The Daily Agenda for Saturday, February 2
February 2nd, 2013
Events This Weekend: Winter Pride, Killington, VT; Midsumma, Melbourne, VIC; Rainbow Reykjavik Winter Festival, Reykjavik, Iceland; Regenbogenball (Rainbow Ball), Vienna, Austria; Gay Whistler, Whistler, BC.
THIS MONTH IN HISTORY:
Why Should It Be a Crime To Dress As You Please?: 1884. The following letter to the editor appeared in the February 1884 edition of the journal Alienist and Neurologist (an alienist is an archaic term for a psychiatrist). The letter was notable for two reasons. Nearly all letters to the editor were routinely signed, but this one is kept anonymous. And it is also a very rare early example of an American writer, apparently a professional, asking whether those who don’t conform to the rigid gender roles of the day should be left alone (or at least relatively alone) and not treated as a criminal:
MR. EDITOR: — Will you kindly permit me to say a few words about Sexual Perversion, in reply to Dr. Rice’s paper. The latter says that it has but little forensic interest in this country, and I beg to differ with him. In the first place, it is quite generally admitted that lunatics and maniacs are not responsible, and irresponsible people are not to be punished for a thing that they cannot help doing.
When a man dons female attire, or vice versa, he either has an object or he has none. If he has an object, it may be good, bad or indifferent. If it is to conceal past crime, or as an aid to future crime, it is bad, and deserves punishment. If he seeks the disguise to enable him to ferret out a crime, the object is praiseworthy, — detectives are allowed it. In the third case, it must be said that the sole object is pleasure or satisfaction of some sort. Crime may be a pleasure to some, but if we exclude all evil intent, is it not harmless? Another case that resembles, sometimes one and sometimes another of the above, is when it is done for a livelihood; women give this as an excuse, a plea to be allowed men’s dress; men rarely.
Quite a large number of cases are occurring in all large cities, of persons arrested for dressing like the opposite sex. But few are criminals; many are highly respectable and honorable. Should they be punished as criminals? If the object is good, No! If bad, Yes! If neither, what then?
It is self-evident that no sane man will take the pains and go to the expense of obtaining a full set of female attire, and persist in the practice of wearing it until he becomes expert in its uses, initiating himself into all the mysteries of a lady’s toilet, submitting voluntarily to the tortures of tight corsets and high-heeled boots and false hair, hoops, pull-backs and frizzes, unless impelled thereto by some motive stronger than mere mischief. There can be no doubt in my mind that such a miserable being deserves pity rather than punishment. There have been several arrests in this city within five or six years for wearing female attire, and I believe nearly all the victims belonged to that innocent class, since no other object or purpose was ever proved against them.
Why should it be a crime, to dress as you please? The dress itself inflicts punishment enough on its wearer. No one but the wearer is injured, nor need others be any the wiser for it. Certain it is that many of these poor people have suffered severe punishment at the hands of our judges, and with no one bold enough to defend them.
Is it not sad enough that they must suffer daily between two fires — love of this dress, and fear of punishment, which they have known to be swift and certain? Would the world be any the worse for allowing them this little modicum of comfort, the only pleasure they have in life, under proper restrictions? What these restrictions should be I am not prepared to say. Perhaps an asylum or retreat might be provided, where they could resort when these paroxysms came on, and there enjoy (?) in seclusion from the public eye, where the law could not reach them, such indulgences as might be deemed proper, or compelled to follow these practices until they were thoroughly cured of such desires. I know of one case, at least, that would be benefited, perhaps cured, by suitable treatment of this sort. I should be glad to hear the opinion of those of greater experience than myself.
[Source: E.J.H. (Anonymous) "Correspondence." Alienist and Neurologist 5 no. 2 (February 1884): 351-352. All italics and parentheticals in the original.]
Havelock Ellis: 1859.When it came time to chose a career, he chose an unorthodox one for a Victorian Englishman: that of a sexologist. To prepare, he studied to be a physician. When he joined the Fellowship of the New Life, a social group influenced by Emerson and Thoreau, he met Edward Carpenter, whose unabashed homosexuality must surely have been a great influence on him. Another influence: his wife, women’s rights activist Edith Lees, who was openly lesbian, and who insisted on an open marriage, an arrangement to which he readily agreed although he himself was impotent until the age of 60. When in 1896 he co-authored the first installment of his six-volume Studies on the Psychology of Sex, that volume, titled Sexual Inversion became the first English medical textbook on homosexuality. He originally published it in German, and then translated it into English in 1897 in a bid to avoid British censors. German scholars, by then, had already written several influential works on homosexuality, making German the de facto language of sexology. It was thought that by translating a German work, censors might look the other way as they had for other publications of continental origin. They didn’t. A bookseller was prosecuted for stocking Sexual Inversion, but the charges were eventually thrown out.
Ellis can claim several firsts. He was the first to study what we today recognize as transgender identities as a distinct phenomenon from homosexuality. He is also credited for creating the ideas of narcissism and autoeroticism, concepts which were later adopted by psychoanalysis. He is also often credited for introducing the word “homosexual” into the English language, but in fact he hated the word. Made up of a mixture of Greek and Latin roots, he complained, “‘Homosexual’ is a barbarously hybrid word, and I claim no responsibility for it.” He wrote instead about “sexual inversion,” and in ways that no major English writer had done before: as an objective field of study without characterizing it as a disease, immorality or a crime.
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