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LGBTQ history and the history of sexuality

In LGBTQ history and the history of sexuality, we often talk about “theory.” In this week’s Discussion Boards, we’re going to explore exactly what we mean when we explore “theory” by looking, once again, at the work of Jeffrey Weeks as well as the ways in which theory is applied in our readings for Weeks 3 and 4 (Cleves, D’Emilio, Somerville, and Freedman).


So, what is “theory”? In its simplest terms, “theory” refers to the ways in which historians explain the causes of events or trends when we don’t have as much information as we need to define immediate or direct causes. In fact, in almost every case, historians either don’t have enough information, conflicting information, or conflicting interpretations of information that make it impossible to do without theory. In the case of LGBTQ history and the history of sexuality, theory helps us to answer questions about an aspect of people’s lives that is often concealed, unspoken or kept “private”—sexual desire and sexual practices. We also don’t have definitive information that tells us why specifically “lesbian,” “gay,” “bi,” “trans,” and “queer” identities emerged as features of the society in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries when we know that in the past—in virtually all times and places, though with different levels of permission and punishment—people have experienced gender transitions, and have had and expressed same-gender desire without using these terms.

Jeffrey Weeks puts forth several theories of how and why sexuality is “constructed,” or best explained by the way it is shaped by cultural and social forces rather than a simple fact of biology. One of those theories, “social and economic organization,” focuses on the ways in which labor systems and consumption shape sexuality, which is an idea we also see reflected in the essay by John D’Emilio on “Capitalism and Gay Identity.” In addition, Weeks argues that “social regulation”—regulation by educational, medical, and legal institutions and organizations, and even peer pressure and popular culture—plays a fundamental role in labeling certain sexual or gender expressions “deviant” or “normal.”

How can we apply Jeffrey Weeks’ theories about “social and economic organization” and “social regulation” to the readings in weeks three and four (Cleves, D’Emilio, Somerville, Freedman, Zane, and Woolner)? How did the social and economic organization of sexuality shape the emergence of LGBTQ communities? How did “social regulation” shape the ideas people had about themselves (their identities) as well as their experiences of stigma and shame or finding community and forging relationships?

Sample Solution

one another, because they would be poor and live an unsuccessful life together. Edgar and Catherine’s relationship ends with her death because she was not truly happy, despite their financial stability (“The Romantic Novel, Romanticism, and Wuthering Heights” 3). In the second triangle, Cathy is forced to marry Linton, but eventually marries Hareton after Linton’s death. Cathy and Linton’s relationship can be seen as Victorian because, although Cathy was emotionally invested in the relationship, Linton was not. Their marriage did not succeed due to their lack of a true connection. Feminist writer, Mona Caird, described the perfect marriage as, “…an association that could and ought to be reinvented to promote freedom and equality for both partners” (Caird qtd. in Greenblatt 1582). In this quote, Caird states that marriage should benefit both the husband and wife. Cathy and Hareton’s relationship is considered Victorian because it exemplifies the value of women in marriage. Through Cathy’s tutoring, Hareton is able to become a more civilized person. Their relationship is successful because they both love each other and work together towards the same goal of happiness. In chapter thirty-two, their relationship is defined as beneficial to both parties, “Earnshaw was not to be civilized with a wish; and my young lady was no philosopher, and no paragon of patience; but both their minds tending to the same point—one loving and desiring to esteem, and the other loving and desiring to be esteemed—they contrived in the end to reach it” (Bronte 158). In this quote, the central goal of love in Cathy and Hareton’s relationship is made known. Cathy and Hareton’s relationship depicts the equality in marriages that Victorian feminists were working towards. In conclusion, Great Britain’s shift from Romantic to Victorian can be seen through the actions and attitudes of both Catherine Earnshaw Linton and Cathy Linton Heathcliff, as well as their marriages. The two exude both Romantic and Victorian attitudes throughout the novel. While Catherine Linton Earnshaw transitions from Romantic to Victorian, Cathy Linton Heathcliff transitions from Victorian to Romantic. Each failed marriage represents the marital values of the Victorian era; however, the final marriage represents a successful marriage in which a woman is valued.

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