"Circles of Sex: The Occult Roots of Gay Liberation"
We are accustomed to locating the roots of modern Anglo-American conceptions of sexual identity within scientific, medical, and legal discourses. Yet mostly overlooked is how occult discourses contributed to the theoretical infrastructure of sexuality that led to twentieth century homophile and queer liberation movements. This talk highlights the central role occult and non-Christian spiritual traditions—Theosophy, Celtic mythology, astrology, Hinduism, and Buddhism—played in the early queer print networks that articulated and circulated modern conceptions of sexual identity. Drawing on archival sources, it tells the story of one fascinating figure at the center of this network, Gavin Arthur (1901-1972), an amateaur sexologist and professional astrologer who developed “The Circle of Sex,” a circular diagram of 12 sexual “types” that appeared for a decade in the homophile periodicals ONE, The Mattachine Review, and The Ladder before it met a mass audience in Playboy in 1965. By tracing Arthur’s connections to influential sex reformers and sexologists—Edward Carpenter, Havelock and Edith Ellis, Magnus Hirschfeld, Harry Benjamin, and Alfred Kinsey—as well as figures from occult and non-Christian spiritual traditions—Ella Young, Meher Baba, Dane Rudhyar, and Alan Watts—this talk argues that the overlapping of these two seemingly disparate circles was crucial for constructing and circulating a new conceptual vocabulary of sexual orientation.
Dr. Longo will deliver his lecture, which will be followed by a discussion circle. Please join us for the Spring 2023 "Occult Natures" series with Cultural Studies!
Philip Longo Philip Longo, PhD (he/him) is a 2022-2023 American Council for Learned Societies Fellow and a Continuing Lecturer in Writing at the University of California-Santa Cruz. His research has appeared in The Routledge Handbook of Queer Rhetoric, The Relevance of Alan Watts in Contemporary Culture, and American Literature in Transition, 1960-1970, and his writing on pedagogy in Writing Spaces. At UC Santa Cruz, he has been a faculty fellow at the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning and received the Excellence in Teaching Award in 2021. His book project, “Circles of Sex: The Queer Origins of the Sexual Revolution” draws on archival sources to uncover how a network of queer writers developed much of the discursive infrastructure of the 1960s American Sexual Revolution. It tells this story through the fascinating life of amateur sexologist and professional astrologer, Gavin Arthur, and the development and circulation of his visual schema of sexual types, “The Circle of Sex.”