Darwinian Sensualities: Havelock Ellis, Sexual Inversion, and Late Nineteenth-Century Evolutionary Theory

Lecture | February 14 | 3-4:30 p.m. | 3335 Dwinelle Hall

 Rodolfo John Alaniz, Department of History, UC Berkeley

 Department of History

Sexual inversion, as a nineteenth-century biological concept, signified a completely new understanding of sexual attraction, beauty, and gender. While many historians have assumed that “sexual inversion” was another word for “homosexuality,” these terms represent two distinct ways of viewing human behavior. This divergence was caused by early sexologists' reexamination of human attraction through the lens of Darwin's theory of evolution. This project examines the publications and correspondence of early sexologists, especially those of Havelock Ellis and the British Sexological Society, to determine how Darwinian methodology was transmitted, translated, and eventually assimilated into the study of human sexual behavior. Alaniz argues that sexual inversion—including the gender identities resulting from its creation—was part of a broader, Darwinian attempt to explain sexual selection as a physiological response to sensory excitation, rather than an ability to assess aesthetic beauty.

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 history@berkeley.edu, 510-642-0016