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Against Nature: Sodomy and Homosexuality in Colonial Latin America



Since the early 1980s, historians have increasingly turned their attention toward the topics of sodomy and “homosexuality” in colonial Latin America. Contemporaries referred to such crimes – prosecuted by criminal courts or the Holy Office of the Inquisition, depending on locale and jurisdiction – as either the pecado nefando (the nefarious sin), the pecado contra natura (sin against nature), or sodomía (sodomy). This, however, has not dissuaded historians from applying the terms “lesbian,”“gay,”“homosexual,” and “queer” to historical subjects. This paper highlights some of the major trends and debates that have shaped the historiography of sodomy in colonial Latin America, focusing on disagreements over which partner (“active” or “passive”) was punished more harshly, whether sodomy was seen as a form of heresy, and how to best identify and characterize historical subjects in the past. The essay concludes by offering some suggestions for the future development of the field, and advocates for historians to focus on the category of the “unnatural” (contra natura) rather than limit themselves to same-sex sexuality. A focus on the unnatural essentially allows historians to speak of autoeroticism, erotic religious visions, same-sex solicitation, sodomy, and bestiality in conjunction with one another, thus offering a more nuanced view of the intersections of gender, sexuality, desire, and colonialism between the late 16th and early 19th centuries.

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