Mary McIntosh recently passed, and it allowed me to reflect on the significance of her work. Her work is part of a small body of scholarship that quite literally created a sociology of sexuality. It’s hard for scholars of my generation to fully appreciate the power of Mary McIntosh’s (1968) opening sentence in the abstract of her article, “The Homosexual Role.”
The current conceptualization of homosexuality as a condition is a false one, resulting from ethnocentric bias. (McIntosh 1968: 182)
Like many of the early attempts by both gender and sexuality scholars recognizing problems with a structural-functionalist approach, McIntosh operates inside of functionalist theory. McIntosh wrote this essay during a time in which if homosexuality was taught at all in sociology courses, it appeared in courses on deviance. McIntosh’s work was a small—but pivotal—example of the kinds of work that have helped to question it’s categorization as “deviant” in the first place. Today, students are just as likely to deal with questions of same-sex desire and identity in sociology of families, courses on race and ethnicity, gender, identity, and inequalities more generally. Sexuality is a topic that appears in introductory textbooks as well.