Abstract: Charles Darwin’s published and unpublished writings contain a plethora of references to sex variations, including intersexualities (‘hermaphroditism’), transformations of sex and non-heteronormative sexual behaviours. Marking the 150th anniversary of his major sexological work The descent of man, this historical review examines a range of strategies that Darwin deployed in order to accommodate such variations within his evolutionism, while simultaneously attempting to mitigate the potential for condoning sexual phenomena that were feared and reviled in Victorian bourgeois society. Although he moved to cast sex-variant animals, human and non-human, as biological misfits and failures, Darwin’s commitment to the principle of primordial intersexuality (dual-sexed origins) nonetheless occasioned some of the queerest evolutionary narratives of the 19th century. Similarly, his construal of the ‘unnatural crimes’ of indigenous peoples was contained within a hierarchical narrative of the backwardness of ‘savages’ and civilizational supremacy but was readily subject to challenge and queer reinterpretations, not least with reference to the ‘extreme sensuality’ of the classical Greeks. Despite working to subdue the queer potentialities of his evolutionism, Darwin nonetheless laid the foundations for a new, modernist sexology to emerge, a situation that was exploited by a cohort of Darwinist sexologists, Sigmund Freud chief among them, who followed in his path.Ross Brooks, Darwin’s closet: the queer sides of The descent of man (1871), Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, Volume 191, Issue 2, February 2021, Pages 323–34
Note: The paper is not yet online at the link but will appear “in due course.”
This stuff seems like an alternative to discussing the way Darwinism is slowly fading out as a way of seeing the history of life anyhow. But we knew they weren’t going to do that.
See also: Some sperm win the race by poisoning their competitors Not “pure luck,” they say. Nature is full of intelligence, some of it nasty.