For a modern audience, Oscar Wilde represents a quintessential example of homosexuality, especially among notable historical figures. However, this audience may not realize how much influence Wilde had over popular conceptions of homosexuality; in fact, many believe that Wilde’s trial in fact represented the birth of the popular homosexual image. If critics like Alan Sinfield and David Halperin are to be believed, the Wilde trials served as the crucible for the concept of the male homosexual. As the many nineteenth-century models of male sexuality came under trial, the rhetoric of Queensberry’s defense in Wilde’s first trial was critical in the convergence of these models to form the homosexuality model that has since dominated. By applying various elements of the effeminacy, inversion, and sodomy models to define one man and linking them with homosexual acts, the language of the trials synthesized a clear image of male homosexuality for the first time, with Oscar Wilde as its representative.
While Halperin argued that the effeminacy model could apply to “an excess of what we would call heterosexual as well as homosexual desire” (92), the defense’s association of effeminacy with criminal or deviant homosexual acts firmly linked this definition of effeminacy to the new male homosexual image. Even before breaking effeminacy down into excessive heterosexuality and excessive homosexuality, Wilde quite clearly fits the effeminacy model as described by Halperin. If “normative masculinity often entailed austerity, resistance to appetite, and mastery of the impulse to pleasure” (Halperin 93), Wilde made no secret and felt no shame of his failure to meet this standard. Q...
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...hroughout the trial, the defense deviated the least from Halperin’s model of sodomy. Repeated evidence of the age, class, intellectual, and economic differences between Wilde and his companions clearly points towards a pederastic model of homosexual behavior. However, while sodomitical behavior characterizes the post-trial homosexual, the pederastic aspect was not integrated into this image. Furthermore, changes in the connotations of sodomy towards homosexual acts seem to stem not from legal arguments but from the association of the ideas of sodomy and homosexuality. Because of the infamy and influence of the Wilde trials, the concept of the male homosexual they brought about continues to dominate. Through the defense’s connections of various notions of homosexuality to each other and to Wilde’s specific personality and behavior, this clear image was able to emerge.
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