Jan Löfström, Ed
In our rush to discover, restore, or celebrate cross-cultural articulations of same-sex desire, we often position "the West" as a monolith where sexual identity is derived simply and inevitably from the discourses of the Anglo-American urban gay subculture. In fact, although shared vocabulary and cultural artifacts allow the traveler to locate and feel at home in gay communities worldwide, expectations about what it means to be gay differ considerably even within the limited geographic, cultural, and linguistic polity of "the West." Scandinavian Homosexualities illuminates a paradoxical world where homosexual persons unapologetically define themselves as marginal and perverse, while at the same time they enjoy a level of tolerance and social integration practically unheard-of elsewhere.
In his preface, Jan Löfström suggests that the Scandinavian tolerance of non-hegemonic sexualities can be explained by a low degree of gender polarization which permits sexual transgression with little psychic trauma, governments imbued with limited coercive power, and the welfare state, which allows a life beyond heterosexual marriage and reproduction to be economically viable. Conversely, the low, primarily rural population does not favor an "essentializing" construction in which same-sex desire is the basis of social networks, cultural production, and political agendas. He slightly overstates his case: Scandinavian gay rights groups, founded in Denmark in 1948 and in Sweden and Norway a few years later, were probably more vocal, dissenting, and "essentializing" than their British and American counterparts of the same era. However, it is true that many Scandinavian gays are reluctant to define themselves as a community based on the model of ethnic minorities, and it does not appear politically necessary for them to do so.
The non-essentialized view of homosexualities as individual differences rather than cultures leads to statements that sounds strangely archaic, even homophobic, to Anglo-American ears. Jonas Lilequist maintains, for instance, that "it seems reasonable to assume that the meagre and undeveloped discourse on homosexuality in Early Modern Sweden also corresponds to a rather meagre homosexual practice" (47) Evidently he believes that 17th century British annals contain richly detailed accounts of gay identities, vocabularies, and sexual practices. Illuminating past sexualities is always a matter of piecing together hints and innuendos; if we were forced to rely on a "developed discourse," we would have to conclude that sex did not exist before 1880, and before 1956 it occurred only in prisons and psychiatric hospitals.
Most of the articles, however, are insightful and theoretically compelling. In "A Dung Beetle in Distress," Danish scholar Henning Bech applies literary criticism and psychoanalysis to Hans Christian Andersen's 1860 meeting with writer Karl Maria Kertbeny, who coined the term "homosexual" and may have imbued Andersen's unstated (perhaps unconscious) same-sex desire with both "terror" and "a name." Mark Graham's "Identity, Place, and Erotic Community Within Gay Leather Culture in Stockholm" discusses the ability of homosexual bodies to "queer space," to spatially and socially transgress "the heterosexual homogeneity of Sweden" and become de facto the gay community which most Scandinavian scholars have failed to notice.
The editor has made a concerted attempt to include both male and female authors, male and female subjects, and as many Scandinavian nations as possible: three of the articles concern Sweden, two Denmark, one Norway, and three Finland (including an analysis of the erotic drawings of Tom of Finland, who doesn't really count, as he has been appropriated by gay communities worldwide). One might prefer fewer articles about old sodomy laws and more about homosexuality in Scandinavian art, film, and literature - a curious absence, since in most countries "gay and lesbian studies" means primarily gay and lesbian literature. However, as the first book in this area available in English, Scandinavian Homosexualities provides an excellent reference for scholars in history, sociology, and Scandinavian studies, and offers some intriguing ideas for future work.