Crimes Before the Law: Sexuality, Nature, Disorder
Call for Papers for panel at Sewanee
Authorities within and without the medieval church highlighted practices that were deemed contra naturam, that is, against nature. At the same time, same-sex attraction was considered part of Nature, and thus, consistent with natural law; thus, rhetorical and logical gymnastics had to be employed to make condemnation stick. Sodomy and other so-called deviant sexual practices constituted a growing range of practices and beliefs that were marked as both sinful and unnatural, and natural and inevitable. Indeed, in his Book of Gomorrah, the 11th century condemnation of clerical sodomy, Peter Damian is loath to think of homosexuality or deviant behavior between clerics as anything but unnatural. It is, in his words, a sin so heinous that before the Law was codified, it was considered a sin and contra naturam. He is unflinching in his declaration that sodomy appears before the Law as one of the worst sins. Yet, in other clerical poems, same-sex attraction is explored as Natural, the law of the church and the law of nature places sexuality and sexual practice in a murky space. Sodomy, same-sex attraction, and sin weave a sticky web around ethical and moral concerns regarding behavior, bios, and law. We may be inclined to dismiss medieval attitudes towards sexuality as a relic, one whose thinking about sexuality is dangerously backwards, but we would be blind to the construction of often contradictory and harmful legal attitudes toward sexuality in contemporary America.
From bills protecting the “religious” right to deny service to laws such as HB1 in North Caroline criminalizing bathroom usage, modern crime and punishment seems to focus on sexuality as much as Damian and his Book of Gomorrah. This transtemporal thread linking the medieval and postmedieval in terms of nature, sexuality, law, and disorder, is one that we would like to see further explored. How do medieval conceptions of nature and contra naturam incorporate sexuality? How do medieval attitudes toward law and disordered sexualities continue to affect modern regimes of sexuality? How are regimes of nonnormative sexuality still subject both to law and order, even disorder?
Abstracts due October 26th