Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences

Seminar: The History of 10%: Measures of Sexual Behavior and the Gay Rights Movement in the U.S.

  • Date: –13:00
  • Location: SCAS, Thunbergssalen, Linneanum Thunbergssalen, Linneanum, Thunbergsvägen 2, Uppsala
  • Lecturer: Wendy N. Espeland. Fellow, SCAS. Professor of Sociology, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL
  • Website
  • Organiser: Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study (SCAS)
  • Contact person: Sandra Rekanovic
  • Seminarium

My talk is a biography of a number. I investigate how 10% became the conventional estimate of the proportion of homosexuals in the U.S. for about 25 years.

Beginning with Alfred Kinsey’s pioneering work on sexual behavior in the late 1940s and early 1950s, 10% evolved from one of many numbers describing sex between men to a taken for granted fact that persisted until the advent of the AIDS epidemic in the late 1980s. Efforts to measure sexual behavior played a crucial role in the development of the modern gay rights movement and gay identity politics. Measures of sexual practice and people’s critique and interpretation of these measures shaped how participants in an emerging gay political movement understood themselves, how and when they organized, and the political strategies they and their opponents adopted.