Many people who work in sex history, end up writing about people who either couldn’t or have never had the chance to speak for themselves, and that is a powerful thing to do. Therefore, there is a need to do it right, to give a voice to those who have died and to show their lives as they were is important for the results to be accurate. There isn’t a time that you don’t write about people in the past. People were concerned with making sure you portray them completely well; however, thy ewer also removing modern-day bigotry or bias.
When the history of gay, queer, or trans is revealed, the one thing that comes up is that it is modern bigotry, and that is the problem. These are histories that have existed for centuries. We may have a modern word for it, but they have been part of our sexual culture. People have lived those lives since human sexuality began.
Can Sexual History Help Negotiate the Sex-related Discourse?
Can looking back at history help us have better conversations about gender fluidity, consent, trans-identity, and all those things that are preoccupying us now? One of the areas in research is the history of the sex trade and the history of sex work and sex workers. This is a precise instance where the voices of the people themselves need to be desperately heard. These voices are mostly lost because they are recorded by courts or communicated through somebody else. However, looking at history and the way it works, it is very circular.
The records show that we still have the same debates around it, for instance, the language debate. If you look at something like sex workers, for instance, society keeps trying to oppress, abolish, punitive measures, arrest, punish, and then it will kind of calm down. Suddenly, another wave comes in again where it attacks, arrests, and the cycle goes on and on again. For a long time, societies have been trying the same thing to eliminate or stamp out the sex trade by punishing people, and it has never worked. Furthermore, throughout history, it has made people more vulnerable, and it makes it more dangerous. Also, it loses people’s voices, and we, as a society, are not learning from it.
What Could We Learn From The Past?
How could we then use sex history to have better conversations about sexing the present? To begin with, issues of consent are critical because we tend to think that consent didn’t happen in the past. People mostly use the phrase ‘we have gone from oppression to liberation’ to refer to sex. However, in a real sense, it is the other way round. We have gone far from more liberated understanding, explorative, fluid society- a culture of sex, where women wrote about sex. If you look at the fifteen, sixteen, and eighteen hundred, even the early nineteen hundreds, women had a voice in our sex literature. They were writing, publishing, and talking about sexual knowledge, and they were making that clear.
It’s the end of the 19th and early 20th century, where women’s voices get removed and taken out. However, women are starting to claim it back right now. We are starting to return to a culture of the past that is more fluid and more understanding. However, without reading the stories of the past, we are not going to get there. We should then show a bit of humility, willingness to listen, to understand where we are from, and where we are headed too. Finally, we understand that all these things we think are new really aren’t. The documents, artifacts, and clues from our past are helping form sexual cultures of the future.
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