Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
While capitalism is thought by many to enable male homosexual identity to emerge, this same economic system creates a class hierarchy that promotes a heteronormative worldview, which marks homosexual men as the outcasts of society. In England during the years leading up to the First World War, a man’s character and persona were determined by his social class position. As a result homosexual men of the upper class, who held power, respectability, and masculine virtues in society, used class to mask their sexuality. In this sense the upper-class position enabled men to portray a public identity that abided by the constraints of heteronormativity despite their homosexual desire, which remained suppressed for fear of losing their power within society. Even when homosexual men displayed effeminate traits that opposed masculine ideals, the upper-class position worked to reinforce their heteronormativity, showing the power of capitalism’s class system to infiltrate and influence a man’s identity. E. M. Forster’s Maurice and A. T. Fitzroy’s Despised and Rejected provide two examples of how the upper-class position worked to mask the recognition of male homosexuality by society in early twentieth–century England. Written in 1913, but not published until after Forster’s death in 1971, Maurice has become a canonical text in the gay literary tradition. Through depictions of male intraclass and cross-class relationships, this novel suggests that class position worked to maintain a public heteronormative identity where stepping outside of strict class boundaries could disrupt the very thing which enabled one to keep one’s power. While the posthumous publication of Maurice complicates its place as a representation of homosexual identity and British society at the time, A. T. Fitzroy’s Despised and Rejected gives a clearer picture of both through its focus on homosexuality and pacifism. Through this investigation of homosexuality and pacifism, Fitzroy acknowledges a connection between male sexual identity and a refusal to go to war. While this failure to participate in militarism indicates a man’s opposition to heteronormativity, particularly normative masculinity, the upper-class position redirects this difference away from homosexual identity and onto effeminacy. This effeminacy does not indicate homosexual identity, but rather a failure to embody masculine ideals of the time. Ultimately, both novels portray the power of the upper-class position to define identity by supporting heteronormativity and masking homosexuality.
Bukowski, Jeffrey, "Unseen Identity:" (2008). Graduate College Dissertations and Theses. 35.