct entity from other labels for homosexuality. British sexologists, feminists, and other radical socialist/anarchist reformers invoked scientized versions of mysticism and Asian religions to conceptualize different, though intersecting, meanings for the Uranian. Historians of sexuality, however, tend to conflate the term "Uranian" with the other various and conflicting medico-scientific concepts circulating at the time, such as "homosexual," "sexual invert," and "intermediate sex." Overstating the slippage between terms, however, obscures the significance of Uranianism in the history of same-sex eroticism, and reinforces a dichotomy between spirituality and modernity. The Uranian discourses examined here epitomize a "progressive" historical moment that elaborated the scientific origins for the spirit, soul, and a divine will in the constitution of modern sexual/spiritual subjects. In many ways, Uranianism challenged the late nineteenth-century medical-sexological discourses that demarcated the homosexual as a pathological "type" by creating a more fluid understanding of sexuality through the interplay of Edwardian critiques of scientific materialism with New Age ideas about the mind, psyche, and spirituality. That is not to suggest that Uranianism offered an "alternative" (homo)sexuality that was disentangled from pathological discourses; on the contrary, the Uranian discourses implicitly consolidated the "homosexual type." Tracing the genealogy of Uranian sexuality through three case studies illuminates a modern moment when reformers attempted to create fluid sexualities. We find that Uranianism complicates our understandings about the supposedly dominant role of medical-scientific discourses in the construction of early twentieth-century British (homo)sexuality.

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