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Despite the closet’s centrality to queer culture and theory, the metaphor’s various meanings have yet to be disaggregated and defined. Following Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s identification of the closet with a “crisis of homo/heterosexual definition, indicatively male, dating from the end of the nineteenth century,” the present article uses an array of late-Victorian sources—especially The Memoirs of John Addington Symonds and Teleny, a pornographic novel sometimes attributed to Oscar Wilde—to describe and distinguish: (1) so-called latent homosexuality (“the unconscious closet”); (2) deliberate strategies of suppression, abstention, and reformation (“the conscious closet”); (3) clandestine pursuits of gay sex and sociability (“the double life”); and (4) performances of a heterosexual persona (“the mask”). This article’s sources further attest to the late-Victorian advent of “closet consciousness”—a recognition among certain homosexually-inclined men that the closet’s multiple modalities, for all their variety, are phenomenologically and ideologically linked.

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Journal of Homosexuality